It may only be June, but the Cardinals are entering what could be one of the more pivotal series’ of the entire season tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies. This isn’t your typical National League matchup by any means. It’s a matchup of two division leaders, and perhaps more importantly, it’s a potential NLCS preview. St. Louis has lost 8 of their last 11 games, and while Philadelphia is coming off a recent seven game winning streak, not everything is warm and mushy in the city of brotherly love right now. The team hasn’t lived up to its sky high expectations on a consistent basis, sparking concern among many fans. Ahead, I’ll preview this three game series and explain exactly why it’s so important to the Cards.
- Game 1: Roy Halladay (9-3, 2.53 ERA) vs. Kyle McClellan (6-3, 3.71 ERA)
- Game 2: Cliff Lee (7-5, 3.12 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (7-3, 2.88 ERA)
- Game 3: Roy Oswalt (4-5, 3.38 ERA) vs. Chris Carpenter (1-7, 4.47 ERA)
- NL Central: 1st St. Louis 40-33, 2nd Milwaukee 40-34, 3rd Cincinnati 38-36
- NL East: 1st Philadelphia 45-28, 2nd Atlanta 42-33, 3rd New York 35-37
As everyone knows, the Cardinals begin their four to six week stint without superstar Albert Pujols tonight. Even on somewhat of a down year by normal Pujols standards, the guy is still the engine that makes this team run and the best player in baseball for that matter. The Phillies, as well as every other opponent for the next month or two, will certainly be looking to take advantage of the wounded Redbirds. I guarantee that the Brewers and Reds smell blood in the water, which makes it even more important that the Cards rally collectively as a team to fill the void in production.
Injuries are part of the game, which isn’t to say they aren’t tough to overcome, but the Phillies managed baseball’s best record without their star Chase Utley. If St. Louis plans on being in contention in October, they better do the same. This series should give us an idea of whether collapse or regroup is in store for the Cardinals. One thing is for sure: A sweep would give this resilient bunch an incredible momentum and confidence boost.
With nine Interleague games against the AL East up next for the Cardinals, things don’t get any easier. If they can’t begin to reverse this recent downhill trend right now, they might have trouble doing so down the road. In short, the Cardinals need to prove that they can win without Albert Pujols, and they need to prove it as quickly as possible. Every game matters, and I’m sure this team realizes that after last year’s disappointment.
One of the things that makes this series so interesting is the severe contrast in the strengths of each team. The Cardinals’ offense has ranked near the top in most categories from the start and is arguably the most balanced offense in the National League. On the other hand, the Phils have struggled mightily to support their outstanding pitching staff. Don’t look for any blowouts in this three-game set, and don’t look for anything to come easy.
Interesting Note: Ryan Howard, who was born in St. Louis, has hit .365 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 23 career games at Busch Stadium.