St. Louis Cardinals: Six Things to Make or Break Their West Coast Road Trip

Dan IrwinCorrespondent IIMay 15, 2012

St. Louis Cardinals: Six Things to Make or Break Their West Coast Road Trip

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    The defending Major League Baseball World Champions will be taking a West Coast road trip that will make or break them, starting first for an odd two game set in San Francisco, followed by a tough three game series in Los Angeles that includes a Sunday night ESPN game with the Dodgers.

    Yadier Molina's walk-off thriller against the Chicago Cubs Tuesday sent the St. Louis Cardinals out on a good note following the four-game losing streak that started when Atlanta came to town.

    "To get a win like that is big for us," Molina said. "We never quit. We're going to battle. We're going to play hard the whole nine innings."

    This may be just the kind of win the team needed to invigorate a positive attitude after the four-game slide.

    But in looking to the future we examine six variables that could be crucial for this West Coast swing.

Matt's Bat

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    A .269 average isn't too terribly "Holliday-like," but seven home runs so far is.

    "It’s a hard job. I get it. I’m trying to do the best I can," Holliday said. "When it’s the third strike, that’s the one that hurts. When it’s the first or second strike you’ve still got a chance to overcome calls that are borderline or off."

    That was Holliday on April 22, in the middle of his struggles. But after a clutch performance in the rubber match of a short series against the Cubs, Holliday may have all the confidence he needs to keep rolling.

    It will be his hitting in a very important part of the Cardinals lineup that will determine some of these games out west.

Just Bein' Lance

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    Although Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (6-1) recorded his first loss against Atlanta this past weekend, his dominant 1.81 ERA leads the team thus far and commands the respect of the opposition.

    Lynn will pitch Friday night to open up the series against the Dodgers. His attitude going west seems to be on track.

    "I'm not worried about how I started [Sunday]," Lynn said of the string of wins. "I'm worried about what I have next."

    Lynn was the losing pitcher on Sunday despite an overall quality outing.

    Suddenly, it seems young manager Mike Matheny will have a decision to make about Lynn, who was simply filling in for an injured Chris Carpenter.

Furcal Can Do It All

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    If I told you at the beginning of the season that on May 15 someone for the Cardinals would be hitting .359, you probably would have a pitcher listed before you thought it'd be Rafael Furcal.

    But contrary to his 2011 campaign, Furcal's batting average is hard to miss, especially when it leads the team.

    Gone was the fun 12-game hitting streak against the Cubs, but his production has been extremely well-rounded and vital for Cardinal victories. Rafael leads the team with 16 multi-hit games.

Beltran, or "Beltr-Off"?

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    Reports are initially that Carlos Beltran was not being held out of the lineup because of any kind of injury, but it was revealed that his knee kept him out against the Cubs recently.

    We know how well Carlos has been hitting the ball; he just needs to get into the lineup. But having a healthy Carlos in the lineup is what the Cardinals are looking for.

    Keeping him out of the lineup was a precaution more than anything. However, if he tweaks his knee or takes a shot to it, it may be something that comes in to play, and Beltran's production is quintessential to keeping the good times rolling out west.

Take Me out to the Crowd

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    Athletes are just as emotional as you or me, if not more so, and taking the crowds out of the game in San Francisco and Los Angeles early will help boost confidence on the road in these pivotal series.

    Although the Giants are only a game above .500, they are in second place in the NL West, and figure to have strong crowds for the Cardinals' only games in San Francisco all season.

    But strap in for the trip south as the best of the NL West will be waiting for St. Louis. Dodgers fans expect to turn out in droves to get behind their star Matt Kemp, who has struggled recently, but remains second in the NL home run race behind Beltran.

    St. Louis will return home to play the Padres following their road trip.

Memphis Guys

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    An injury here or there hasn't affected the Cardinals drastically thus far. All hail the unsung heroes, the guys in Memphis.

    The Cardinals have had solid contributions from their Triple-A players in recent years, with this one being no exception.

    Shane Robinson has had to endure being the guy "on the fence" recently, but his ability is keeping the St. Louis roster deep in a fight to stay on top of the NL Central.

    Allen Craig, who is more like an everyday player now, is a testament to what kind of players the Memphis Redbirds are molding into Major League contributors.

    If this season holds any more injury surprises, you can bet any one of the players on the Redbirds will say that they're ready to move up right now.