ST. LOUIS -- It's not too soon to start looking ahead to 2011.
Major League Baseball released the '11 schedules for all 30 clubs on Tuesday, and it's fair to say the Cardinals' slate is an interesting one. Among the highlights are a Thursday, March 31 opener against the Padres, the team's first visit to Baltimore and nine home games against the rival Cubs.
The Thursday opener may be jarring to many fans, but all around the league, clubs will be starting a few days earlier this year -- some on that Thursday, some on Friday, April 1 -- in order to accommodate an earlier start and finish to the postseason. St. Louis will be off on April 1, followed by Saturday and Sunday games against the Padres. The opener is set for 3:15 p.m. CT.
Interleague Play matches the National League Central against the American League East this year, and so for the first time in franchise history, the Cardinals will play the Orioles in Baltimore, with a three-game series scheduled for June 28-30. That trip then takes them to St. Petersburg to play the Rays on July 1-3. The remainder of the Cardinals' Interleague schedule consists of a trip to Kansas City (May 20-22) and home series against the Royals (June 17-19) and Blue Jays (June 24-26).
The Cubs visit Busch Stadium for the first time June 3-5, with additional trips July 29-31 and Sept. 23-25. The third series is the final home series of the regular season, with the Cards finishing the year with three games in Houston Sept. 26-28. They visit Wrigley Field twice, May 10-12 and Aug. 19-21.
The Cards' most frequent opponent in 2011 will be the Brewers, with 18 meetings -- nine home games for each team. They'll see the Pirates 16 times (seven home, nine road), with 15 games each against the Cubs, Reds and Astros. The most frequent non-divisional opponent is Philadelphia. The Cardinals and Phillies will play nine games, five in St. Louis and four at Citizens Bank Park.
What may stand out most to players, though, is the distribution of road games. The Cardinals have four three-city trips, including their first road trip of the year, a mid-April sojourn to San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles. They also have a late-May trip to Kansas City, San Diego and Colorado, a June trip to Houston, Milwaukee and Washington and a July trip to Cincinnati, New York and Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals are home on each of the three biggest holidays of the summer. They play the Giants at 3:15 p.m. CT on Memorial Day (May 30), the Reds at 6:15 p.m. CT on July 4 and the Brewers on Labor Day (Sept. 5) at 3:15 p.m. CT.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.