Start under Matheny reminiscent of past

The Cardinals, under new manager Mike Matheny, are off to a fast start at 20-11. But how fast is it, relative to outstanding Cardinals’ teams of the past?
  
No Cardinals team has had a better 31-game record in 31 years, since Whitey Herzog’s 1981 Cardinals, who were aced out in both halves of the strike-induced split season, were 21-10 after 31 games.
  
The only other time since that the Cardinals were 20-11 after 31 games was in 2005, when they went on to 100 victories. But former manager Tony La Russa’s teams were remarkably consistent in recent years.
  
Last year, they were 17-14 after 31 games, but in the preceding three seasons and five times in his 16 years here, they were 19-12 after 31 games.
  
As La Russa will be honored before Friday night’s game by having his No. 10 retired, the Atlanta Braves, ironically will be the visitors.
  
It was the Braves’ collapse, beginning with a three-game series loss in St. Louis in mid-September that started the Cardinals on their mad dash to the playoffs and the Braves to also-ran status.

NOTES, QUOTES
  
1B Allen Craig, who soon will become OF/INF Allen Craig with the imminent return of 1B Lance Berkman (strained left calf) from the disabled list, has knocked in 11 runs in his first six starts, hitting three home runs and three doubles while driving in 11 runs. Craig has been especially powerful hitting the ball to center and to the opposite field in right.
  
When 1B Lance Berkman returns, the Cardinals will have an interesting roster move to make. OF Shane Robinson has been impressive in spot duty and rookie INF/OF Matt Carpenter is 8-for-23 with men in scoring position and has knocked in 16 runs overall. Should the Cardinals keep an extra position player around to make sure Berkman and C Yadier Molina (bruised left wrist) are all right, little-used and lately ineffective LHP J.C. Romero could be vulnerable.
  
The Cardinals’ 5.61 runs per game easily is the highest in the National League, with Atlanta second at 5.19. They also lead in batting average (.287), on-base percentage (.357) and slugging percentage at .467. SS Rafael Furcal has been a godsend at the leadoff spot, where the Cardinals have had trouble for the last few years. His OBP is .423.
  
If LHP J.C. Romero is let go, the Cardinals will know that some of their right-handers in the bullpen have been effective against left-handed hitters. RHP Victor Marte has held left-handers to 1-for-17 and RHP Kyle McClellan, long more effective against left-handers than right-handers, has limited left-handed batters to 3-for-22.
  
LHP Marc Rzepczynski predictably has been good against left-handers, who are 2-for-17 against him, but LHP J.C. Romero, who has made a career out of being a left-handed specialist, has allowed four hits in 12 at-bats to left-handed batters.
  
BY THE NUMBERS: 19 Number of victories by Cardinal starters out of the 20 they have posted. RHP Jason Motte, the closer, has the other.
  
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We need them for the long haul.” Manager Mike Matheny, on giving his starters an extra day of rest as the club embarks on playing 20 days in a row through May 31.