The Grind Of The St. Louis Cardinals' Season Is About To Begin

April 14, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese (23) shakes hands with hall of famer players Ozzie Smith (left), Bruce Sutter (second from left), Whitey Herzog (second from right), and Lou Brock (right) after receiving his 2011 World Series Ring during a ceremony before a game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

On Wednesday, April 4, 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals were the guests of honor at the kaleidoscopic opening of the Miami Marlins' new ballpark. After Opening Night, the Redbirds hopped on a happy flight, bound for Milwaukee where they would play on Friday, April 6, 2012, in the Brewers' home opener. After the opening series in Milwaukee, the Cards jetted to Cincinnati for a series in front of a less-than-halfway-full stadium. After that, a flight home for the home opening series against the rival Cubs.

The rainy conditions of Friday and Saturday did little to dampen the prestige of the opening ceremonies at Busch Stadium. While the rain kept out the Clydesdales, the ceremonial parade still included Whitey Herzog, Bruce Sutter, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Stan Musial. In their golden uniforms, the Cardinals were routed by the Cubs in the home-opening game itself. Never fear, for there was a second ceremony on Saturday: the ring ceremony. The 2011 Cardinals received their handsome World Series championship rings (complete with rally squirrel) just before the rain hit. After an extended rain delay, the Cards did their shiny golden unis justice by beating Chicago. On Sunday, the players swapped out their golden jerseys for ones adorned by the number 42, in honor of the great Jackie Robinson, and knocked off the Cubs again.

With the pomp and circumstance of celebratory ceremonies having concluded, the grind of the regular season is about to begin.

The Cardinals have played 10 games in the first 13 days of their 2012 regular season, a stretch that has included three home openers, one opening day parade, and a championship ring ceremony. In addition to the various ceremonial festivities, the early schedule has also featured a fair number of off days. In a way, the club has eased into the waters of the regular season. Whereas last year they hosted the Padres and then embarked on a vaunted west coast road trip, this year has given the club three days off within the first two weeks. The pace of the schedule won't be so leisurely moving forward.

After today's off day, the Reds will come to town for a three-game series that will kick off a stretch of 21 games in 22 days, with April 26 the only off day between today and May 10. Beginning on May 11, the Cardinals play games on 20 consecutive days. It is a stretch that will see them play a 12:45 game at home on May 15 and then fly to San Francisco for a game the next day. From San Fran, they'll head to Chavez Ravine, where they're scheduled to end the series at Los Angeles with a night game on May 20 before flying back to St. Louis for a series against the Padres beginning May 21. After a series in Atlanta wraps up on May 30, the club's next off day falls on May 31, before they travel to New York for a series against the Mets.

With the grinding schedule facing the Cardinals over the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how manager Mike Matheny deploys his personnel. With comparatively few off days, the bullpen will be more taxed and require more managerial juggling. The veterans that make up the core of the Redbirds lineup have already missed time with minor injuries; so, too, has David Freese. With Skip Schumaker rehabbing in Memphis and likely to weaken the bench with his presence in the near future, will Matheny continue to rest his regulars as he did against the Brewers and, out of necessity, against the Reds and Cubs, by resting three starters at a time?

The Cardinals have performed well during the opening of the 2012 regular season. It will be interesting to see if they can continue their winning ways as the grind of the regular season takes hold.

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