The Reds (2-4) arrive with a bit of momentum to the Gateway City to take on the defending NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals (3-3) in a three-game series at Busch Stadium. The Monday match-up at 4:15 p.m. ET is the home opener for Mike Matheny’s team, who edged the Reds 2-1 in rain-drenched Great American Ball Park last week.
Happily for the Reds, the crest of the tidal wave of newly healthy players lands in Bryan Price’s clubhouse this week. Devin Mesoraco (oblique) returns to take over as the everyday catcher. Jonathan Broxton (flexor tendon) will likely be installed as the team’s closer.
The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored in 2013. Yes, St. Louis benefitted from an unsustainably
lucky high batting average with runners in scoring position. But the Cardinals’ offensive production was outstanding even beyond that good fortune. Their hitters were first in the NL in adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+) and on-base-percentage, two important clutch-ignoring stats. The Cardinals also hit more line drives than any other team in the National League and struck out the second fewest. The Cardinals’ run-scoring success was not based on home runs (thirteenth in the NL) or stolen bases (last). They scored so many runs in 2013 because they avoided striking out, avoided popping out and avoided rolling over on ground balls.
Expected Lineup and Batting Order
- Matt Carpenter (28) – 3B
- Kolten Wong (23) – 2B
- Matt Holliday (34) – LF
- Allen Craig (29) – RF
- Matt Adams (25) – 1B
- Yadier Molina (31) – C
- Jhonny Peralta (31) – SS
- Peter Bourjos (26) – CF
The Cardinals offense has started off slowly (.200/.281/.333) in 2014, in part due to facing Reds and Pirates pitching in their first two series. Nonetheless, they’ve still outscored the Reds 17-15 this season.
Jhonny Peralta gives the Cardinals five regular players with a 2013 OBP of at least .350 and SLG of .450 last season (the Reds have one). Peralta was the second best-hitting shortstop in baseball last year (.303/358/.457) and represents a huge improvement over Pete Kozma (.217/.275/.273) at the plate.
Carlos Beltran’s power will be missed but the Cardinals expect Peralta, 1B Matt Adams (.284/.335/.503) and a fully healthy OF Allen Craig to make it up. Holliday continues to have strong seasons at the plate (.879 OPS in 2013). Molina had a .836 OPS despite fighting a knee injury the second half of the season. Matt Carpenter led the National League with 199 hits, 55 doubles and 126 runs scored.
In 2013, the Cardinals rotation finished second in the NL in FIP (3.39), sixth in xFIP (3.69) and second in ERA (3.42). They had the second highest K/9 and finished in the middle of the pack in BB/9. They were second (to the Pirates) in ground ball percentage (48.1%).
Peter Bourjos brings speed and outstanding middle-of-the-field defense to the Cardinals’ outfield, replacing Jon Jay. The shift of Matt Carpenter from 2B back to his natural position at 3B will improve their defense at both positions. Top-three system prospect, Kolten Wong, takes over at 2B. Catcher Yadier Molina, who won his sixth consecutive Gold Glove award, finished third in NL-MVP voting and Matt Carpenter finished fourth.
Probable Starting Pitchers
The Reds will miss Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright in this series, just as St. Louis will avoid facing Johnny Cueto. Two of the series’ pitching match-ups are repeats from last week, including Monday afternoon’s must-watch pairing of scintillating sophomores.
Tony Cingrani and Michael Wacha combined to produce a tremendous pitchers’ duel in last Wednesday’s rain-delayed Opening Night. Chris Heisey’s walk off single ended the 1-0 game well after midnight. Wacha went 6 2/3 shutout innings, allowing three hits, one walk and striking out seven. The Reds have now gone nearly 17 innings without scoring a run off the 22-year-old Texas A&M grad.
Cingrani limited the Cardinals to two singles and two walks, and recorded nine strikeouts over seven innings in his 2014 debut. The lefty from Rice University will be looking to add to his record-breaking streak of 19 starts without giving up more than five hits. That achievement surpasses every starting pitcher since 1914, when game-logs started to be kept. To make it more impressive, Cingrani’s streak dates back to his first Major League start.
Homer Bailey and Lance Lynn pair up for another rematch from last week, one that ended in a 7-6 win for St. Louis. The Reds struck for three first-inning runs off of Lance Lynn on Thursday, as Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier hit gigantic back-to-back home runs. Lynn didn’t have a single 1-2-3 inning against the Reds. He gave up eight hits while throwing 107 pitches. Lynn had a solid first half of the season in 2013, only to see his performance drop off in the final three months for the second year in a row.
Homer Bailey lasted on 4 1/3 innings in his start against the Cardinals on Thursday, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks and 4 runs. Bailey had missed 2 1/2 weeks during spring training because of a strained groin and his sharpness suffered for it.
The 23-year-old Shelby Miller allowed six hits, three walks and three home runs in just more than 5 innings in his first 2014 start against the Pirates. Miller’s rookie campaign in 2013 was two different seasons – a strong first half and a weak second. He made it to the seventh inning only three times after June 1. Miller was benched for all but one inning in the post-season, allowed to pitch when the Cardinals were down by five runs (he gave up a home run).
Mike Leake began his fifth season with the Reds with a solid performance against the NY Mets. Leake gave up two home runs to Lucas Duda and little else. But Leake has struggled against the Cardinals throughout his career. Over nine starts, he’s given up 60 hits in 45 innings (.324/.359/.514) while producing a 5.96 ERA.
As excellent as the Cardinals’ hitting and starting pitching is, the bullpen is the strongest part of their team. In 2013, the Cardinals relievers were second in the NL in FIP (3.26), second in xFIP (3.49) and eighth in ERA (3.45). Their pen is deep, talented and restocked with the same players in 2014.
The Reds did have a bit of success against Pat Neshek, Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez in the first series.
- Closer: Trevor Rosenthal (23)
- Set-up: Jason Motte (31), Carlos Martinez (22), Seth Maness (25)
- Lefty specialists: Kevin Siegrist (24), Randy Choate (38)
Homegrown Trevor Rosenthal took over as the Cardinals closer at the end of 2013 and returns to that role. Rosenthal was a 21st-round draft choice out of Cowley County Community College. He was an infielder, but after seeing him pitch just one inning as a reliever, the Cardinals were convinced to draft him in 2009. Rosenthal rang up 108 strikeouts in just 75.1 innings in 2013. His ERA was 2.63 and FIP was 1.91. The tall right-hander throws a devastating fastball (avg: 97-mph) about 80 percent of the time and increasingly incorporates a change-up, producing a 14.7 swinging-strike rate. Rosenthal pitched 11.2 scoreless innings in the 2013 post-season.
Jason Motte, the Cardinals’ closer from the end of 2011 through 2012, was lost to Tommy John surgery for all of 2013. He’s back. Motte saved 42 games in 2012 and recorded 8 saves in the 2011 and 2012 post-season. He forms a devastating 1-2-3 punch to set-up Rosenthal with Carlos Martinez (96.7 mph fastball) and Kevin Siegrist (95 mph fastball). Siegrist’s ERA was 0.45 and FIP 2.29 last year with an 11.45 K/09. He went 13 appearances before giving up his first run.
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.