June 27, 2008

I-70 Show-Me Showdown series for Cards

Coming back from a Royals sweep to take the series against the Red Sox lifted the spirits of Cardinal Nation. Winning the first game of the Tigers series was out of character, but surely the Cards were happy to take it, being on the road and in Comerica Park, a traditionally tough ball park for the Cardinals. But after dropping two tough games to the Tigers, within a dozen hours or so, the Cardinal road armor is chinked.

The preview that's having a hard time developing here may be due to the fact that the next road series stop (and last one, thankfully) is Kauffman Park, home of the Kansas City Royals.

Not that long ago, the Royals pounded the Cardinals into the Busch Stadium dirt, then frustrated the team and fans alike in the other two games. Suffice it to say that this road trip could get ugly real fast if the Cards don't win one of the first two games.

What bodes well for the Cards is that Albert Pujols is back in play, and swinging a hot bat out of the gate. Also, Joel Pineiro will start Friday night. And this first game is one to go after, even if the bullpen has been all but exhausted due to the one-run, lengthy battles with the Tigers. That's because there is no clear starter for Saturday's game. Could be Mark Mulder, but if not, it could be Mitchell Boggs. The mere fact that the starter is a question mark doesn't exactly provide much security to a team that is having a lull in the overall quality of the bullpen work.

If the offense should go to sleep again, like it had versus the Royals a few weeks ago, the series could very well be a repeat of the Royals sweep.

Yet, these are the Cardinals, who have this unusual knack of playing up to the level of good teams and down to the level of the not-so-good opponents. When the Royals hit St. Louis less than two weeks ago, they weren't playing good baseball. The Cards played right down to that level. By the time that series was over, however, and the series had been swept, the Royals were playing good baseball, and have continued, tearing up National League teams to the tune of 12 wins out of 15 games as of the time of this post.

The next question mark, therefore, is: will the Cards now play up to their level?

PIneiro vs. Gil Meche on Friday night.

Mulder/Boggs vs. Kyle Davies on Saturday night.

Braden Looper vs. Brian Bannister on Sunday afternoon.

Translated: that's Cardinals vs. Royals in each game, just to remind everyone that it isn't just the pitchers out there doing all the winning and losing.

If this preview is based in phobia, it may be because there are no signs that the bullpen is going to get it together any time soon. That will happen when it happens. Only leadership can push up the confidence level of the relievers; that, or an offense that is maintaining a five-plus lead at all times. How confident does that sound?

The good thing about the Cardinals as a team right now is that they never coast through a loss, so there's little danger of them blowing off these next three games with the thought in mind that they'll be home soon enough.

The I-70 Show-Me Showdown series for the Cardinals at this point in the season is like a low-level gut-check time. In other words, there's a lot of season left even if things go south in Kansas City, but at the same time, there's fewer times in the remaining season when you can say there's a lot of season left. It's like saying, there's plenty of time, for a short while.