The Cardinals enjoyed a terrific first month, sweeping their first series and winning 10 of their last 12 contests. Albert Pujols fashioned a remarkable month with a Major League-record 14 homers and 32 RBIs, including a three-homer day against the Reds. The team also opened the new Busch Stadium with a victory on April 10, a 6-4 win over the Brewers. Mark Mulder homered and worked eight-plus innings for the victory.
After a four-game losing streak to start the month, the Redbirds rebounded with seven victories in eight contests. The winning continued, as the Cardinals entered June 34-19, better than 2005's 100-win team (32-18). Closer Jason Isringhausen enjoyed his best month, posting a 0.77 ERA and 11 saves. Starters Chris Carpenter (bursa sac) and Sidney Ponson (elbow) each went on the 15-day DL, but neither missed significant time.
June yielded one of the worst stretches in Tony La Russa's tenure as Redbird manager. Pujols, the reigning NL MVP, strained his right oblique muscle and missed two weeks. The squad also lost eight straight Interleague games, matching the club's longest losing skid since the Carter Administration. Mulder, one of the Cardinals' best starters through the first six weeks, was placed on the DL with inflammation and irritation in his rotator cuff.
The Redbirds lost four of their first six July contests, but rebounded with three straight wins against the rival Astros to close out the first half. The win streak reached a season-high seven after the Cards swept the Dodgers in the second half's first series. Helped by incredible starting pitching, they took three straight from L.A. a few days later, sweeping the season series for the first time in 115 years. Still, they lost all momentum in the final few days, dropping four straight to the Cubs.
The losing continued as the Redbirds lost four more games, reaching eight straight losses for the second time in 2006. Still, with the hard-charging Reds making a push for the Central lead, the Cardinals, backed by great starting pitching, took four of six against Cincy and entered September with a five-game advantage. The Cardinals did lose Mulder until 2007. The left-hander returned in late August and tossed two outings before undergoing season-ending surgery.
After experiencing hip problems, Isringhausen was shut down in the month's first week. Still, backed by stronger starting pitching down the stretch, the Cardinals earned their third straight playoff berth. But the team had lost seven in a row (including four to Houston) and nine of 11, carrying just a half-game lead into the season's final weekend.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.