Before we look ahead to April 2011, it’s important to note what happened back in April of 2010: The team was good. Good might not even do it justice, the Cardinals were great. The team won each of its first 5 series and finished the month with a record of 15-8, best in the National League. They ended up playing Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Atlanta in the opening month: 3 of the National League’s 4 eventual playoff teams. St. Louis posted a 7-4 record against those contenders, and in 2011, they’ll meet those same 3 playoff teams in the opening month again. Those eight games will be critical indicators for the direction the team is heading in this season.
Total Games: 26
Vs teams with winning records in 2010: 11
Vs teams with losing records in 2010: 15
Vs teams in the NL Central: 9
April 8-10 @ San Francisco – Anytime you play the defending champions is a good measuring stick for your ball club, especially when you play in their home park. The Cardinals went 3-3 against the Giants last season, with each team winning 2 out of 3 at their own park. Stealing 2 of 3 in San Francisco early in the season would be a huge lift for this team.
April 22-24 vs Cincinnati – You remember the Reds, don’t you? Brandon Phillips’ and his trash talking, and Johnny Cueto ending Jason Larue’s career in that nasty brawl in Cincinnati. Yeah, those Reds. The team that employs former Cardinals Scott Rolen and Walt Jocketty, and is managed by former Cubs manager, Dusty Baker. Its the team that took the 2010 Central Division Title away from the Cardinals. And come late April, it will be time for some long overdue payback.
Key To a Hot Start:
The Cardinals finished last season 86-76, good for 2nd in the NL Central and 5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds. A big reason St. Louis came up short in the standings last year was its lackluster play against teams with losing records, especially late last season. Dating back to late August, the team has a record of 7-18 against teams with losing records. So while it would be nice to steal 2 out of 3 from the Giants, Padres, Reds, and Braves, the teams needs to make sure and beat up on the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Nationals, and Astros.
At the end of April:
If the Cardinals have 15+ wins… they’re preforming beyond expectations. Even with a potentially “soft” early schedule, the team has 15 of its 26 games on the road. Without Adam Wainwright, 15 or more wins would have people talking up Tony La Russa as an early “Manager of the Year” candidate.
If the Cardinals are .500… I think most fans would hope for more, but all in all be satisfied.
If the Cardinals are below .500… most fans would either be in full-blown panic mode or will consider giving up on the season. We all know in the back of our minds that this is an uphill climb. Last year, the Cardinals had a terrific rotation anchored by 2 perennial Cy Young candidates and a lineup featuring Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday…but they still missed the playoffs. With the Reds stronger and the Cardinals weaker, a bad start to the year could be an early sign that it’s going to be a long summer in St. Louis.