The St. Louis Cardinals are 8-3 after last night’s 2-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the 10th inning.  The thrilling victory was reminiscent of the 2011 post-season, as a little known player became the hero.  Rookie sensation Matt Carpenter, who has been taking advantage of playing time due to a Lance Berkman injury, was called upon to pinch hit.  Carpenter sent a ball just deep enough into right field to allow Tyler Greene to score, and the crowd at Busch Stadium went home happy once again.

2012 could not be starting better for the Redbirds.  Last night’s win gives them a 3 game lead in the NL Central, and the schedule is set up perfectly for the Cardinals to build a big cushion by the end of the month.  The next eleven games are against division opponents, and that continues into May with six more games to start the month.  It’s not unrealistic for the Redbirds to have a 10 game lead at the end of the next three weeks.

I realize that it’s early in the year, but I think my optimism for the Cardinals isn’t crazy.  This team is loaded.  If Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal remain healthy and Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook pitch anywhere close to what they’ve done so far, the Redbirds will easily hit the 100 win mark.  Things are unlikely to remain as good as they are right now, but the position-player depth and the bullpen of the Redbirds should provide a lot of comfort to fans.

Speaking of Lohse, the much maligned veteran was awesome again last night.  After giving up no earned runs in seven strong innings, Lohse’s ERA is 1.35 for the season.  He remains undefeated, despite not getting the win last night, and Lohse is beginning to look like a legitimate ace when you include last season’s statistics.

Offensive Firepower

Last night’s 2 runs scored was the lowest output of the year in games won, and there were opportunities for more scoring.  A total of 14 runners were left on base, eight of which were in scoring position.  If this wasn’t 2012, I’d be concerned about that.  However, this year feels a lot different.

The Cardinals lead the National League in Batting Average, Hits, RBI, Runs Scored and Home Runs (Tied with Brewers).  When comparing the Redbirds to the American League, not much changes.  In each of the previously mentioned categories, the Cardinals hold the position of 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd and 3rd.

What Pressure?

The Redbirds were not supposed to be this good.  They lost the best player in the game as well as a hall of fame manager, and the new dugout leader is a complete rookie.  Those three things alone are enough to create intense pressure to perform, let alone throwing in the huge potential for a World Series Championship hangover.  Instead of bowing to that pressure, the Cardinals are playing like champions are supposed to play.

New manager Mike Matheny has created a tremendous atmosphere and everyone appears to be following his lead. While there will be turmoil of some sort this season and mistakes from Matheny (Should he have taken Lohse out of the game so early last night?), the Cardinals might play one of the greatest regular seasons in their amazing history. That will make for a fun summer.

Three Quick Items:

  1. Skip Schumaker is due back soon.  That adds to the position-player depth, but creates a tough roster decision for GM John Mozeliak.  Who will be removed to make room for Schumaker?  Although this is a tough call, what an incredible position for Mozeliak.  The Cardinals are so deep with talent that a quality player will be sacrificed.  Perhaps, a trade for prospects could happen.
  2. Mozeliak will have another dilemma when Allen Craig is ready.
  3. Have you seen the 2011 Word Series ring?  The Rally Squirrel is on it.  Look closely at the picture to the right, just above the “50.” The critter is now officially forever a part of Redbird history.