If teams thought the St Louis Cardinals would flop without Albert Pujols, they should think again.
The scheduler did this team no favors. Opening Day in Miami, ushering in a new era in Florida and a new ballpark. Then a 1300 mile flight to Milwaukee, the team’s biggest rival, for their home opener. Finally a 300 mile drive to Cincinnati, the Cardinals’ OTHER big NL Central rival. Seven games in 3 cities over a little more than a week. Lots of teams would limp back home under .500. Or worse.
With last night’s win the Cardinals will open at home over .500 no matter how the last two games in Cincinnati go. They have done it with solid pitching and torrid hitting. St Louis currently leads the NL in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, average, OPS, and total bases. After a horrible spring training Rafael Furcal reached base 11 times in his first 20 plate appearances. Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina all have 2 HR so far, and the Cardinals have blown out their opponent in 3 of their first 4 wins, scoring at least 7 runs in those games. They have been equal opportunity assassins, bludgeoning both aces (Josh Johnson, Yovanni Gallardo) and back of the rotation guys (Randy Wolf, Homer Bailey).
The pitching has been good – 3.86 ERA, 0.886 WHIP, 34K against 4 walks and 2 HBP. Kyle Lohse set the tone with six no-hit innings in that opener near South Beach. Jamie Garcia survived a 2-run first inning to work 6 effective innings, Lance Lynn shut down the Brewers while striking out 8, and Jake Westbrook had his own no-hitter for 4 2/3 innings in Cincinnati. Heck, when the starter who had the worst line the first time through was Adam Wainwright you know the team’s going well. And Wainwright, just back from Tommy John surgery, will continue to round back into form the first month of this season.
Some prognosticators predicted this Cardinal team would be at least as dangerous as last year’s World Champs. If the first time through is any indication that was an accurate prediction. With 27 of their first 28 games against NL Central opponents, St Louis can make a real statement in this year’s divisional race, putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the field. Three wins in their first 4 intra-divisional games is the start of a major statement, and should rightly put a shudder through the rest of the division.
St Louis is on pace to win 130 games, which of course is unrealistic. Or is it?