The St. Louis Cardinals have rolled through the second month of the season with a 20-6 record heading into the final two days of May, but they’ll face much stiffer competition as the calendar turns to June.
The Cardinals played just four games in May against teams that have a winning record. They opened the month with a win in the final game of a three-game series against the second-place Cincinnati Reds and took two of three from the second-place Colorado Rockies a week-and-a-half later.
Other than that, the Cardinals played 22 games against teams with losing records and won all but five of them.
June, however, presents a much different challenge. The Cardinals will play 15 games against five teams that have winning records. The first two weeks are the most difficult, as the Cardinals face the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and Reds in consecutive series.
They then get a respite against the New York Mets, Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs, but series against the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics surround a two-game set with the Houston Astros to finish the month.
So hopefully the Cardinals have all of their pitching injuries out of the way. The team thrived in May even though it had to use rookie starters John Gast and Tyler Lyons as Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list. It also had to rely on rookie relievers Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez when it sent Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds because of ineffectiveness.
Those issues didn’t disrupt the team at all. In fact, it played five games better in May with the injuries than it did in April when everybody was healthy.
But that was also against some of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. Now the Cardinals will find out how good they really are as they face a run of playoff-caliber teams.
The pitching staff will be tested against better lineups, but the Cardinals hitters will also face superior pitching staffs. The Diamondbacks (3.38), Reds (3.28) and Rangers (3.48) are all ranked in the top six in earned-run average, while the A’s and Giants are 16th and 17th, respectively, but are teams built around their pitching staffs.
That means the Cardinals will spend the month facing more pitchers such as Patrick Corbin, who is 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA for the Diamondbacks, and fewer pitchers such as Dillon Gee, who is 2-6 with a 6.34 ERA for the Mets.
Thankfully, the Cardinals established the best record in baseball during their recent stretch against sub-.500 teams, so they have some insurance in the bank if they struggle against some of the better teams ahead on the schedule.
However, these are the types of teams the Cardinals will have to eventually beat to reach the playoffs and then win meaningful games in October.
If the Cardinals post a winning record in the next two weeks, especially considering the injuries they’re battling, they could be poised to put together a season-long record that would rival some of the best in franchise history.
It’s been nice to watch the Cardinals consistently win in the past month, but they are now headed into an important part of the schedule that should give us a good idea about how tough this team will be late into the season.