But as it continues on Wednesday with the second of three home games against the Astros, St. Louis is approaching the seemingly soft schedule as if it were full of contenders.
Following the conclusion of their current series, the Cardinals will play three on the road against the Cubs before heading to Houston for three more with the Astros. Chicago and Houston were a combined 82 games under .500 entering Tuesday's games, but don't tell the Cardinals that as they hold a 1 1/2-game advantage for the National League's second Wild Card spot going into Wednesday.
The Astros had four wins in their last six games before falling in the series opener on Tuesday.
"[They're] a team that is going out there playing very good baseball," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We know that. We're just going to have to play the kind of baseball that we know we can. But those guys believe in themselves and have a lot of momentum going. It's going to be one of those series that we just don't take any hit off. We have to push right from the start."
Matheny will look for starter Lance Lynn to continue St. Louis' strong start to the series -- a 4-1 win on Tuesday -- in Wednesday's game. Lynn had been removed from the rotation last month after struggling, but returned in impressive fashion on Thursday. He held the Dodgers to five hits and one run in six innings.
"I feel like what happened in August shouldn't have happened," Lynn said. "I got into a funk then and ran into some good teams. That's part of it. But it's all about trying to get out of the funk and helping your team win."
Meanwhile, the Cardinals aren't the only team with playoff aspirations that Houston will see before the end of the season. The Astros took three of four from the suddenly surging Phillies and will also play six games against Pittsburgh and Milwaukee -- also in the thick of the hunt for the second Wild Card spot -- after their series with St. Louis.
Houston doesn't mind playing the spoiler role.
"We can make or break their seasons," interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "If we could factor into the playoff race, that's rewarding for a team that's been out of it for a while, a team that's trying to come back to life. I think we showed over the weekend we're capable of beating any team."
DeFrancesco will give the ball to Lucas Harrell, who is looking for his first win in over a month. He is 0-1 with a 4.11 ERA over his last five outings and has particularly struggled against the Cardinals this season, going 2-1 with a 6.61 ERA in three starts.
Astros: Bogar to interview on Wednesday
Red Sox bench coach Tim Bogar is slated to interview for Houston's full-time managerial spot on Wednesday, a source told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, becoming the fifth known candidate to interview. Former Phillies manager Larry Bowa, Nationals third-base coach Bo Porter, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez and DeFrancesco have already interviewed.
Bogar has been with Boston since 2009 and used to manage in Houston's Minor League system, beginning his managerial career in 2004 with the rookie-league Greeneville Astros.
Rookie shortstop Marwin Gonzalez was available to play on Tuesday for the first time since injuring his left ankle on Aug. 30, DeFrancesco said. DeFrancesco hoped to have an opportunity to insert Gonzalez late in Tuesday's game for defense, but did not.
Cardinals: Westbrook could return next week
Jake Westbrook has started throwing again and could return to the Cardinals' rotation next week. The right-hander threw on flat ground on Monday and Tuesday and is slated for a bullpen on Wednesday.
Westbrook strained his right oblique during his Sept. 8 start.
"If everything feels great with my side, I feel like I just need to get my arm in shape to start a game," he said. "The way it's gone, the last couple of days felt great. I think a couple bullpen sessions and I'll be ready to go."
Matheny said Joe Kelly -- recently moved back to St. Louis' bullpen -- was possibly available for Tuesday's game after going five innings in a start at Los Angeles on Friday. But since he wasn't used on Tuesday, he will almost definitely be OK to pitch on Wednesday, if necessary.
Jose Altuve is hitting .382 (26-for-68) with eight RBIs in 16 career games against the Cardinals.
St. Louis owns a 7-3 advantage in the season series after Tuesday's victory.