3 Keys for St. Louis Cardinals Taking Weekend Series vs. Washington Nationals

Tyler Poslosky@@TylerPosloskyContributor IIIApril 18, 2014

3 Keys for St. Louis Cardinals Taking Weekend Series vs. Washington Nationals

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    Sixteen games into the regular season, the defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals are off to a good start (10-6).

    The Cardinals have benefited from excellent starting pitching from staff ace Adam Wainwright and workhorses Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller.

    After taking two of three from Chicago to wrap up their first homestand, the Cardinals began a season-long 11-game road trip earlier this week. They took two of three from Milwaukee, and they then put up eight runs against Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals in the first of four games.

    Here are three keys for the Cardinals to triumph this weekend in the nation’s capital.

Lance Lynn

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    Starting pitching is vital for every team. When Lance Lynn is on his game, the Cardinals are a dangerous team.

    Lynn has been a workhorse for the Cardinals over his short career as a starter. The hard-throwing right-hander has the most wins (36) by any National League pitcher over the last three seasons.

    The 26-year-old hurler is a perfect 3-0 this year. In his last start against Milwaukee, Lynn was virtually unhittable. He struck out 11 and allowed just three hits en route to the Cardinals’ 4-0 victory that snapped the Brewers’ nine-game winning streak.

    Dating back to 2012, Lynn has been clutch in the season’s first half, going a combined 25-8.

    With a young rotation, Lynn will need to maintain his steadying influence and continue to build on his impressive start to 2014. 

Middle of the Lineup

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    Offensively, the Cardinals are stacked, specifically the middle of their lineup. They are arguably the most dangerous bunch in all of baseball.

    The lethal combination of Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta puts fear in every opposing pitcher.

    Combined, the four Cardinals are hitting .268 with 28 extra-base hits, including 10 home runs. Collectively, they've driven in 37. 

    Peralta, who signed a four-year, $53 million contract last winter, leads the club with four home runs, and Molina is in second with three. Adams’ 22 hits gives him the team lead. Molina is right behind him with 20.

    Craig has gotten off to a slow start, but with so much firepower spread throughout the lineup, Craig’s early-season slump is almost invisible.

    Craig was 1-for-5 in the Cardinals’ 8-0 win over the Nationals Thursday. Look for Craig and his teammates to continue ripping the cover off the ball this weekend. 


The Cardinals' Bullpen

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    The Cardinals are still without Jason Motte, who continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery. Motte shared the NL lead for most saves (42) in 2012 with Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel and is getting closer to returning.

    Even without Motte, the Cardinals boast three of the most powerful relief arms in the game: right-handers Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal and lefty Kevin Siegrist.

    The Cardinals' "Big Three" are off to a rather slow start in 2014. Rosenthal has four saves on the year but boasts a 7.36 ERA. Siegrist’s ERA is well over four. Martinez has been a reliable force thus far, but he could wear down as the season goes on.

    Other arms in the Cardinals' bullpen will need to come alive and generate confidence from manager Mike Matheny this weekend against the Nationals.