The Reds’ (4-2) next opponents are the St. Louis Cardinals (3-3). After beginning the season with a West Coast trip to Arizona and San Francisco, the Cardinals return to the banks of the Mississippi River for their home Opening Day. Plenty of pre-game ceremonies are scheduled, including parading the team’s last four World Series trophies (1967, 1982, 2006, 2011) through Busch Stadium via motorcade. Bleh.
It’s another tough task for the Reds. After facing possibly the two best teams in baseball in its first six games, the Cardinals present the Reds with an even more important and high-energy series. Not only have the two teams recently shared a heated rivalry, but virtually every forecast has them battling for the NL Central title.
Welcome to Act I of the 2013 fight for the division championship.
In 2012, the Cardinals showed they were more than simply Albert Pujols, who had departed via a messy free agency, by competing to within one game of the World Series. Curiously, the organization followed up their encouraging season with an extremely conservative off-season. St. Louis signed only three free agents to major league contracts: a lefty-specialist relief pitcher, a utility player and a player who has already been released. Via trade, they acquired Jake Lammerman (that’s what I said, too).
Lammerman, Choate, Cedeno and Wigginton. That’s it. That’s their list of new acquisitions.
Compare that to the losses of Kyle Lohse and Reds-killer Lance Berkman to free agency, and father–of–the–year Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal to injuries. And although St. Louis did spend big to extend Adam Wainwright ($97.5 million/5 years) and Allen Craig ($31 million/5 years), you have to wonder if they can be anywhere near as good in 2013 as they were in 2012.
The Cardinals still have their share of veteran players. Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook are all-too-familiar names to Reds’ fans. At the same time, St.Louis has been incorporating valuable younger players like Allen Craig, Jon Jay and David Freese. And they also have a bounty of baseball’s elite up-and-comers. For example, you’ll find four players from the Cardinals’ franchise in Baseball America’s Top 40 prospects.
No longer, however, can Reds fans complain about being outspent by the Cardinals. The recent growth in Team Castellini’s payroll has substantially closed the gap between the two clubs. In 2012, St. Louis outspent the Reds by $28 million, but in 2013 the difference is only $8 million. Carpenter and Furcal, who are done for the year, account for nearly $20 million of that.
CARDINALS’ LIKELY LINEUP
The Cardinals lineup is built around on-base-percentage. They finished 2012 with the highest OBP (.338) in the major leagues, including the DH-aided American League clubs. The Reds, by comparison had a team OBP (.315) that plopped them 21st out of 30 teams. You don’t have to look much further for an explanation for why the Cardinals scored almost 100 more runs than the Reds did last season (765 to 669). Enter Shin-Soo Choo.
Here is the Cardinals’ expected lineup for this series. Third baseman David Freese begins the season on the DL.
Last season, only a handful of center fielders earned a higher WAR than Jon Jay. Yet, some view Jay as just keeping CF warm until star prospect Oscar Taveras (20) is called up. But Jay is versatile, gets on base (.373 OBP), runs well and plays excellent defense.
The middle of the lineup, even without Freese, remains highly potent. Matt Holliday has hit .308/.389/.528 since joining the Cardinals in 2009, Allen Craig is emerging as an elite power hitter, and Carlos Beltran had 32 home runs in 2012 and largely filled the presumed hole created by Pujols’ departure. Beltran may not be at full strength this series, as he is hampered by a fractured toe.
Not only is Yadier Molina the best defensive catcher in baseball — he’s won five consecutive Gold Gloves — but he experienced a breakout year at the plate in 2012. And yes, he’s still public enemy #1 in GABP because of this. Molina is certainly in the discussion for the best defensive catcher of all time. A recent article by ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield discussed Molina in comparison to Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez. From the article: “Here’s my favorite Johnny Bench stat: From 1970 to 1979, the Reds played 45 postseason games. They stole 54 bases and got caught 17 times. Reds opponents stole — get this — six bases, and were caught 13 times. Four of those steals came in 1979, by which time Bench’s arm had started to go.”
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
- Mon. 4:15 ET – Jaime Garcia (L) vs. Mat Latos (R)
- Tue. 8:15 ET – Lance Lynn (R) vs. Bronson Arroyo (R)
- Wed. 1:45 ET – Jake Westbrook (R) vs. Homer Bailey (R)
Jaime Garcia (26) is coming off a strained rotator cuff injury. He opted against surgery, choosing a rehab course instead, so the jury is still out on exactly how durable and healthy his shoulder is. Garcia pitched well in his first start, although he did walk four Diamondbacks. He owns an 8-2 career record against the Reds in his 11 starts.
Lance Lynn (25) was 18-7 in a year of transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation. He threw 176 innings of 3.78 ERA and despite a rocky month of August, finished the year with a strong September. Lynn gave up six hits and three walks in four innings in his first start last week. Regarding his match-up against Arroyo, it’s worth mentioning that this will be Bronson’s 32nd start against the Cardinals (8-13).
Jake Westbrook (35) is a reasonably dependable #4 starter. In his first start of the season against San Francisco, he struck out one and walked six while giving up just one unearned run in a loss to the Giants. Westbrook has a career record of 3-2 against the Reds.
The Cardinals bullpen plans suffered a setback a couple weeks ago when closer Jason Motte was diagnosed with a mild right elbow strain. Mitchell Boggs (29), who registered a 2.21 ERA and 7.1 K/9 across 78 relief appearances last season, is filling in. Motte converted 42 of 49 (86%) save opportunities last year, stepping into the closer role for the first time.
Setting up Boggs will be Fernando Salas (27), Edward Mujica and top prospect Trevor Rosenthal (22). Their lefty specialists are veteran Randy Choate (37) and Marc Rzepczynski (27).
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.