ST. LOUIS -- From the start of spring, high expectations were set for this Cardinals rotation. Chris Carpenter was poised to lead it, and Adam Wainwright was returning to join him as a co-ace. Such best-laid plans still haven't come to fruition, but through 20 games, this Cardinals rotation has still been a strength.
Perhaps unfairly overshadowed by one of the league's best offenses, St. Louis' rotation is off to one of the best starts in the Majors. Three starters have already won three games, with the five totaling a Major League-high 12 victories. Only the Nationals have a better staff ERA than the Cardinals' 2.41 mark.
The Cardinals have done this, too, without the services of Carpenter, who is out indefinitely with a nerve issue near his shoulder, and Wainwright, who is 0-3 with a 7.32 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. The other starters have picked up the slack.
"It's a good, friendly competition within the team," said Jake Westbrook, who improved to 3-1 with his win on Friday. "That's just a friendly thing we do. We don't really talk about it much, but each guy going out there wants to do the same thing, if not better than the last guy."
In the rotation only because of Carpenter's injury, Lance Lynn became the Majors' first four-game winner earlier in the week. Kyle Lohse (3-0) has the opportunity to become the National League's second four-game winner on Saturday. Those two, along with Westbrook, rank among the NL's top nine ERA leaders.
With Westbrook's seven-inning, one-run outing on Friday, the starters have also now allowed two or fewer runs in 11 of the team's last 12 games.
"[The] pitchers have been extremely diligent with staying with their work ethic and their in-between start program and really not try to reinvent the wheel," manager Mike Matheny said. "They each have a different style and philosophy to pitching, and I think it has really helped. When you go through a series, you're not going to see the same guy twice."
Matheny sticks with hot lineup for Saturday
ST. LOUIS -- A night after his club scored a season-high 13 runs in a win over the Brewers, manager Mike Matheny found no reason to start tinkering. The lineup he penned on Saturday looked identical -- aside from the starting pitcher's name, of course -- to the one Matheny utilized in the series opener.
"It's hard," Matheny joked, "to top that."
That lineup includes Jon Jay again hitting second, which is where he is expected to remain while Lance Berkman is on the mend. Also receiving another start was Skip Schumaker, who has been in the starting lineup in four of the team's last five games.
Though Matheny has said he will continue to juggle second base playing time between Schumaker, Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene, Schumaker has earned the chance to stay in the lineup. After a two-hit, three-RBI game on Friday, Schumaker is now 5-for-12 since coming off the disabled list just over a week ago.
"I know my role on this team and it's to be ready to play every day," Schumaker said. "That's how I've always approached the game. I don't write the lineup card. I know that some days I'll be in there and some days I won't be."
Descalso (.208) and Greene (.200), on the other hand, have struggled to gain any offensive traction all month.
With strength of starters, 'pen looks for work
ST. LOUIS -- It's a dilemma that any manager would envy, but a dilemma, nonetheless, for manager Mike Matheny. His starting rotation has been so strong that he has been left trying to find ways to get some of his relievers enough regular work.
"That's a nice problem to have this many games in," he noted on Saturday. "Nobody is complaining."
The only National League rotation to log more innings than St. Louis' rotation through 20 games is Philadelphia's, a testament to how deep into games the starters are pitching. That has allowed Matheny not only to avoid any overuse of his bullpen, but has also let him keep his relievers in their prescribed roles.
Fernando Salas leads the staff with 11 appearances, though he has only logged eight innings. No one else in the 'pen has appeared in more than eight games. On the low end is lefty J.C. Romero, who made his sixth appearance of the year on Friday.
Designated to be the team's primary left-on-left reliever in the middle innings, Romero has regularly watched the starters pitch long enough that the only lefty Matheny has needed is his setup man, Marc Rzepczynski.
"We tried a couple different spots to get him in [the last series in] Chicago and we don't necessarily want him to go that long in between [outings]," Matheny said of Romero, who had a week layoff before Friday's outing. "It's a nice problem to have, but a lot of times J.C. is getting the short end of that. But when he's gone out, J.C. has done a nice job for us."
Romero has not allowed a run this year.
He wouldn't go so far as to call it likely, but Matheny did note that it's "conceivable" that Allen Craig will be ready to come off the disabled list on Tuesday. Craig, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery, is currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Memphis.
Lance Berkman (left calf strain) has still not resumed running, which would suggest he will not be ready to come off the DL next week when first eligible.
Catcher Yadier Molina was presented with his Rawlings Gold Glove and Platinum Glove awards prior to Saturday's game. Molina is the first Cardinals catcher to win four Gold Gloves.
A day after Chris Carpenter celebrated his 37th birthday, David Freese celebrated his on Saturday. The St. Louis native turned 29.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.