And yet, with the top two teams in the National League Central squaring off Saturday for the second game of their three-game series in Cincinnati, both teams acknowledged these are not just any games.
The Reds and the Cardinals meet for just one more series this season after this weekend, and that opportunity won't come until Oct. 1. With that in mind, the Cardinals beat the Reds, 8-5, in Friday's series opener, cutting Cincinnati's lead in the NL Central to six games.
"This is why you play the game. You play to win," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's time to grind and figure out a way to do whatever you've got to do each day."
Right-hander Jaime Garcia will try to keep cutting into the deficit Saturday afternoon. He will be making his second start since returning from the 15-day disabled list with a left-shoulder strain. On Sunday, he struck out a career-high 10 and allowed two runs in a season-high eight innings.
The Reds will counter with right-hander Mike Leake, who is hoping to bounce back from a poor start and help Cincinnati extend its lead in the division race. Leake gave up a career-high seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in a 12-5 loss to the Phillies on Monday. The loss came just five days after he threw a complete game against the Mets, allowing one run on four hits.
Since the Reds took a season-high eight-game lead in the division Wednesday, back-to-back losses have cut it back to six games. Shortstop Zack Cozart said this weekend is a chance for the Reds to make sure the Cardinals can't repeat last year's comeback, when they made up a 10-game deficit to the Braves in a month to capture the Wild Card and go on to win the World Series.
"Any time you're playing head to head, you want to come out ahead and further yourself," Cozart said. "The crazy things that happened last year at the end of the year, you just never know. You want to be as far ahead as possible getting towards the end of the season."
Reds: Team to retire Larkin's number
A month after Barry Larkin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., the Reds will honor their longtime shortstop by retiring his number before Saturday's game. Larkin's No. 11 will be the 10th number retired by the Reds.
"I'm going to feel so honored and proud," Larkin said. "When I got the call, the first thing that did come to my mind was sharing this with the people in Cincinnati. I'm the first native of Cincinnati to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, so it's a pretty significant thing. I want to share in that with the people here, because they were such a big part of my success."
Larkin, who retired in 2004, spent all 19 seasons of his career as the Reds' shortstop and was named to the All-Star team 12 times. He won the NL MVP Award in 1995 and retired with a .295 batting average.
Cozart, the Reds' rookie shortstop, went 1-for-5 with a double on Friday, extending his hitting streak to 11 games. During the streak, Cozart is 16-for-48 (.333) with seven doubles.
Cozart is hitting .252 with 14 home runs this season. He leads all NL rookies with 123 hits and has inserted himself into the NL Rookie of the Year discussion
Cardinals: Craig stays hot in Friday's win
First baseman Allen Craig went 3-for-5 with a three-run home run in Friday's 8-5 victory to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. Craig's hitting streak is the longest of his career and the longest active streak in the Major Leagues.
During his hitting streak, Craig has raised his batting average from .294 to .318. He is 23-for-53 (.434) and has eight extra-base hits in that stretch.
Larkin played 175 games against the Cardinals in his career. He hit .280 with a .353 on-base percentage against them.