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Despite hot play, Cards in dogfight in NL Central

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."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
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