With Spring Training underway, let’s take a look at the regular season. I know I sound crazy saying the first month of the season could have a huge impact on the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014, but if you take a look at the schedule April has two series against the Cincinnati Reds (one away, one at home), and two series against the Pittsburgh Pirates (one at home, one away). That is 12 games in one month against the top 2 competitors in the NL Central. Of course you always want to beat your division rivals, but April 2014 has an unprecedented amount of games against those 2 contenders. Winning those series will be crucial to the Cardinals success. To make April that much more daunting, there is also a 4 game series at the Washington Nationals who are looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2013. Fortunately, the Cardinals also have 6 games against the Milwaukee Brewers, 3 against the Chicago Cubs, and 4 against the New York Mets to try to make up any lost ground. Clearly it would be very detrimental to start off cold and have to play catch-up the rest of the season.
Looking at the past 4 years, the St. Louis Cardinals have been a relatively hot starter compared to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. For the month of April the Cardinals have a 60-38 record, good for a 0.612 win percentage. The Reds and Pirates did not fare as well. The Reds have a record of 52-48 (0.520), and the Pirates are 47-52 (0.475) in the month of April. Taking a look at last year’s regular season head-to-head match-ups against the Pirates and the Reds, the Cardinals were 9-10 against Pittsburgh, and 11-8 against Cincinnati. Roughly the Cardinals played .500 ball against those two clubs. Yet another reason the Cardinals need to get off on the right foot this season. It would be very difficult to win the division if the Cardinals have a losing record to both the Pirates and the Reds.
I understand that if the St. Louis Cardinals get off to a slow start they have 5 more months of baseball to overcome that deficit and win the division. So, let’s take a look at the rest of the season. May doesn’t get much easier with 6 games against the Atlanta Braves, another 3 at the Pirates, another 3 at the Reds, plus a 3 game series against the visiting New York Yankees, and 4 against the always dangerous San Francisco Giants.
June should be fairly comfortable with 4 against the Kansas City Royals (2 home, 2 away), 3 at the Toronto Blue Jays, 3 against the Mets, 4 against the Philadelphia Phillies, and 3 at the Colorado Rockies. However, the last series of June is at the Los Angeles Dodgers. There is also a 2 game set at the Tampa Bay Rays, and another 3 game set against the Nationals.
July has the all-star break which always a much needed rest. Leading up to the break the Cardinals have 3 at San Francisco, an easy 3 against the Miami Marlins, then a pivotal 4 against the Pirates, before taking a breath with 3 at Milwaukee. To start the second half of the season, the Cardinals get 3 against the Dodgers followed by 2 against the Rays. Rounding out the month are 3 game sets at the Cubs and at the San Diego Padres.
Fortunately, during the dog days of summer, the month of August doesn’t look too daunting for the Cardinals. They should handily win their series’ against the Brewers, Marlins, Padres, Phillies and Cubs. But, they do have a 3 game set against the Boston Red Sox in a 2013 World Series rematch followed by 3 at the Baltimore Orioles. It will be interesting to see how the Orioles contend this year in the always competitive AL East. There are also 3 game sets against the Reds and at the Pirates that should be pivotal this late in the season. Those series will undoubtedly have playoff implications.
After playing at the Pirates one week prior, the Cardinals start September with another series against their NL Central foes, this time in St. Louis. The following week has a 4 game series at the Reds. After two 3 game series against what I project to be lesser teams (the Rockies and Brewers), the Cardinals have their last series against the Reds. They then finish out their regular season against the Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Then it is on to October…assuming we get there. Will the Cardinals have started off hot and run away with the division? Or will we be looking back at opportunity lost in April?