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Friday, April 11, 2008

A Key Series in San Francisco...

St. Louis enters tonight's game vs. the Giants with a 7-2 record on the young season. The last time the Cardinals started a season 8-2? 1981. Yup, 27 seasons ago. Of course 1981 was the season shortened by the players' strike.

So why do I believe this particular early-season series is a "key" series? Well, in short, the '08 Cards simply do not have the luxury of losing games they should win. The Redbirds must capitalize on weaker opponents, without exception.

The team has been impressive thus far, but we all know that the starting rotation, as a whole, has outperformed expectations, and early season stats don't mesh with the career track records of the rotation's individual members. In other words, we should expect these guys to come back to earth.

Further, despite the team's win-loss total, the offense as currently constructed clearly has same holes (most notably reliable protection for Albert Pujols). In today's Post-Dispatch, Jeff Gordon speculates as to what the Cards might do to fill the need for an additional impact hitter.

But over the next four days, the Cards face the San Francisco Giants, sans Barry Bonds. How bad are the Giants this season? Here are their early season statistical rankings:

* 16th (last place) in the NL in Team OPS (.588). For comparison, the 15th ranked team (Dodgers) has a Team OPS of .668 and the Cards (4th in the NL) have a Team OPS of .777.

* 16th (last in the NL) in runs scored with 20. The Cards have not scored many runs themselves, but have almost twice as many runs (39) as the Giants.

* 16th in the NL in Team Batting Average (.222). St. Louis is batting .262 as a team.

* 13th in the NL in Team ERA (4.69). Cards are 1st in Team ERA at 2.48.

* 16th in the NL in "batting average against" (BAA) at .304. The Cards are 4th with a BAA of .233.

The Cards will face a couple of tough pitchers later in the series in Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, so this won't be a cakewalk. However, the Giants offense is anemic. The Cards need to take at least three of four games in this series.

The series becomes even more important when you consider the Cardinals' place in the NL Central. The Brewers lost to the Reds earlier today, so entering tonight's game St. Louis has a full one-game lead over Milwaukee and a chance to expand that lead to 1.5 games.

But we're only ten games into the season, you say? Why does this even matter? Well, a win is a win, whether it comes in April or September. The Cards find themselves in the fortunate position of both an early season hot streak and a favorable April schedule. They need to put some distance between themselves and other NL Central contenders while they have a chance. Remember that Milwaukee almost made the playoffs last year thanks in large part to their early-season success. If the Cardinals can rack up some wins in April, that may keep them in contention through the dog days of the summer.

Tonight's Lineup:


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