The Cardinals see no dropoff from their 2004 campaign, winning three of their first four games. Southpaw Mark Mulder, the team's biggest offseason acquisition, pitches 10 shutout innings in a 1-0 win over the Astros on April 23. Another big offseason acquisition, Mark Grudzielanek, hits for the cycle in a 6-3 win over Milwaukee on April 27. Veteran pitcher Matt Morris made his first start of the season on April 19 after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The only bad news for the Cardinals is when middle reliever Cal Eldred is placed on the disabled list with a viral infection that caused a mild inflammation around the lining and muscles of his heart.
The Cardinals hit a snag early in the month, losing three of four to San Diego, but don't lose back-to-back games the rest of the month. The low point of the month occurs when Scott Rolen injures his shoulder in a collision with Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi on May 12. It's an injury that Rolen never completely recovers from and eventually he is lost for the season. By month's end Chris Carpenter, Mulder and Morris are a combined 19-5. Morris leads them all at 5-0. The team is 7 1/2 games ahead of second-place Chicago, the largest lead the organization has ever held by Memorial Day.
Carpenter and Albert Pujols begin to emerge as the two players who will carry the Cardinals throughout the season. Carpenter dazzles in June, going 4-1 with a 0.90 ERA and hurling two complete-game shutouts. Pujols batted .370 and scored 26 runs in the month. The Cardinals record their ninth straight winning month. The team led the National League in batting average (.287) and runs scored (146). The Redbirds stake their claim as a legitimate contender for a World Series ring by taking two out of three from both the Yankees and the Red Sox (the two teams that appeared in the 2004 American League Championship Series, with Boston moving on to sweep St. Louis in the World Series).
Injuries to key players, Larry Walker (herniated disc in his neck), Reggie Sanders (broken foot), and Yadier Molina (fractured hand) are not enough to derail the Cardinals as they post their 10th consecutive winning month. It is the most since they strung together 16 consecutive between 1942-1944. The Cardinals call up John Rodriguez, a 28-year old rookie, who sizzles in his first 11 games, batting .343 with a .714 slugging percentage. Pujols continues his MVP-caliber season, posting a .358 batting average. After beginning the season 9-1, Morris hits rough times, going 2-3 with a 4.36 ERA. Jason Marquis falls on hard luck, going 1-3 in the month but posting a 2.80 ERA.
The Cardinals storm into the month, taking two of three from NL East-leading Atlanta. David Eckstein caps the series with a walkoff grand slam. So Taguchi shines in place of injured outfielders Sanders and Walker, batting .362 in the month. Walker makes his return before the end of the month, as does Molina, while Rolen decides to have season-ending surgery. Marquis struggles (1-5, 6.69 ERA) while Carpenter shines (19-4, 2.29 ERA through August). Manager Tony La Russa matches and surpasses his mentor, Sparky Anderson, for third place on the all-time managerial wins list.
St. Louis clinches its division before any other team in baseball with a 5-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 17 at Wrigley Field. It is the team's second straight division title. The Cardinals also surpass the 90-win mark for the fifth time in six years. Despite clinching their division, the Cardinals suffer their worst month of the season. They lost three consecutive series for the first time all season. After emerging as the favorite for the Cy Young Award, Carpenter began to struggle. He allowed 17 runs in a three-game span.
Stephen Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.