How will Cards respond to adversity?

As I wrote last week in this space, everything was rainbow and lollipops in Cardinal Nation after such a fast start out of the gate, beating up on division foes.  The St. Louis Cardinals were the first defending World Series champions to win their first six series of the season since the 1922 New York Giants. That, as you know by now, came after a season of incredible turnover and uncertainty heading into 2012.

Going into Opening Day, this was the talk, “Yes this team has talent, how will they respond without Pujols, Duncan, and LaRussa?”  “Can the team hold up through injuries with so many veterans?”

Then something happened. The team started winning in convincing fashion. And subtly, expectations became reset.

Opponent Date W/L Runs For Runs Against Record Run Differential
Miami Apr 4 W 4 1 1-0 +3
Milwaukee Apr 6 W 11 5 2-0 +6
Milwaukee Apr 7 L 0 6 2-1 -6
Milwaukee Apr 8 W 9 3 3-1 +6
Cincy Apr 9 W 7 1 4-1 +8
Cincy Apr 10 W 3 1 5-1 +2
Cincy Apr 11 L 3 4 5-2 -1
Chicago Apr 13 L 5 9 5-3 -4
Chicago Apr 14 W 5 1 6-3 +4
Chicago Apr 15 W 10 3 7-3 +7
Cincy Apr 17 W 2 1 8-3 +1
Cincy Apr 18 W 11 1 9-3 +10
Cincy Apr 19 L 3 6 9-4 -3
Pitt Apr 20 W 4 1 10-4 +3
Pitt Apr 21 L 0 2 10-5 -2
Pitt Apr 22 W 5 1 11-5 +4
Total 82 46 +36

A tremendous start to the season. Heading into the Chicago series, the Cardinals led the NL in almost every offensive category and in run differential (second only in the league to Texas Murderer’s Row Rangers).

Then the first two games against the Cubs happened. Both 3-2 losses. Both 2-1 leads given up by the bullpens in the 9th inning. Now the team is 11-7 and only two games out in front of the Brewers. Now the team is dealing with the bats cooling off. Now they are dealing with fighting through blown calls by umpires and the bullpen giving up leads. They are dealing with multiple injuries that test not only their depth but their resolve. In a word, for the first time of the Mike Matheny era, they are dealing with significant adversity.

Making too much of a simple two game losing skid against Windy City Rivals? I am not so sure.

There are 9 more games in a row against the NL Central. As I have written many times before, these games are crucial. Even if they go 5-4, the fast start would ensure a 16-11 record, which is nothing to make light of. Personally, I think the team should be shooting for 17-10 or 18-9 through the NL Central start of the schedule. They still have the opportunity to run out to a good lead in the division, but it will depend on their ability to push through adversity, to push through a lack of run support for pitching over the last four games, the bullpen shaking off a couple of tough losses and blown saves.

This is the moment a lot of Cardinals fans have been waiting for. To seem what the team is truly made of. As my UCB co-host Dathan Brooks often says, every win in April is a win you don’t have to get in September. These April games really matter because they are all against the Central. And these next nine games will show us how the team handles its first bit of adversity on the young season.

It sure would be nice if they could give Wainwright a little bit of support as he is trying to get back to form. So far, he has had zero, that’s right zero, run support in his first four outings. That will change. His stuff still is not what it once was, but that is to be expected at least for a couple more months. He showed last night he will fight to make pitches and get outs with less than his best stuff. It is a move in the right direction. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Waino doesn’t go for another four games.

The first battle to get back on track and further the division lead is today at Wrigley Field at 1:20 Central Time. Can the Birds shake off a couple tough losses, and show the resolve and grit their new manager preaches? Or will they allow the sting of the last two nights to carry over and leave them in a division dogpile?….

It sure will be fun to watch and find out.

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