After two off-days during the six-game home stand with which the Cardinals opened the season, St. Louis finds itself in the middle of ten games in ten days on the west coast. Since our youngest days as fans, we have been conditioned to believe in the difficulty of the "road trip." As Cardinals fans, we have further been conditioned to believe that difficulty's degree increases exponentially when the trip is to a coast, populated with blood-thirsty fans, set in uncomfortable time zones, and against skilled adversaries.
This is the type of road trip that feels like it should be in mid-June or late-July, when the club has hit its collective stride, the players having embraced their roles, so that Shannon and Rooney can discuss how we will find out a lot about this team on the forthcoming road trip, which is treacherous due to both its length and the west-coast opponents that are used to the first pitch being thrown at 9:05 CDT.
Jaunts westward in April are nothing new for the Cardinals. Last April, the Cardinals visited Arizona first and then San Francisco from April 19-25. In 2009, the Cardinals played at the Diamondbacks from April 13-15. In '08, it was a four-game visit to the Giants on April 10-13. In '07, the Cards inexplicably played only a two-game series in San Francisco. This April tradition has evolved as a quirk of the MLB schedule-making. Six games is mildly daunting, to my mind's eye, while three- or two-game series are nothing more than dipping one's toe in the baptismal fires. Ten games in ten early-April days, on the other hand, well, that is a full-fledged baptism by fire.
This west-coast swing, from northern California to Arizona to southern California feels premature. We as fans still have scrambled if increasingly pessimistic expectations and neither the players nor the mad-scientist manager seem to have settled into or upon designated roles. Such is the upheaving nature of April baseball, which makes this trip feel somehow unfair. Matt Holliday missed the first two games due to an appendectomy (and returns likely still filling the effects of his missing appendix), Ryan Theriot is still regularly batting leadoff, Ryan Franklin sucks (again), future $30 million Albert Pujols seems unable to do that which is worth $30 million, Miguel Batista is a set-up man, Berkman has not yet rediscovered the ability to judge or catch a flyball, and neither has Colby Rasmus.
Fresh off a home-series loss to the perpetually sixth-place Pirates and without their cleanup hitter, the Cards stumbled into what felt like a bum rush by the Bay. After eight punchless innings, they showed their grit and determination, improbably rallying against the black-bearded San Franciscan closer to take a late. Only to have our ginger-chinbearded closer blow the lead and the save before an extra-inning, walk-off defeat that saw Kyle Lohse pinch hit. Then, Jaime Garcia, one of the few Cardinals I feel comfortable with against any opponent, saw his excellent work squandered by our closer, who was abetted by Rasmus, which meant a second consecutive walk-off defeat to the reigning World Champions. Sunday saw the second start from our $40 million fourth starter, and he rode in as the cavalry of legend and cliche, saving the Redbirds with a dominating eight-inning start. And the offense even decided to support a good pitching performance with some runs. It was the game that we the ffans needed. Hopefully, it will provide a bit of momentum going forward since it seemed like the club needed it, too.
On this grueling west coast gauntlet, the Redbirds find themselves 1-2 (and 3-6 on the young season), and in need of a series win, any series win. The second leg of the west coast road trip takes them to the desert for a series against the Diamondbacks ("Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?") before heading to Chavez Ravine to face Mattingly's Dodgers. While the road trip may seem premature, the next two series will tell us a lot about this club and, despite their early date, are frankly shaping up to be important match-ups for a club that already seems to be staggering in a punch-drunk way reminiscent of late-summer 2010.