CINCINNATI -- No one in St. Louis will admit it, but the club knows this stretch of games heading into September carries a little bit more weight.
The Cardinals wrap up their series with the division-rival Reds on Sunday before heading to Pittsburgh to take on a Pirates team nipping at their heels.
"Every game is important for us," said Matt Holliday. "We're trying to win. We're trying to make the playoffs. Every game is equally important. We're pushing hard, and it's almost September."
It's not an unfamiliar feeling for the Cardinals, who sat in a similar position at this time one year ago.
On Aug. 26, 2011, St. Louis was 9 1/2 games behind both the division-leading Brewers and the Wild Card-leading Braves, before making an improbable run to the World Series.
"I think we've got pretty good talent, the same or better than last year," Yadier Molina said. "I feel that right now we're playing good baseball like we did last year."
Entering Sunday, the Cardinals were seven games back in the National League Central and held a narrow half-game lead over the Dodgers for the second Wild Card spot, which could prove to be their ticket to the postseason.
"Obviously, this year is different because of the second Wild Card," Molina said. "Last year is last year. You know it's going to be tough to win 162, but at the same time, you need to know that you have to win the most games you can, and this is no different.
"For me it's just another game. You try to win it."
Yadier returns to lineup; Freese available off bench
CINCINNATI -- Good news came from the Cardinals clubhouse Sunday morning, as the team learned that the recent injuries to David Freese and Yadier Molina weren't a cause for concern.
Molina returned to the starting lineup Sunday after being held out Saturday with a swollen ankle he rolled the day before. The catcher went hitless in five at-bats in the Cardinals' 8-2 win over the Reds.
"He bounces back, and he just grinds through it," said manager Mike Matheny before the game. "[Saturday] was a good day for him to take off and hopefully get ahead of it."
Molina was 3-for-5 in Friday night's contest and hit a go-ahead home run in the sixth. He entered Sunday leading all Major League catchers with a .328 batting average and said he could have gone Saturday if his number was called.
"I taped it and I was ready to go if they needed me or if something happened," Molina said. "It feels better. I'm ready to go [today]."
Freese left Friday's game entering the ninth inning after taking a quick grounder from Zack Cozart off his left wrist in the bottom of the eighth.
He was out of the Cardinals' lineup Sunday but could be back any day.
"They got all the tests done and they came back negative, which was good news," Matheny said. "But it's still keeping him from letting it go. It'll probably be another day. I think we'll also be able to have him off the bench [Sunday], if necessary. We still want him to do some more swinging and a little more therapy to make sure. I thought he might be able to go [Sunday]."
Lance Berkman made his second rehab start in Triple-A Memphis on Saturday, playing seven clean innings at first base and going 1-for-3 at the plate with one strikeout.
Two Cardinals are approaching milestones in their careers. Entering Sunday, Holliday was seven hits away from 1,500 for his career, and Molina was six hits from No. 1,000. Molina would become the 34th Cardinal to register 1,000 hits with the club.
Molina's 17 home runs are already a career high, and his 61 RBIs are four shy of his career high of 65 (2011).
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.