World Series of the Week: Reds vs. Cardinals

RED WEDDING

by Steven GoldmanAt the stalemated Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, General Ulysses Grant, who was born just outside of Cincinnati, said, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." That’s what the closely matched Reds and the Cardinals will be doing -- fighting it out on this line all summer.

Last year’s NL Central winners had an offense that was, especially with Joey Votto out, just okay, but the pitching staff was, by at least one measure, one of the best in baseball history. It wasn’t instantly apparent, because the Great American Ball Park does so much to disguise their greatness, but consider ERA+, which accounts for league and park factors:



Last year’s staff has returned largely intact. Four of the five members of the starting rotation are 27 or younger (Bronson Arroyo is the elder statesman at 36). The bullpen is, if anything, deeper, with full seasons of Jonathan Broxton and J.J. Hoover on tap in support of Aroldis Chapman.

That’s a problem for the Cardinals, who retain the deep lineup of last year, but with veteran starter Chris Carpenter on the DL, possibly for good, and closer Jason Motte hurt as well, the pitching staff is looking a bit careworn. Young pitchers Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal may provide enough quality innings (the latter in the bullpen for now, but a move to the rotation is a possibility) that the team can survive lackluster performances from the established starters, none of whom covered themselves in glory last year -- though the newly-extended Adam Wainwright did finish strong as he put Tommy John surgery behind him and added a four-seam fastball to his repertoire. The Cardinals will need him to continue in that vein, and someone -- anyone -- else to step up and provide the other half of the one-two punch that he and Carpenter used to provide.

As for the Reds, they’ll have to hope that Ryan Ludwick’s dislocated shoulder doesn’t exacerbate Dusty Baker’s self-defeating offensive tendencies: Baker is a great motivator but miserable with the fundamentals, and the last thing the Reds need is the manager to find a reason to drop Shin-Soo Choo down the lineup and fall for another of his low-OBP cuties -- though even if he does, it is to be hoped that prospect Billy "Mr. Lightning" Hamilton will soon be ready to rescue him from his worst instincts. "Remember .208/.254/.327 from the leadoff spot!" should be up there with "Remember the Maine!" With luck, Sliding Billy is the cure for all that.

Players to watch

by Steven Goldman

Homer Bailey

Right-handed pitcher

Bailey, drafted out of high school, had to mature before succeeding, a process which could have been derailed by shoulder problems in both 2010 and 2011. Instead, he took off in the second half last year, climaxing his season with a no-hitter against the Pirates on September 28. Bailey’s post-break opposition included a disproportionate number of patsies; discount those games and the transformation is not quite as positive and raises the possibility of regression. As Guided by Voices sang, "As we go up, we go down" -- though given Bailey’s six shutout innings against the Nationals in his first start of the season, maybe we don’t.

Shin-Soo Choo

Outfielder

Walt Jocketty’s approach to being a general manager has long been like a Pete Townshend outtake on the way to "Tommy:" "See need, fill need" (we will assume that "touch need" does not follow). The Reds needed OBP in the leadoff spot, and Baker wasn’t going to figure out how to get it from his in-house options (the answer wasn’t obvious, but that doesn’t forgive not choosing). When Choo became available, Jocketty hit his manager over the head with a solution. Baker is probably still experiencing some cognitive dissonance over the whole thing -- this is the guy who made Corey Patterson his leadoff man, after all -- but Joey Votto will enjoy the novelty of having runners on when he hits.

Aroldis Chapman

Left-handed pitcher

The annual Chapman controversy, which had the Reds singing along to the Louis Jordan hit, "Is You or Is You Ain’t My Starter?" saw Chapman answer in the negative. Normally that would be the wrong choice, but Chapman was right. According to Nate Silver, for a closer to provide as much value as a value as a starter pitching 200 innings of a 3.69 ERA, he’d need to be about as good as closers get, throwing 75 high-leverage innings with a 2.00 ERA. While we wouldn’t expect anyone not named Mariano Rivera to be consistent at that level, Chapman is a unique specimen and just might do it.

Lance Lynn

Right-handed pitcher

After last season’s ups and downs you could film "The Lance Lynn Story" as a cross between "Citizen Kane" and "Rashomon," with conflicting estimates of his abilities depending on when the witness saw him. In June and August Citizen Lynn was more Jerry Lewis than Orson Welles, and if you were a left-handed hitter, he was more Paul Schofield than either. That’s right: "A Man for All Seasons:" southpaw hitters averaged .272/.384/.456 against him. He was almost as hard on right-handed hitters as he was easy on the lefties, but until he finds a way to neutralize the latter, Lynn will remain consistently inconsistent.

Allen Craig

First baseman

In the old days, it was possible to just stumble across an unknown prospect in the wild in the same way you might lift up an old tire in a wet patch of woods and discover a brightly-colored salamander. That happens less often today, when players are scouted practically from the moment of conception, but Craig is a throwback in that sense. He always hit, but until last year there were always reasons not to believe in him. At 28, he’s not a kid anymore, and flying under the radar is no longer an option. The Cardinals were average team in power production last year, and this year’s cast is much the same. If they’re going to excel in spite of legitimate questions about their pitching, Craig needs to stay in the lineup and produce.

Matt Carpenter

Utility

A 27-year-old major-league sophomore, Carpenter went through the minors without playing a single game at the keystone and started just two games there in ‘12, but his bat is lively enough that he gives hopes of providing what Skip Schumaker never quite could: a productive second baseman who can outhit his defensive shortcomings. Last year, Cards’ second basemen hit just .240/.309/.363, so they have nowhere to go but up -- and if Carpenter doesn’t work out, top prospect Kolten Wong is just about ready for his close-up.

About the park

by Steven Goldman

Busch Stadium: Not to be confused with Busch Memorial Stadium, the original Busch Stadium (merely old Sportsman’s Park gussied up in beer-man drag), or the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Busch III is typical of baseball’s post-Camden Yards building boom, a faux-old-time neighborhood ballpark that frames a picturesque view of the skyline in its outfield window (National Park in Washington, which overlooks the parking deck, sacrifices the view but allows fans the security of knowing that if someone boosts their car during the game they can at least wave goodbye from their seats).

The carpeted cavern that was Busch Memorial inspired the slap-hitting and speed approach of Whiteyball, but Busch III isn’t nearly so extreme, playing basically neutral or slightly favorable to the pitcher. The foul area is large, which has a negative impact on batting average -- foul balls that would float into the stands in other parks are caught here; according to the Bill James Handbook, over the last three years, more foul outs were made at Busch (111) than any other park in the National League. The park is more favorable to left-handed hitters than right-handers; the three-year park factor for home runs by left-handed hitters is a basically neutral 98), but for right-handers it’s a low 75.

During its short existence, Busch III has acquired a large collection of statuary, including Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Enos Slaughter, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Ozzie Smith. Oddly, they have honored at least two players who were accused of being racists during their lifetimes, but they have eschewed Branch Rickey, who as president of the Cardinals invented the farm system, thereby finding a way for what was then baseball’s westernmost outpost to compete with the big dollars of the New York magnates and later, over the objections of the then-owners, brought about the end of apartheid baseball -- but then, the Cardinals, who didn’t integrate until 1954, were rumored not to be too happy about that at the time.

Baseball’s only monument to Rickey is a statue to (rather than of) him which is, incongruously, sited outside of Coors Field -- right man, wrong beer-sponsored ballpark.

Busch Stadium is a fine place to watch baseball, an okay place to look at the Arch, a reasonably priced Build-a-Bear Workshop Outlet, and absolutely nothing else. It's boring, is what I'm getting at.

Bad boring, sure--architecturally it's the last dregs of post-Camden retro, a permanent reminder that the Cardinals' stadium planning dragged on too long. (The cookie-cutter stadium it replaced was, by 2006, much more novel than its replacement.) If you like the Great Depression as filtered through the pets.com era of corporate governance, you'll like Busch Stadium.

But it's good boring, too. We Cardinals fans don't actually call ourselves The Best Fans In Baseball, and shouldn't, but for the most part we're treated like adults who don't have to be cajoled into enjoying a day at the ballpark, which is nice. If the ballpark's a little ugly, at least it won't distract you from the game.
- Dan Moore, Viva El Birdos

JUST Ask the locals!

from Viva El Birdos & Red Reporter

What rivalry?

"The Reds are basically an Earth-Prime version of the Cardinals, diverging from Walt Jocketty's firing in 2007: Their payroll is dominated by a world-class first baseman, their top pitching prospect can't be extricated from the bullpen, Miguel Cairo keeps landing jobs, and they're really successful in spite of/because of their veteran manager and all those weird, reflexive Jocketty-isms. Which has made these teams' rivalry-of-convenience--I don't think the rancor will outlast their 1-2 finishes--more fun than it's had any right to be.

Of course, it helps that Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips are each fanbase's perfect cartoon-character-villains. There are a lot of pro wrestling flourishes in this rivalry. Phillips's taunting on Twitter and elsewhere is pitched permanently at Randy Savage levels, Molina has a neck tattoo and carries some of the old La Russian permanent-indignation, and former Red and Cardinal Jason LaRue's career was ended in 2010 when Johnny Cueto jump-kicked him in the middle of a bench-clearer. (Like all wrestling injuries, of course, it came in a fight in which nobody expected to throw a real punch.)" -- Dan Moore, Viva El Birdos

It's real to us!

"This rivalry doesn't get very much recognition nationally, but in Redsland, it's as heated as it gets for us. It really has been since August 10, 2010, when tempers boiled over and a bench clearing brawl happened at Great American Ball Park, resulting in injuries and suspensions abound. Since then, these two teams do not like each other.

I think the best way to describe the dynamic between these two teams is a big brother/little brother complex. The Cards were a force in the division for most of the early 2000's, and the upstart Reds finally proved they could hold their own in 2010 when they won the NL Central for the first time since in over a decade.

It's certainly cooled off since the departures of Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols from St. Louis, as the remaining notable player from the brawl is Yadier Molina. We still don't like Yadi and his neck tattoo, but right now this series signifies the Reds' biggest challenge in defending their division title from a year ago." -- Brandon Kraeling, Red Reporter

One Key Stat: .225/.268/.320

by Steven Goldman

The Reds hit .256/.325/.436 at home last season. They were a very different team when visiting Busch Stadium, at which they went 2-4. Their bats shriveled, producing the triple-slashes above. Think of it this way: the park and Cards pitching combined to transform the Reds roster into one big Robert Andino. As Sean Connery said in "The Untouchables," "Who would claim to be that who was not? Hmm?"

Bottom Line: CARDS 2-1

by Steven Goldman The Cardinals win this series 2-1, the Reds spoiling the sweep on Wednesday as Bailey pitches well and the bats get to Jake Westbrook.

Please post your predictions below.

Game 1: Reds 13, Cardinals 4

Red Reporter Recap: "The Best Team in the NL Central treated the Best Fans in Baseball to a late-game treat."

Viva El Birdos Recap: "The Redbirds' 4-3 lead entering the eighth inning turned into a brutal 13-4 loss at the hands of the favorites to win the National League Central."

Game 2: CardinALS 5, REDS 1

Red Reporter Recap: Karma reared its ugly head in the bottom half of the 6th.

Game 3: Cardinals 10, Reds 0

We had the Cardinals taking the series 2-1 correct, just not the order, as Westbrook pitched a shutout in the rubber game.

Red Reporter Recap: "When you don't hit well, you lose. When you don't pitch well, you lose. When you don't hit well and don't pitch well, you lose 10-0."

Viva El Birdos Recap: "After nine games of the 2013 season, the Redbirds have scored 56 runs, averaging just over 6 per game. Today's offensive explosion -- hitsplosion? runsplosion? scoresplosion? hmm, not sure any of those are great -- also pushes the team above Cincinnati in the offensive standings."

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