ST. LOUIS -- Manager Mike Matheny, who has made a habit out of downplaying the importance of individual games this season, changed his tune on Thursday.
A day before the Cardinals begin a critical three-game set in Cincinnati, Matheny emphasized the importance of that particular series, as well as the club's entire 10-game, three-city swing.
"I can't wait to play them," Matheny said of the Reds. "That's so contradictory to everything I've said ... but you look at this trip coming up and how that series went [immediately after the All-Star break] and how close that series was, it certainly could have gone three games the other [way] for us.
"We haven't had a lot of conversations about it, because we're all about staying in the here and now, but that's going to be a fun series."
The Reds own the season-series advantage, 5-4, heading into the three-game set at Great American Ball Park. The Cards' last trip there in July did not end well. Cincinnati swept the three-game set despite outscoring St. Louis by only five runs.
The Cardinals entered that weekend series sitting just 2 1/2 games out of first place. Now, St. Louis trails the National League Central-leading Reds by eight games. The Redbirds, who still believe they can make a push for an NL Central title, also have one more three-game set against Cincinnati at home this year, which is also the final series of the season.
"I don't think you're making too big a deal of it, because it is a big deal," Matheny said, when asked if too much was being made about the importance of the upcoming trip. "I wouldn't go so far as to say defining. I think we've all seen that every time we say that this is do or die, it isn't necessarily the case. But to ignore the fact that this is a huge road trip would be a mistake."
In the first nine games played between the two clubs, the Cardinals have outscored the Reds, 36-26, and have held Cincinnati to a .255 team batting average.
The upcoming stop in Cincinnati will be the first of three straight road series against clubs that are currently in the playoff race. There will be three games played in Pittsburgh and another four in Washington. The Nationals are the only team with more wins than the Reds this season.
"It's going to be important," said outfielder Matt Holliday, who drove in four runs in Thursday's 13-5 win over the Astros. "I don't think it's necessarily a do-or-die scenario, but it's three good teams. It'll be a challenge. But we're up for it."