The rivalry returns tonight at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio. The St. Louis Cardinals have the league’s best record at 39-21 while the Cincinnati Reds are just three games back in the National League Central with an impressive 36-24 record. Due to the Chicago Cubs being irrelevant for many seasons now, the Reds have taken their place as the Cardinals main rival. Also, because of the Johnny Cueto kicking incident in 2010 and the Yadier Molina–Brandon Phillips general dislike for each other, the rivalry has become much more personal than just some baseball competition.
Fortunately for the Cardinals’ offense, yet unfortunate for the rivalry, Cueto was placed on the disabled-list with a right lat injury and will not be pitching in the series.
Battle of the Bullpens:
Closers: Edward Mujica (18/18 saves, 1.63 ERA, 25 strikeouts) vs. Aroldis Chapman (15/17 saves, 2.42 ERA, 46 strikeouts) Advantage: Reds, especially based on past performances by Chapman against St. Louis, but can we really doubt Mujica the way he has been performing in the 9th this season?
Offense: Virtual tie. Both are in the top three of three major offensive categories–runs, runs batted in, and on-base percentage. It will most likely depend on which team will be able to come up with clutch hits with two outs. If this turns out to be the case, then the Cardinals will have the advantage.
Key Things to Keep an Eye On: David Freese and Matt Carpenter look to extend their hitting streaks to 17 games and 16 games respectively. Allen Craig is carrying his own hitting streak as well at 10 games.
Brandon Phillips’ Quote: “I feel like the Cardinals are the best team in baseball right now,” Phillips said. “Those are the type of teams we have to step our game up, and I’m glad I’m going to play Friday. I think everybody on our team is looking forward to it. That shows where you really are when you play against the best teams.”
In Summary: The series will be hard fought like most of the series have been in the past four years, and runs will most likely come at a premium despite being played in the Great American “Launching Pad.” I give the slight advantage to the Cardinals for the series based on how they have been playing thus far this season. The Reds are great at home with a 21-9 record, but the Cardinals are almost as good on the road–20-9 record. Thus, barring a three-game sweep by the Reds, the Cardinals will still be in sole possession of first place after the series. Ideally, though, the Cardinals will win at least two of three and be four games up after the game on Sunday.
Until next time…