For the first time in almost a month, the St. Louis Cardinals will enter a series as the division leader in the National League Central. They are currently tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates and sit 2.5 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds.
As if the schedule makers of Major League Baseball knew ahead of time what would be happening, the next few weeks will test the three teams at the top of the National League Central division like no other. The Cardinals open a three-game series with the Reds tonight in St. Louis before heading on a road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They will then return home to face the Pirates once again, completing a 13-game, 14-day stretch that could very well decide the division.
Over the last ten games, the Cardinals are the hottest of the three teams, winning seven of their contests while the Pirates and Reds have both won five. It has given the Cards a little cushion over the Reds and allowed them to catch the Pirates after chasing them for 23 days.
The series: Cincinnati Reds (74-57) at St. Louis Cardinals (76-54)
Standings: The Reds trail the Cardinals by 2.5 games in the NL Central. The Reds hold a seven game lead in the Wild Card.
National Coverage: ESPN will carry the Monday night game while MLB Network is scheduled to carry the game on Tuesday night.
The Cardinals head into this week in somewhat familiar territory this season, missing a pitcher. Jake Westbrook found his way to the disabled list and his turn in the rotation marks the start of the series with the Reds. Tyler Lyons will take the ball for the spot-start against Reds’ hurler Mike Leake. Lyons has been under-whelming on the mound as a starter this season, posting an earned run average over five and only earning a victory twice. The first game is the biggest challenge from a pitching standpoint for the Cardinals and they will need Lyons to return to his early-season production on the mound. The first two starts of the season for Lyons were victories that seen the southpaw go seven innings and yield only one run in each contest. On June 8th, Lyons took the mound against the Reds and lasted just over five innings and gave up four runs, earning his second loss of the season.
Mike Leake has not done well against St. Louis this season, though he does enjoy some moderate success over a few of their hitters. In two starts this season against his division rival, Leake taken a loss in both games, lasting just five innings in each. He gave up three runs on June 7th and seven runs on August 4th while allowing a total of 14 hits over both contests. Leake looked impressive in his most recent outing, at least he did until the fifth inning when he surrendered four runs. He managed a win and six innings pitched before the day was through and now looks to change his luck against the Redbirds when his team needs him most.
The biggest concern with Joe Kelly is how deep he will go into the game. The Cardinals win when Kelly pitches, having won seven of the eight contests that Kelly has started, but the starter seldom sees action past six innings. He keeps the team in position to win, though he tends to play with fire a bit and has to work his way out of jams often. We have seen before in St. Louis that you cannot keep putting runners on base and expect to always find your way out of trouble. If Kelly can keep the base runners to a minimum, you may see seven or eight innings out of him in the process. For now, the team keeps winning when he takes the mound and the Cardinals will hope to continue that streak on Tuesday night.
The Reds counter with their most successful pitcher this year, sending Mat Latos to the mound to try and get the team rolling in the series. Latos is riding a hot streak of going late into ballgames and defying the odds to do so. His most recent start in Arizona saw him go eight innings while battling the flu and reportedly throwing up three different times over the course of the game. Latos has taken the mound three times this season against the Cardinals and the Reds hold wins in all three of those games, Latos himself earning the victory in two of them.
It is hard for a team to arrange the starting rotation well when you play two divisional opponents for two straight weeks. That puts staff ace Adam Wainwright on the mound in the final game against Cincinnati and missing the entire series against the Pirates this coming weekend. Wainwright takes the mound on the heels of his major-league-leading fifth complete game of the season. During his last outing, fans were witness to his rise in the rankings of all-time Cardinal pitchers. Meanwhile, he won his 15th game of the season and improved his K/BB rate to a league leading 7.28. He has currently walked fewer hitters than games he has pitched in and continues to develop into a more dangerous pitcher. During Wednesday night’s game, he will pass the 200 inning mark for the season.
Homer Bailey will line up to take on the Cardinals for the third time this season where he will also be looking for his first win against the team. His April 10th start against the Cardinals resulted in Bailey allowing seven runs, one of two times this season that he has allowed that many runs in a game. Bailey has won four of his last five contests and continues to put together impressive numbers from time-to-time. Consistency is what the Reds are hoping to start gaining from Bailey and he will look to build on his recent success in the Wednesday game with the Cardinals.
The Pirates will enter a three game series with the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. The Brewers, who took two games in a three game set with the Reds this past weekend, are in a unique position to play spoiler in this division race.
Don’t be surprised if Carlos Beltran sits in the Monday game due to the matchup with the starting pitching. He hist Latos and Bailey much better than he does Leake.
Kolten Wong continues to earn playing time despite leadership insisting that he is not here to shake things up. His speed and defense have been impressive to this point, here’s to hoping we see his bat come around into the discussion soon.
Jon Jay is silencing his critics lately and helping lead the Cardinals back into the hunt.
My name is Bill Ivie and you can find my work at Yahoo! as well as on i70baseball, which is a member blog of the United Cardinal Bloggers.
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