Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 6/6/13
When a team owns the best record in the majors, sports the lowest ERA and commits the fewest errors, plus is averaging the most runs in the National League, that team is sitting pretty. The Cardinals certainly are, even if they cant beat the Diamondbacks. Dont expect the Cardinals to crow about their success, though. This is a group that professes to live in the moment, to not look past the next pitch, much less the next game. Cardinals players know theyll wrap up a home stand Thursday night, then depart for a weekend series in Cincinnati. After that, only a handful probably could tell you that New York and Miami are the following stops (You can bet Jon Jay knows about Miami). You cant fault their approach. Despite debuting more rookies in the past month than many teams will break in all season, the Cardinals are on the verge of going 20 games over .500 for the first time since the last day of the 2009 season. Manager Mike Matheny again made clear his every-days-the-same approach Wednesday when he addressed Yadier Molinas decision to drop his appeal and serve his one-game suspension. When someone mentioned to Matheny that Molina now would be available for all three games against the Reds, he shrugged and said he doesnt put any more value over those than these (games). Its just time for Molina to be done with the incident, Matheny said. With all that has gone right for the Cardinals, this is taking on the feel of a special season in St. Louis. Its starting to feel like something really would have to go wrong to keep them out of October. But dont start booking October jaunts to Busch Stadium just yet. Numerous obstacles remain, starting with the tiny detail that they still have 103 games left. Besides the schedule, heres four potential roadblocks facing the Cardinals: 1. Reds If this rivalry feels like it has cooled in the past year, look for it to heat up this summer. The teams play 13 more times, 10 in Cincinnati. Though the Reds also have dealt with their share of injuries, they still went 19-8 in May, just a game behind the Cardinals 20-7. Even without right-hander Johnny Cueto, back on the disabled list with a lat strain, the Reds have a rotation that can match the Cardinals. Reds starters are second to the Cardinals in ERA. Cincinnati has yet to call up its top young starter starter, Tony Cingrani, because he pitched Sunday and the Reds needed someone to take Cuetos scheduled Wednesday start. Cingrani pitched well in a call up earlier this season and likely will return if Cueto is out for an extended period. The Reds are expected to get back Brandon Phillips, hit in the arm by a pitch last Saturday, for this weekends three-game set in Cincinnati. 2. Braves When I asked a long-time scout at Busch Stadium Wednesday whom he considers the biggest threat to the Cardinals, he said Atlanta. He said this right in front of a Reds scout, too. Another scout in the conversation, however, pointed out that the Braves are a streaky club offensively (see Justin Upton: 12 homers in April, two in May), mainly because they strike out more than any team in the majors except the Astros. The Cardinals have the kind of pitching staff to send Braves hitters into a funk, too. The Braves can beat up on bad pitching but the Cardinals have pitchers who hit their spots and execute their pitches, the scout said. That could make a matchup that gives the Braves trouble. When the Braves are on, though, they have a lineup that can out power the Cardinals. They also have a capable rotation that should get a lift when Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery) returns later this month. 3. Diamondbacks The Cardinals probably wont be disappointed to be done with the D-backs after Thursday night. Arizona isnt in first place just because the Dodgers cant get going and the Giants rotation has the third-worst ERA in the National League (4.28 going into Wednesday). A dramatic turnaround isnt all that likely, either. San Franciscos ace, Matt Cain, has a 5.45 ERA and could be feeling off after last years run to the World Series championship. Even if you take away his two dreadful outings against the Cardinals (16 runs, 9 23 innings), the 4.03 ERA youre left with would be Cains worst since his rookie season. The only team with a winning record this season against the Cardinals, the Diamondbacks have exceeded expectations because of the performance of their young pitching, a defense that doesnt beat itself and the slugging of Paul Goldschmidt, the N.L. RBI leader. 4. Themselves Specifically, their young arms. St. Louis rookie pitchers have pitched exceptionally well (combined 2.48 ERA in 170 innings before Maikel Cleto entered Wednesdays game) but theyre still rookies. The Cardinals are relying on a bunch of them, too. Theyve used nine already; seven are on the roster today. Shelby Miller, however, might not cause quite as much concern as many 21-year-old starters. The right-hander worked a combined 153 13 innings last season in the minors and majors, which means he should be good for about 185 if the Cardinals go by the 20-percent increase from one guideline. Matheny also has been able to give Miller --- as well as Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn --- a considerable amount of extra rest between starts. After at least five of their starts, the three have had an extra day or two of rest. Healthy returns by Jake Westbrook and Chris Carpenter would go a long way in removing any concern about pushing the rookies. Westbrook is on track to return next week while Carpenter plods along slowly but steadily in his comeback. He is wise to take his time. He knows a lot baseball remains before the Cardinals season really can become special.
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