After the first month, it appeared the '06 Cards would match the 100-win seasons from the last two seasons. After April, the Redbirds were 17-9, but played four games under .500 the rest of the year, including two eight-game losing streaks and one seven-game skid in the season's final two weeks.
Beset by injuries to several key players, including Jim Edmonds, David Eckstein and Jason Isringhausen, the Redbirds listed down the stretch, finishing 12-17 in September and nearly blowing the NL Central.
"The [regular season] is over with," Game 3 starter Jeff Suppan said. "Now we're here and our focus is here. We're not concerning ourselves with what we did leading up to the postseason or anything in that manner. I think when you have a team that has been around, played a lot with each other, you know you just really go out there ... and bear down."
The team, comprised of several key rookies, veterans and some players who had never experienced the postseason before, wanted to make the most of their postseason.
"I think everyone just pulled together," Edmonds said. "All of a sudden, it seemed that everyone just kind of looked around the locker room and realized this is our one chance and we are going to make the most of it."
The pitching -- buoyed by terrific starts from Chris Carpenter and Jeff Weaver and solid work from the bullpen -- has also helped, permitting just one run on 10 hits in two contests, helping the Cardinals win consecutive road games for the first time since July 25-26 in Colorado.
Offensively and defensively, the Redbirds have also improved since Eckstein (oblique) and Edmonds (post-concussion syndrome, foot) returned. During the first two games, the shortstop scored a run and Edmonds has helped the offense, batting .429 (3-for-7) with two RBIs.
"Those are two important players for them," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "You know they are a different club now with those guys in there."
Edmonds in pain: Edmonds, afflicted by a "turf toe" like-injury, is still in pain, but the veteran said he can play for Game 3.
"When I am having to run hard or doing something different, it flares up quick and then it slowly settles down," he said. "Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it makes other parts of the foot hurt."
Edmonds, a free agent at the end of the year, has been hit by various injuries this season, including a sore shoulder that will require offseason surgery. During the playoffs, though, the Gold Glove center fielder is just focused on winning.
"I am not really concerned with anything else other than playing and winning," he said. "That is the whole deal with baseball at this age, I really enjoy the game. This is what it's all about. I don't want to deal with anything off the field and all of the politics and all of the [stuff], I just want to play."
Kinney shines: Josh Kinney, one of three rookies in the Cardinals bullpen, made his first playoff appearance of his career during Game 2.
"I was pretty amped, but I did execute pitches when I had to," he said. "My heart was racing. I was pumped up. Every pitch is awesome. The atmosphere is great. I can't wait to be back out here again."
Using his sinker and slider effectively, Kinney -- a former pitcher in the independent Frontier League -- tossed four scoreless outs, continuing a streak of outstanding pitching. The right-hander made 10 appearances in July, recording a 4.97 ERA. After his recall in September, he has been scored upon just one time in 11 games.
"Experience teaches you. The more you get out there, the better you will be," he said. "I think I have done pretty well. ... When I went back down to Triple-A Memphis [in July], I would try to pitch the same way that I would if I was in the big leagues. That's what I worked on when I was there, so when I came back, I would have an idea of how to go about it."
Coming up: Suppan, one of the Majors' best pitchers in the second half of the regular season, faces Padres' right-hander Chris Young in Game 3 at Busch Stadium on Saturday. First pitch is set for noon CT.