ST. LOUIS The hits started coming in Spring Training and they haven't stopped since. It's as if the baseball Gods wanted the Cardinals to try and prove last year's World Series title was no fluke by giving them a stiffer challenge.
Hit with a rash of injuries that included their fifth player being placed on the disabled list in the past week Tuesday, the Cardinals continued to play on with a 6-3 win over the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals swept the Padres out of town despite entering the series having lost eight of their past ten games. The lead has dwindled in recent days but the win kept the Cardinals a half-game ahead of the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central.
"It shows you how deep we are and what kind of character we have," said starter Lance Lynn, who improved to 7-1 Tuesday as a fill-in for ace Chris Carpenter. "You go through a rough little patch like that and come back and do what we're able to, hopefully we can keep it going on this homestand."
First came a nerve injury in mid-March to Carpenter, who came up huge for the Cardinals down the stretch and was the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series. He's yet to throw a pitch and a return this season can't be guaranteed.
An oblique injury to valuable utility man Skip Schumaker midway through spring training forced him to open the season on the disabled list as well.
And that was just the beginning. The Cardinals have since put six players on the disabled list as they struggle to stay afloat atop the National League Central.
Things have gotten so rough for the Cardinals that they are running out of players to bring up from their Triple-A Memphis affiliate.
"It's been a really, really weird thing going on," said infielder Tyler Greene. "I don't know, it's just one of those freak things right now. I don't know how to describe it. It's tough."
The list of injuries is lengthy and almost hard to believe.
Veteran reliever Scott Linebrink was placed on the disabled list after just one game and first baseman Lance Berkman joined the list on April 20 with a calf strain.
Berkman, a valuable piece of the Cardinals lineup who hit 31 home runs and had 94 RBI last year, returned on May 13. But just two days later, center fielder Jon Jay hit the disabled list with a strained shoulder stemming from a collision with the wall.
The Cardinals activated outfielder Allen Craig on May 1 after he missed the first month while recovering from offseason knee surgery, but he returned to the DL on May 18 with a left hamstring strain.
Reliever Kyle McClellan joined Craig on the disabled list on the same day with a right elbow strain and a slight tear of his UCL ligament. He'll be sidelined at least ten weeks.
Berkman suffered a knee injury the next night and was put back on the disabled list on May 20. He'll have exploratory surgery Thursday morning which will determine whether or not he returns this season.
And the most recent blow came just two days later on Tuesday when first baseman and key utility man Matt Carpenter was placed on the disabled list with a right oblique strain.
That's five players added to the disabled list in the past eight days, an achievement not many teams in baseball can stake claim to this season.
"That's how it is man," said outfielder Carlos Beltran, who missed four games recently while dealing with a sore knee of his own. "In this game, a lot of things can happen. Unfortunately we're going through a stretch where we're getting injured.
"We just have to find a way to win the games with the team that we have right now. We would love to have everyone healthy but it's a long season. Things are going to happen and players will get hurt but at the end of the day, we have to go out there with the guys that are available."
The Cardinals hope to get both Craig and Jay back in the next week. Carpenter could be back in the next 2-3 weeks. Linebrink hopes to return in about a month while Carpenter could begin a throwing program sometime in June.
It's been a rough start to the year for the defending champs. But just as they did when the odds were against them a year ago, the Cardinals look to be up to the challenge.