Coming back from a Royals sweep to take the series against the Red Sox lifted the spirits of Cardinal Nation. Winning the first game of the Tigers series was out of character, but surely the Cards were happy to take it, being on the road and in Comerica Park, a traditionally tough ball park for the Cardinals. But after dropping two tough games to the Tigers, within a dozen hours or so, the Cardinal road armor is chinked.
The preview that’s having a hard time developing here may be due to the fact that the next road series stop (and last one, thankfully) is Kauffman Park, home of the Kansas City Royals.
Not that long ago, the Royals pounded the Cardinals into the Busch Stadium dirt, then frustrated the team and fans alike in the other two games. Suffice it to say that this road trip could get ugly real fast if the Cards don’t win one of the first two games.
What bodes well for the Cards is that Albert Pujols is back in play, and swinging a hot bat out of the gate. Also, Joel Pineiro will start Friday night. And this first game is one to go after, even if the bullpen has been all but exhausted due to the one-run, lengthy battles with the Tigers. That’s because there is no clear starter for Saturday’s game. Could be Mark Mulder, but if not, it could be Mitchell Boggs. The mere fact that the starter is a question mark doesn’t exactly provide much security to a team that is having a lull in the overall quality of the bullpen work.
If the offense should go to sleep again, like it had versus the Royals a few weeks ago, the series could very well be a repeat of the Royals sweep.
Yet, these are the Cardinals, who have this unusual knack of playing up to the level of good teams and down to the level of the not-so-good opponents. When the Royals hit St. Louis less than two weeks ago, they weren’t playing good baseball. The Cards played right down to that level. By the time that series was over, however, and the series had been swept, the Royals were playing good baseball, and have continued, tearing up National League teams to the tune of 12 wins out of 15 games as of the time of this post.
The next question mark, therefore, is: will the Cards now play up to their level?
PIneiro vs. Gil Meche on Friday night.
Mulder/Boggs vs. Kyle Davies on Saturday night.
Braden Looper vs. Brian Bannister on Sunday afternoon.
Translated: that’s Cardinals vs. Royals in each game, just to remind everyone that it isn’t just the pitchers out there doing all the winning and losing.
If this preview is based in phobia, it may be because there are no signs that the bullpen is going to get it together any time soon. That will happen when it happens. Only leadership can push up the confidence level of the relievers; that, or an offense that is maintaining a five-plus lead at all times. How confident does that sound?
The good thing about the Cardinals as a team right now is that they never coast through a loss, so there’s little danger of them blowing off these next three games with the thought in mind that they’ll be home soon enough.
The I-70 Show-Me Showdown series for the Cardinals at this point in the season is like a low-level gut-check time. In other words, there’s a lot of season left even if things go south in Kansas City, but at the same time, there’s fewer times in the remaining season when you can say there’s a lot of season left. It’s like saying, there’s plenty of time, for a short while.
It has been pointed out that in a recent entry, Show-Me Series set to start at Busch tomorrow, 4thebirds stated that this series with the Royals was the first interleague play for the Cardinals. Not so. Actually, the Cardinals played the Tampa Bay Rays back in May.
Show-Me Series, I-70 Series, if you’ve got a rivalry, the fans of the Royals and the Cardinals got a name for it. And the fun thing about rivalries is that the current team records don’t seem to matter.
The inter-league match-up will be the first for both teams this season, the first three of six total games to be hosted by St. Louis, at the ballpark by the Mighty Mississippi. A few weeks later, the rivalry will continue with a three-game set down I-70 in Kansas City, at Kauffman Stadium.
Save any bad weather (knock on a wood bat) and /or earthquakes, I will be at Busch Stadium on Tuesday for the first game of the series. Braden Looper is the probable starting pitcher for the Cards, which should make St. Louis fans happy, considering the Redbirds usually lose the first game of any new series. This would be a bonafide chance to correct that annoying tendency.
According the MLB Royals web site, they will counter with Kyle Davies, who sports an ERA beneath 2 but and perfect record, although it is short, at 2-0. The site also features articles describing the Royals bullpen as a bit disoriented, mainly due to an injury to Leo Nunez, a successful set-up man. There are other injuries, and when you put them together, it has made for some creative shifting about my Royals’ manager Trey Hillman.
The Cardinals are already used to the perpetual shuffle of pitchers (and more recently, position players) due to injury. The almost weekly incidents of injuries have all but caused the opening of a new transportation line between St. Louis and its triple-A affiliate team in Memphis. The list and descriptions of DLs, rehabs, call-ups and send-downs is much longer that this blog entry, for instance. Suffice it to say, the Cardinals have been in a similar boat to the one which now carries the Royals, only maybe in rougher waters.
Put these factors together, and you can see how the team records may not give a true indication of how these teams might match-up. Add the fact that this is a now a semi-long rivalry and you’ve got quite a bit of doubt. The Cards may hold the edge on odds, however, due to Looper’s consistency, especially coming off a great performance in his last outing–his first complete game, a win. Not so sure the lopsided numbers on the won-loss for the duration of the I-70 series means as much this time, but an American League team playing in a national league ball park does put them at some disadvantage, both for the unfamiliarity and non-use of the DH.