The Cardinals have given Cincinnati and Pittsburgh a chance to get well. The Reds were a mess earlier in the season, laboring with a roster that had been fractured by injuries. But both of the Cardinals' NLC rivals have steadied themselves.

The Pirates started slowly, mostly because of a rotation that wobbled because of injuries and ineffectiveness. But the Pirates have ridden out the rotation turbulence, and their offense got a push from sensational rookie outfielder Gregory Polanco. The Pirates are 24-14 in their last 38.

Meanwhile, no one is playing better than the Reds, who have won 14 of 19 games thanks to a resurgent offense that averaged 5.6 runs over that stretch. With Mat Latos back from the DL and Johnny Cueto pitching as well as any MLB starter, the Reds' rotation is healthy and cranking out quality starts and innings to lessen the burden on the bullpen. During the 14-4 stretch the Reds had a 2.49 rotation ERA. Before Monday night, the Reds were fourth in the majors in quality starts (53) and fourth in starter ERA (3.27.)

The Cardinals had a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Reds to keep those teams down _ but failed to do so because of a lethargic offense. The Reds and Pirates have gotten stronger at a time when the Cardinals are dealing with an attack of rotation injuries. The Reds are percentage points behind the Cardinals in the NL Central standings. And the Pirates are only 1.5 games in back of St. Louis. If the Cardinals have a bad series or two over the next week, they'll likely be shoved into fourth place.

Bernie Miklasz has been covering St. Louis sports since 1989. 

Bernie Miklasz is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.