May 11, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (22) talks to his team during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Cardinals won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Unbalanced Schedule a Factor in Cardinals' Early Season Struggles

The St. Louis Cardinals return home to Busch Stadium tonight to open a four-game series with the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals’ are coming off a nine-game, three-city road trip in which they posted a 4-5 record. Overall, the Cardinals’ are sitting at .500 (19-19) 38 games into the young season – a major disappointment thus far for a World Series favorite. Aside from the lackluster offensive production, shaky bullpen, and questionable roster management (Kolten Wong demoted to the minors and Oscar Taveras still in the minors), the Cardinals’ have also been dealt a very unforgiving schedule the first six weeks.

As we stand today, the Cardinals’ have played just 12 games at home (7-5) and 26 games on the road (12-14). The 26 road games are the most in Major League Baseball at this point in the season in the last 40 years. In comparison, the Milwaukee Brewers (the NL Central leaders) have opened the year with 21 home games and 17 road games.

Many people feel as though home-field advantage has little to no impact in professional sports – this could not be farther from the truth. I will admit, home-field in baseball is not nearly as important as it is in sports like football or basketball but the numbers do prove its significance. In 2013, the St. Louis Cardinals posted the best record in baseball at 97-65 (tied with the Boston Red Sox). The Cardinals’ went 54-27 at home, good for the second best record in the league (Atlanta Braves). The 43-38 road record was respectable for an elite team but as you can see, the home-road split resulted in an 11-game difference.

While the schedule has been unfavorable in the early part of the season, Cardinal fans can stay optimistic by simply looking at what the next few weeks will bring. Following their four-game series with the Chicago Cubs this weekend, the Cardinals will host by the Atlanta Braves (May 16-18) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (May 20-22). Following a brief three-game series at the Cincinnati Reds (May 23-25), St. Louis again returns home for series vs. the New York Yankees (May 26-28), the San Francisco Giants (May 29-June 1), and the Kansas City Royals (June 2-June 3). What this adds up to is the Cardinals’ playing 19 of the next 22 games in the friendly confines of Busch Stadium.

After taking a closer look at the upcoming schedule, it is fair to conclude that the next three weeks for the St. Louis Cardinals will be extremely important. Like most Cardinal fans, I am disappointed by the start of the season but I also remember the season is a marathon not a sprint. As a matter of fact, in 2004 the Cardinals’ were in a similar position (.500 halfway through May) and ultimately ended up winning over 100 games and advancing to the World Series. If the Cardinals’ wrap up this 22-game stretch still a .500 team it will be time to get concerned but until then, expect nothing but steady improvement from this ball club.

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