On July 6, the St. Louis Cardinals lost 8-4 at home to the Miami Marlins to fall into third place in the National League Central, five games behind first-place Milwaukee.

After that loss, which dropped the defending league champs to 47-42, a reporter asked ace pitcher Adam Wainwright why the season was such a disappointment.

"In a week from now, we could be doing a completely different kind of interview," Wainwright said.

Less than a week later, St. Louis caught the slumping Brewers for first place in the Central. Although they fell back into second Sunday with an 11-2 loss to Milwaukee, the Cardinals can still head for the All-Star break with optimism, even though they won't have All-Star catcher Yadier Molina until at least mid-September after surgery Friday to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb.

On one hand, St. Louis has been disappointing. The offense has been bogged in a sea of grounders all year, with key run-producers like left fielder Matt Holliday and right fielder Allen Craig struggling to get on track.

On the other hand, the Cardinals have shown grit and perseverance to be in contention. Injuries have wiped out three key starting pitchers for long periods, second-year starter Shelby Miller has been one of the league's worst pitchers by most metrics and closer Trevor Rosenthal has been a thrill ride, yet St. Louis is right there.

As for the last 66 games, the Cardinals catch at least two scheduling breaks. After opening the unofficial second half with a weekend series at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers, they play 25 of the next 37 games against losing teams. That includes seven games each with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego.

Also, with a plethora of off-days, St. Louis won't need a fifth starter until Aug. 2. That will allow manager Mike Matheny the chance to set up his rotation, potentially giving Wainwright and present No. 2 starter Lance Lynn the ball in six of the first 10 games after the break.

Matheny feels his team will be ready for a potentially grueling four-team race in the Central.

"It's a perfect time for the break," he said. "These guys have competed, they've worked and we asked them to grind. I anticipate that we will see a well-rested ready group when we get back."