PHOENIX -- Save for a victory in their season opener at the Marlins' new ballpark, the Cardinals have fattened up on opponents in the National League Central, putting together a 16-11 record against their division foes to take a perch in first place. This three-game series that opened on Monday night against the D-backs at Chase Field began a stretch in which the defending World Series champs will play 25 of their next 27 against teams from the rest of the NL. "I think guys are just anxious to see other teams instead of the same ones all the time," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "You see a lot of that in the spring, too. You keep seeing the same teams. It's nice to mix it up a little bit. But again, it all comes down to what we do in the Central. The two Wild Card spots are important, too, but our goal is to win the Central. The only way you're going to do that is to beat Central Division teams."
As far as that's concerned, the Cardinals really didn't create a lot of open space between themselves and the rest of the division. They opened Monday with a 2 1/2-game lead over the Reds, who are largely considered to be their greatest adversary this season. "I really do think there's a benefit to us for playing well through the first six weeks," Matheny said. "My read is that we can't take any of those [Central] teams lightly. I don't think we have. Somebody throws a tag on a team that they're rebuilding or going on a youth movement, but we're still seeing some pretty good baseball from these teams. Houston was a good example of that. They gave us a tough time. You just can't fall in these traps."