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Seven Series in Seven Days: Astros at St. Louis Cardinals, August 25-27

The last series we're going to take a look takes place at the beginning of a make or break stretch of games at the end of August. The first three games of a nine game road trip sees the Astros touch down at Busch Stadium for three games against the Cardinals.

Unlike their rivalry with the Cubs, the Cardinals and Astros have played close, tough games, but have done so without much animosity towards the other team. Even when we clinched our birth in the World Series in 2005 at St. Louis, the remaining Cardinal fans showed class by giving the Astros a standing ovation, or at least were respectful to the newly crowned NL Champs. I doubt this would have occurred if the Cubs were the team winning on their home turf.

Without a doubt, the Cubs are the team to beat in the Central this season, but don't be surprised if the Cards make it interesting. They finished last season just a game behind the Astros,  with a 86-76 record, and what's more, their pythagorean record said that 86-76 record was justified. No Chris Carpenter or Mark Mulder last season mean that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan had to use converted relievers and has beens to shore up the rotation. They were extremely successful in this venture, and what was supposed to be a transition year for the Cards turned out to be a competitive season.

Now, Chris Carpenter is back and projected to do extremely well, even if in limited innings. Adam Wainwright established himself as a solid big league starter, and the backend of the rotation- Todd Wellemeyer, Joel Pineiro, and Kyle Loshe aren't glaringly terrible by any stretch of the imagination.

At the plate, Albert Pujols still exists, and still has two arms and two legs-in other words, he is going to be a monster. Thirdbaseman Troy Glaus will be out for at least two months, and in his stead rides David Freese. Khalil Greene at shortstop and Skip Schumaker at second means that the infield will look quite different compared to last season, at least at the outset of 2009.

Like our record against the Cubs, the Astros and Cardinals have played nip and tuck in the past five seasons:

Year  Season Series Winner Astros' Record vs. Cardinals
2008 Cardinals 7-8
2007 Cardinals 7-9
2006 Astros 9-7
2005 Cardinals 5-11
2004 Astros 10-8
Total 38-43


Winning in St. Louis will be tough, but if the Astros want to be contenders in September, playing well against the Cardinals will be imperative.