The St. Louis Cardinals notched their Major League Baseball-leading 14th road victory Wednesday with a 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs and continued a trend that could pay off later in the season.
The Cardinals are 14-7 away from Busch Stadium and have won more games on the road than eight teams have won at all this season. That’s partially because the Cardinals have also played the most road games in baseball, but it is also the type of record that could set the Cardinals up for a great summer stretch.
The team is just 7-5 at home this season, but they have also played just one team in those 12 games that is under .500 for the season, and that’s the Milwaukee Brewers, who are 15-16.
Coming up, the Kansas City Royals will be the only team above .500 the Cardinals will face at home in May before the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks visit during the first week of June.
So expectations have to be increasingly high for a team that has jumped to the best record in the National League while playing 21 of 33 games on the road and many of them being against quality opponents.
Their 21-12 record is also surprising, given the bullpen struggles throughout April, but the bullpen has improved significantly of late and hasn’t blown a lead since Joe Kelly imploded by giving up four runs April 27 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh inning of a 5-3 loss.
Since then, the team has won seven of its next 10 games and pulled out to a three-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates heading into play Thursday.
Not many people expected the Cardinals to be this good, especially this early in the season. If anything, the Reds were supposed to run away with the division, but they are 19-16, including a 6-10 record on the road.
In fact, the Cardinals are one of just seven teams to have a winning road record so far this season, but it is a large determining factor in success because all but two of those teams, the Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians, are first or second in their division.
Now, however, the Cardinals will have to maintain their pace in upcoming games at Busch Stadium against the Colorado Rockies, New York Mets and the Brewers because this is a wonderful opportunity to bank wins while the team has a generally healthy roster, a starting rotation that is putting up historic numbers and a bullpen that looks as though it can hold a lead in the late innings.
Four relievers combined to give up no runs and just two hits in the final 3.2 innings Wednesday against the Cubs after Jake Westbrook allowed four runs and nine hits in his 5.1 innings.
That kind of relief performance is what it is going to take for the Cardinals to maintain their success. The starting rotation has combined for a historically low 2.25 earned-run average so far this season, but it is not going to be able to keep that pace throughout the season.
But, it saved the Cardinals through the first month and perhaps the bullpen is coming around at the perfect time.
That could make for a lot of fun summer nights this season at Busch Stadium.