Opening day, baby! Time to play some baseball.
With the season getting started, I thought it a good idea to take a look at the Cardinals’ schedule for the season and see if we could find where there might be some challenges and where there might be some opportunities to take advantage of the schedule.
As we all know, baseball’s unbalanced schedule means A LOT of games against teams in the NL Central which stands to be probably the toughest division in baseball. The Cardinals play 19 games against each team in the division. Interestingly, the team plays Milwaukee 10 times in their first 24 games and then are done with the Brewers until mid-August. Meanwhile, they only play the Cubs 3 times before Memorial Day.
When it comes to interleague play, the team gets to play the teams in the AL West in 2019. That means playing the Astros at home – we’ll call it the Eckstein123 series – as well as the Angels in Albert Pujols’ return to St. Louis. We have 2 series against the A’s and then visit the Rangers and the Mariners.
Now let’s look at the schedule month-by-month.
The season begins with 4 games in Milwaukee before we get into April when we lead off with 2 in Pittsburgh before the Padres come calling in the Cards’ home opener on April 4. That Padres series begins a 7-game homestand before the team goes to Cincinnati and back to Milwaukee. That’s right…we’ll play 7 games in Milwaukee before we play our 8th game in St. Louis. Then comes the team’s longest homestand of the season – a 9 game homestand against the Mets, Brewers, and Reds.
All told, in March and April we’ll play 16 home games and just 13 road games. In some respects, this will be one of the most important months of the season because the team will play 17 games against division rivals and 17 games against 2018 playoff teams – including those 10 against the Brewers. That also doesn’t include 2 games against the team that many expect to win the NL East in 2019, the Washington Nationals.
The schedule in May includes far fewer games against NL Central teams – only 4 games against the Cubs and 4 more against the Pirates – and our first interleague games. Those 2 interleague series – in Texas and at home against the Royals – are series we should dominate. May only includes 11 games against 2018 playoff teams but does include 6 games against the Phillies, who certainly figure to contend for a playoff spot this season. May includes 13 home games and 14 games on the road.
In June, the schedule starts to get a little easier as it only includes 9 games against 2018 playoff teams and 8 divisional games. The team begins with the Cubs and Reds at home before embarking on one of the 2 longest road trips of the season as they visit Chicago, Miami, and New York to face the Mets in succession. The team then comes home for a homestand against the Marlins, Angels, and A’s that includes not only Pujols’ long-awaited return but also Stephen Piscotty’s return to St. Louis. Even though the opponents are a little less daunting in June than in most of the other months, the team will be challenged by their longest string of successive games in 2019. The Cardinals will play 20 games in 20 days – I think the longest string of games allowed by the current CBA – from the 4th through the 23rd.
The team ends June and begins July with a 9 game trip to the west coast to face the Padres, Mariners, and Giants. That takes the team to the 4 game All-Star break that leads into another long string of games from July 12 through the 28. That’s 17 games in 17 days that ends with the 3 game homestand against the Astros. Interestingly, the first 2 games of that Astros homestand have giveaways that are “2004 Mystery Player Jersey” and “2004 Mystery Player NL Champions Ring.” I don’t know if the people in the team’s Marketing Department has a sense of humor but, if they do, one of those mystery players HAS to be David Eckstein. If there’s a God, they would give away a jersey with Eckstein’s name on the back and the number would be 123. Or maybe give away a Chris Correa jersey with his penal number on the back! (Tell Bruno that “penal number” has to do with his penitentiary number and has nothing to do with vital parts of his anatomy.)
All told, the team plays just 5 games against playoff teams in July – those 3 against the Astros and 2 more against the Cubs but does have 13 divisional games to play. It could provide the team a great opportunity to make up some ground on the rest of the division since there are so many games against the M’s, the Giants, the Reds, the Pirates, and the D’backs. There will be 19 games in July against teams that were either below .500 in 2018 or are taking a step backward in 2019.
In August, the schedule starts to get a little tougher again. We’ll have 13 home games against 14 road games and 16 divisional games and 16 games against 2018 playoff teams. Additionally, there’s a portion where the team plays 11 road games and just 3 home games in 16 days and a stint that requires the team to play 16 games in 16 days. There will be another 5 game west coast road trip to face the A’s and the Dodgers – tougher opponents than July’s west coast road trip – and a key 7 game homestand against the Brewers and Rockies. August will definitely test the team’s mettle.
September brings 14 home games and 13 road games but it’s still going to be a tough row to hoe. The Cards will play 16 games against NL Central teams, including 7 pivotal games against the Cubs, and 13 games against last season’s playoff teams plus 3 more against the Nats. September is also when the team has to go to Colorado which is always a spot on the schedule I personally hate. It seems like we always have to play high-scoring games and use too many pitchers and right after we get back, we have 13 straight games against the Brewers, Nats, Cubs, and D-backs. This month includes Paul Goldschmidt’s return to Arizona but most of the month will be a grind as we close the season with 3 games at home against the Cubs.
It seems like the toughest months of the season really bookend the schedule. March/April will be really difficult with all the games against the Brewers plus all the other games against last season’s playoff teams. Of the 29 games the team plays in March and April, at least 16 of them are at home. August and September will also be extremely tough as the team has 29 games against last season’s playoff teams plus 3 more against the Nationals.
If we’re around .500 or slightly above when the calendar flips to May, we may have the opportunity to roll down the windows, push the top back, and push that pedal to the floor as we get to face a lot of really beatable teams over the next 3 months. That’s less true in May than it is in June and July since we do have the 6 games against the Phillies in addition to the other 7 games against playoff teams, but it still seems like the 1st month and the last 2 are the most difficult to navigate.
The team will be tested by long road trips in both June and July as well as that 20-games-in-20-days grind in June. It really seems like the team should sort of manage the first month or so of the season before opening up a lead in the division that it takes through July and into August. If we’re a few games back at the trade deadline, I’m going to be really concerned about our chances considering how difficult the last 2 months are. If we can take that lead into August then they’ve just go to battle every day until the end.
Thanks as always for reading.
Thanks to @cardinalsgifs for the cool schedule pics.