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Sweep at Arizona is huge for this stretch

Posted Friday, May 11, 2012, at 8:25 AM

I can't express just how huge this week's sweep over the Arizona Diamondbacks is for the Cardinals over the next month and a half.

In many circles Arizona was, and still is, a favorite to win the National League West.

The Cardinals flew into Arizona and outscored them 22-9 over the three-game series, bumping them to four games under .500.

The defending world champions are currently in a three-way tie for second best record in all of baseball at 20-11.

The sweep and great record are vital right now for several reasons.

1. This weekend the Cardinals will take on the Atlanta Braves for three games, and that team is no slouch. While they're tied for first in their division and lost Wednesday night, they've been good so far this year and they'll hang around the top of that division. Given this is Chipper Jones' last year, he wants to go out with a bang, and he is very capable of making that happen.

2. Of the next 48 games, only five are against NL Central division opponents. This is the Cardinals good chance to prove that they are able to do more than just beat on their division opponents. In the month of May alone, they will face San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. All of those teams are a threat. Currently, Philadelphia is playing the worst baseball, but I included them because I'm sure they are going to turn it on soon. This isn't going to be an easy stretch, so they need the best start they can possibly get off to.

3. Most of the Cardinals success this season has come with the team short-handed. Lance Berkman has been gone the majority of the season (even though he should be back tonight). Chris Carpenter has yet to play a game and likely won't before the All Star break. Allen Craig has only been back a week, but has already been an asset to the team. Frankly, a trade of Komatsu for Craig is a darn good trade. That the Cardinals have been this good missing the guys that they are speaks highly to the character of the team, manager and coaching staff.

4. Eventually, there will be bumps in the road. So far, everything has been great, but they won't stay at this pace all year. The key is to build up a big lead in the central in the meantime, so if they lose three or four straight games at some point, it doesn't immediately knock them out of first place. They did a fine job of that in the division, but it's time to show they can do it anywhere they go.

Over this next stint we will also learn more about Matheny's development as a manager. He's made a handful of questionable calls, mostly involving the bullpen, but in general so far, he's done very well. As the season continues and he further grasps the job, he will continue to improve.

All in all, from now through the end of June, we should see some interesting baseball.

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This week's contest question is a bit tougher, but that's because the prize is so much better!

The contest question for last week was: Who was the first Cardinal to hit 50 homeruns in a season? Answer: Mark McGwire. Congratulations to Robert Miller of Parma, Mo.

The contest question for this week is: In honor of LaRussa's number being retired, how many games did LaRussa win as a major league manager? This includes the Cardinals, Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics - not just the Cardinals.

One randomly selected winner of all correct entries will receive a copy of the A+E Networks Home Entertainment/MLB Productions St. Louis Cardinals 2011 World Series Champions Collectors Edition DVD SET. This thing is huge and is complete with eight disks including all seven games of the 2011 World Series in its entirety as well as a bonus disk with footage surrounding the series it self. It is a combined 800 minutes long and originally sold for $99.99. The price has since dropped to $56.99, but you have a shot to get it here for nothing. This is definitely a must have.

Enter before next Thursday, May 17, 2012 at noon to be eligible.

Answers may be submitted as comments on this specific blog post, via the mailbag forum on the blog at dailystatesman.com/blogs/coreynoles , via email to cnoles@dailystatesman.com as well as by stopping in The Daily Statesman office at 133 S. Walnut in Dexter. Make sure to include your name, address, telephone # and email address. Make sure I know a reliable way to contact you. If I don't receive a response within 24 hours after I attempt to contact you, I will have to draw another winner.

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To submit a question for the Balls & Strikes Mailbag, either e-mail cnoles@dailystatesman.com , call (573)624-4545 or fill out the form at dailystatesman.com/blogs/coreynoles/

Follow him on Twitter @coreynoles



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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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