Four teams in the National League have reached the 60-win mark this season. And three of those teams are battling for the same division title in the NL Central.
"I'm not surprised by it," said Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook, who will start Saturday versus the Reds. "It's definitely a tough division. We definitely have our work cut out for us, coming from Pittsburgh and what they did to us and then coming [to Cincinnati], we know the Reds are very capable of turning it on and doing what they did last year. It's going to be a grind. We have to battle every day. We're prepared for that."
The Pirates hold a one-game lead in the NL Central after logging a 4-1 series victory over St. Louis this week, leaving the Cardinals and Reds fighting to keep pace in Cincinnati this weekend.
Neither team ended July on a high note with the Reds losing a season-high six games before getting a 4-1 win over the Padres on Wednesday, while the Cardinals endured a similar streak spanning seven games, their worst losing streak since 2011.
"We were struggling on the road trip and they were struggling too, so something has to break," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "They're a quality team and so are we. Any time we look over at the Cardinals, we know it's going to be exciting, we know there's going to be a lot of people, we know there's going to be a lot of energy."
While both teams have experienced similar struggles as of late, if recent history is any indicator, the Reds have more work cut out for them this weekend. Cincinnati is 3-6 against the Cardinals this season and have come up on the losing end in the last five series with the Redbirds. After taking a 13-3 beating on Friday night , the Reds need a win Saturday to avoid a sixth-straight series loss to St. Louis.
"I think we might have a little more juices going just because this is one of the teams in our division," said catcher Devin Mesoraco. "These are the guys we're competing against to go to the postseason."
Cardinals: Bats explode after seven-game drought
In their seven-game losing streak, the Cardinals scored just 10 total runs. They were shut out twice and pushed more than two runners across just once in that stretch.
But the Cardinals have more than made up for it with back-to-back explosive offensive outings, snapping the slump by putting up 13 runs in their last two games -- a 13-0 win over the Pirates on Thursday that prevented a five-game sweep and a 13-3 win in Friday's series opener in Cincinnati.
"It was a big deal," manager Mike Mathney said of breaking the seven-game skid. "It's not something easy to bounce out of. When you do get one [win], especially in the fashion we did [Thursday], it definitely tasted pretty good."
Reds: Cingrani looks to build on career outing
There isn't much room to improve for Tony Cingrani. Not that the rookie left-hander lacks potential, but because Cingrani's stellar last outing will be difficult to surpass.
While he fell victim to poor run support and took a no-decision, Cingrani had the best game of his young career versus the Dodgers on Sunday. The 24-year-old allowed just one hit and one walk while fanning a career-high 11 batters in seven scoreless innings.
"I don't really care about my win-loss record. I'd rather just get a win," Cingrani said after the start. "I had my fastball working. I was just moving it, basically, up and in the whole time. I threw some good sliders. It was a good day."
In his last five outings, Cingrani is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA over 30 1/3 innings.
• With a 13-0 win Thursday and a 13-3 victory Friday, the Cardinals record is now 15-0 when scoring 10 or more runs in a game.
• Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo returned to the lineup Friday after taking Monday and Wednesday off to nurse a sprained left ankle. Choo went 1-for-2 with one walk, one run and a strikeout.
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.