Happy 4th of July to everyone in Redleg Nation!

Interleague play mercifully came to an end for the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday with a win over the Cleveland Indians. The Reds finished 2011 interleague play with a 6-12 record, winning only the one series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Turning their sights back to the National League, the 4th place Reds begin a critical 13-game stretch Monday in St Louis. They’ll face the current NL Central division 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams over the next 4 series.

— First, they hook up with the Cardinals for 3 games;
— Then the Brewers for 4 games;
— Take a break for the All-Star game (well, everyone except All-Stars Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce);
— 3 more against St. Louis; and
— finally a 3-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates

If the Reds want to take over this division, they are going to have to start playing better than .500 baseball. This stretch of games is the perfect opportunity to get started. Pitching matchups for the Cardinals series are:

Game 1 – how do I explain this one to my kids?:
Chris Carpenter, 3-7, 4.00 ERA, 3.26 xFIP, 1.32 WHIP – threw over 130 pitches in last start, and 124+ in 3 straight starts
Johnny Cueto, 5-2, 1.84 ERA, 3.43 xFIP, 0.94 WHIP – pitched 7 or more innings in 6 consecutive starts

Game 2 on ESPN:
Jamie Garcia, 7-3, 3.33 ERA, 3.04 xFIP, 1.26 WHIP – has allowed 5 runs in each of his last two starts
Edinson Volquez, 5-3, 5.65 ERA, 3.97 xFIP, 1.63 WHIP – has pitched past the 6th inning only twice this season

Game 3 veteran-on-veteran:
Jake Westbrook, 7-4, 4.92 ERA, 3.98 xFIP, 1.59 WHIP – pitched 7 inning, 2-hit shutout in last outing (Tampa)
Bronson Arroyo, 7-7, 5.49 ERA, 4.11 xFIP, 1.42 WHIP – has allowed 13 earned runs in his last 2 starts (11 innings)