ST. LOUIS -- Since losing three straight to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in late April, the Cardinals have gone 23-7 without dropping back-to-back games or a series, and raced out to the Majors' best record one-third of the way through the season.
And yet, St. Louis has gained only three games in the National League Central standings, taking a 2 1/2-game lead over the Reds into Sunday's finale vs. the Giants.
As well as the Cardinals have played over the last month, the Reds and Pirates have been nearly as successful. Together, the three boast the three best records in the NL. Only one team in the American League (Texas) has a better winning percentage than the Central division's top three clubs.
"You can't help but notice it," manager Mike Matheny said of the Cardinals' inability to create any separation in the standings. "But we're very confident in what we need to do and just take care of what we can take care of. And when we get to play them head-to-head, that's our opportunity. Besides that, just keep playing our game."
The Cardinals will have plenty of head-to-head chances later this season. They will open a three-game series in Cincinnati on Friday and will then close the campaign with 24 of their final 60 games against the two most formidable division contenders.
"You can't rule anybody out," Matheny said. "We just finished the second month. We have a long way to go with a lot of talent in the league all the way around. Any team at any time can take off and go hot. Another team can go cold. We're just trying to figure out ourselves and how to put a good consistent approach out there every day."
Cards mulling options for Wednesday starter
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals do not expect to name a starter for Wednesday's game against the D-backs until Tuesday, as the club wants to delay any decision until it sees how much use the bullpen gets until then.
With the pitching depth in Triple-A Memphis already depleted and the Cardinals not too keen on pitching Adam Wainwright on three days' of rest, the preferred scenario would be to have several relievers sitep in to cover the game. That would become a more difficult proposition if the club were to need to rely heavily on its bullpen over the next few days.
"We're open to a lot of different things," manager Mike Matheny said on Sunday. "We've got some different things to sort through, depending on how the next few days go."
With Shelby Miller and Wainwright both pitching during Saturday's doubleheader, the Cardinals have the flexibility to start either on normal rest Thursday. The other would go on Friday. Matheny said the Cardinals are likely to keep the rotation order as is, meaning Miller would draw the assignment against the D-backs on Thursday and Wainwright would take the mound in a critical division-series opener on Friday.
The Cardinals are slated to play the Reds in Cincinnati next weekend.
• Outfielder Carlos Beltran did not start for the Cardinals on Sunday, though Matheny confirmed that the day off was not prompted by any injury issue.
"He's just tired," Matheny said. "I think everybody is. It's been a pretty crazy run here. He's just the honest one."
• Bench coach Mike Aldrete, who has been out since Thursday after returning home for a child's graduation, is scheduled to return to St. Louis on Sunday. He will be back in the dugout for Monday's series opener against Arizona. First-base coach Chris Maloney has been serving as bench coach in Aldrete's place. Assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina has filled in as first-base coach.
• With Beltran out of the lineup, catcher Yadier Molina shifted back up to hit in the two-hole on Sunday. It marked the third time in his last five starts that Molina has started and batted second. Before this season, he had done so only twice.
• Asked about the possibility of keeping six starters on the roster once Jake Westbrook (right elbow inflammation) returns from the disabled list, Matheny said the organization has not "gone there yet" in its preparation for Westbrook's return. Keeping six starters would give the Cardinals a way to monitor the workload of its rookie starters.
"That stuff seems to sort itself out," Matheny said. "I don't think anything is out of the question, but that stuff works itself out more so than anything else."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.