When he watched the game from behind the plate through a mask, instead of from the dugout under a microscope, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would think ahead to the relievers he might catch and the situations they might face. If his manager had two relievers warming in the bullpen, he would reverse-engineer the matchups ahead to get a feel for the plan.

What he learned in the crouch still influences the calls he makes as the manager. He described what he did as a player “trying to see the bigger picture” with the bullpen.

Now he’s the one directing it.

“I’ve seen times when people think I’m too patient and other times when I’m too quick,” Matheny said. “I don’t have this overarching theme that I feel I have to follow (with the bullpen). ... It’s an educated guess is what it is. We’re taking an educated guess with what we know and what we’ve seen recently. Sometimes it’s tangible numbers and other times it’s little things that we know are going on with these guys that may or may not put them in a situation to be successful. It’s all part of the picture.”

The Cardinals (20-11) visit Wrigley Field tonight for the first time this season fresh from a four-game sweep in Milwaukee. They’re riding a six-game winning streak — their longest since July 2011 — and enjoyed an off day Monday tied with Texas for the best record in baseball. The offense awoke for 29 runs in four days. The rotation leads the league with a 2.21 ERA and four of the five starters rank in the NL’s top 17 for ERA. The bullpen remains under construction. Pardon their dust.