Tag Archive | "Rivalry"

Previewing the Cardinals 2014 Schedule

Yesterday afternoon, the Cardinals released the details of their schedule for the 2014 season. After some of the adjustments made to the scheduling process in the first year of the balanced schedules, there were plenty of new elements to get used to. Constant interleague match ups, two game “natural rivalry” series, an increase in four-game stands and increased divisional play all changed the course of the season and the weight of each ballgame.

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Next spring will be the ninth season for Busch Stadium III, as well as the inaugural year for Ballpark Village. But looking ahead inside the park, there are new challenges on the horizon for the Cardinals. Most notably, the interleague alignment will pit the baseball’s two most competitive divisions from this season against each other, as the National League Central will face off against the American League East.  This will undoubtedly create a much tougher road throughout the season, yet create a number of attractive match ups, both a current and historical sense.

Also, the I-70 Series vs the Kansas City Royals will remain in the fold, as the two-and-two format will remain in place, with two consecutive series in each team’s home ballpark.

Unlike this year, the team will play a heavier home schedule before the All-Star Break with 48 home games at Busch Stadium before the July 14-17 Mid-Summer Classic, and another 33 after. While announcements on ticket availability, promotions and game times will come in the future, here are a few of the highlights and series of note for the upcoming season.

  • The season opens March 31 in Cincinnati with a three game series against the Reds, before moving on to Pittsburgh for a three-game weekend set.
  • Opening Day in St. Louis is Monday, April 7 versus the Reds for the second consecutive season
  • April 11-13: First home series versus the Chicago Cubs
  • May 2-4: First weekend trip to Wrigley Field
  • Longest Homestand: From May 12-June 3, the team plays only three games away from Busch
  • Interleague visits to Busch: The New York Yankees visit Busch from May 26-28, the Tampa Bay Rays for a two game series July 22-23 and the Boston Red Sox from August 5-7.
  • Interleague Travels: The Toronto Blue Jays June 6-8, Tampa Bay Rays June 10-11 and to Baltimore to face the Orioles August 8-10.
  • I-70 Series: The Kansas City Royals come to Busch from June 2-3, and the Cardinals go to Kansas City June 4-5.
  • Holiday home stands: Memorial Day versus Yankees, Fourth of July (vs. Miami Marlins) and Labor Day (September 1 vs. Pirates)
  • The final home stand of the season is a nine game stand against the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds from September 12-21.
  • The season ends visiting the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 28.

 

 

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St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates battles could be best of second half

The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have rarely played meaningful games against one another after the All-Star Break in the past 20 years, but this year their second-half matchups could be the most intriguing of the year.

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The Cardinals lead the Pirates by one game in the National League Central Division at the break, but the two teams have played just five times in the first half of the season, which leaves 14 games for the final two-and-a-half months of the season that could decide the NL Central.

Those games might not have the intensity of the 2003 and 2004 battles between the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs or the rivalry games in recent years between the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, but for once the late-season trips to Pittsburgh will be highlights on the schedule rather than afterthoughts.

The Pirates have had good first halves the past two seasons. They were four games above .500 at this point in 2011 and nine games above .500 at the same time in 2012, but each time they fell back dramatically. They finished 18 games under .500 in 2011 and four games below .500 in 2012.

This time the Pirates are 19 games above .500 with 69 games left in the season.

Five of those games will be against the Cardinals at the end of July at PNC Park in Pittsburgh in a series that will likely set the tone for the second half.

The Cardinals and Pirates were scheduled to play a four-game series July 29 through Aug. 1, but a rainout April 16 added another game to the series and created a doubleheader July 30.

This could be a series similar to the five-game battle the Cardinals and Cubs played to begin September a decade ago in Chicago. The Cardinals entered that series in first place, one game ahead of the Cubs. They left Wrigley Field a game behind the Cubs after losing four of five. The Cubs went on to win the division, and the Cardinals finished third.

The Cardinals and Pirates will have nine games left against each other after the five-game series, but what is sure to be a hard-fought, nearly weeklong battle will likely go a long way toward determining the NL Central champion in 2013.

The Pirates have met crucial points in their seasons the past two years, and each time they fell apart afterward.

They lost a 19-inning game 4-3 to the Atlanta Braves July 26, 2011, which kicked of a 3-16 stretch that killed the Pirates’ chances. The next season they beat the Cardinals 6-3 in 19 innings Aug. 19, but they lost 10 of their next 13 games and again fell out of contention.

But this year the Pirates have a team with more depth in both the pitching staff and lineup.

The Pittsburgh staff has been one of the best in baseball through the first half of 2013. It has compiled the best team earned-run average at 3.07 to carry a lineup that has hit just .243, good for 26th in Major League Baseball.

Pirates starters A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano have combined for a 21-11 record with a 2.40 ERA while rookie Gerrit Cole joined the team in June and promptly won his first four starts, although he dropped his next three and has a 3.89 ERA. But the Pittsburgh bullpen has been just as good.

Closer Jason Grilli came from obscurity to save 29 games with a 1.99 ERA in the first half, and the team has just one reliever, Tony Watson, who has appeared in more than 15 games and has an ERA above 2.72.

Even if the pitching staff doesn’t maintain those terrific numbers in the second half, the Pirates finally have a lineup with legitimate hitters, including all-stars Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, along with veteran catcher Russell Martin and promising second-year leadoff hitter Sterling Marte, who should keep the team from free-falling through the standings in the second half of the season.

However, the Cardinals are as good as they’ve ever been. They have arguably the best pitcher in the game, Adam Wainwright, who is 12-5 with a 2.45 ERA; and the best hitter, Yadier Molina, who leads the National League with a .341 batting average.

The Cardinals’ 57-36 record through 93 games is also their best start since they were 51-42 in 2008, they have baseball’s third-best pitching staff and third-best offense.

Yes, the Reds are five games behind the Cardinals and could certainly put together a second-half run to overtake both St. Louis and Pittsburgh, but right now the team from western Pennsylvania is the Cardinals biggest threat.

Luckily for baseball fans, two of the best teams in baseball will play about one-third of their remaining games against one another in what could be the best division race of 2013.

Enjoy.

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I-70 Series Starts Soon

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Beginning on Memorial Day, the St. Louis Cardinals-Kansas City Royals rivalry will be rekindled in the 2013 season with a four-game home-and-home series. The first two games of the series will be played in Kansas City on Monday and Tuesdaywhile the final two games of the series will be played down the road in St. Louis. This unique four-game set is similar to the Battle of the Beltway, which will feature the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals playing a home-and-home.

Entering the weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals had the best record in Major League Baseball and led the N.L. Central. Their pitching staff, which has allowed the fewest runs in the majors, and a potent offense, which has scored the third most runs in the National League, primarily drives this. One of the most pleasant surprises for the Cards has been the performance of Shelby Miller who boasts a 5-3 record with a 1.74 ERA. Entering this year, Miller had only started one game and pitched thirteen career innings, yet has been able to vex opposing hitters so far in 2013.

In the other dugout, the Kansas City Royals will look to continue on their surprising start and shorten the gap in the A.L. Central behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians. Despite dropping four of the last five series, the Royals remain in third place in the division. For the most part the team has struggled to score runs, but has been led by a strong pitching staff. Alex Gordon has been one of the sole bright spots on offense and leads the team in average, home runs, RBI’s, and runs. Pitchers Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and James Shields headline a staff, which has allowed the second-fewest runs in the American League. Despite boasting a 2-5 record, Shields has a minuscule .96 WHIP to go along with a 2.47 ERA on the year and has been primarily hindered by a lack of run support.

 The first two games of the series in Kansas City currently carry an average price well above the average price for Royals tickets this year ($54). Monday’s Memorial Day afternoon start has tickets going for an average of $80 with a get-in price of $16. This $80 average is 48% above the home season average. Game two’s tickets are currently being sold at an average of $70 with the least expensive tickets costing $15. The prices for these two games are 14% less than the games played in Kansas City between these two teams last year, but are 34% more expensive than 2010, and 38% more expensive than in 2011.

The final two games of the series in St. Louis are going for $42 and $45 respectively. This season, the average price for Cardinals tickets is $68 and the prices for these two games between the teams will be 38% and 34% below that average. Tickets are still readily available for the two games and can be acquired for a low price of $6 for Wednesday and $8 for Thursday. These prices reflect a continued downward trend for tickets in St. Louis between the Cardinals and Royals as the prices are 24% less expensive than 2011 and 16% less expensive from just one year ago.

The battle for the Midwest will feature two teams heading in two different directions. The Cardinals will be seeking to stretch out their divisional lead and improve upon the best record in Major League Baseball while the Royals will be trying to turn around a recent slide which put a damper upon one of the most surprising starts in the majors.

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The UCB Annual

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Every year, the group known as the UCB (the United Cardinal Bloggers) come together on one massive project known as the United Cardinal Bloggers Annual.

I-70 baseball has been a proud member of the UCB for almost three years and we have contributed to the Annual every year of our existence.  This year, a post dedicated to the memory of my father was chosen as the “Post Of The Year” and included in the publication.  I also contributed a brief look at the history of the Houston Astros, their rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals, and their subsequent move to the American League.

The result of all the hard work this year is a 25-chapter ebook dedicated to the memory of Stan Musial that takes a look back at the 2012 Cardinals and a look forward to 2013.

National writers Will Leitch and Drew Silva check in with their own thoughts in the book as well as 18 bloggers from around the internet.

The 2013 United Cardinal Bloggers Annual is available as an e-book at the Amazon Kindle store for $4.99. The book can be read on any of the devices in the Kindle family as well as by downloading Amazon’s free reading apps for your computer, tablet or smartphone.

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The Royals Need A Rival

Just over 30 years ago the Kansas City Royals were embroiled in one of the best rivalries in baseball with the hated Yankees. It had everything a great rivalry needs; success on both sides, regular and postseason match ups, incredible stories, fights, and most importantly a general disdain for the other team. The Yankees got the better of the Royals during the rivalry, but you could never say the Royals did not put up a fight. Whether it was George Brett jumping up to punch Craig Nettles at third base, the 1980 ALCS when the Royals finally prevailed, or the Pine Tar Game, the Royals did their part to keep the rivalry interesting and relevant.

I bring this up because unlike that moment in time, today the Royals seem to be without a rival altogether. The Yankees have long since moved on, winning championship upon championship as the Royals dreamt of mediocrity. The division has not been much help, either, as it is harder to have a rival (at least one that takes you seriously) when you have been as bad as the Royals have been. Over the past 20 years the team has been competitive with no one and has really not given any team a chance to genuinely dislike them while every team in the AL Central has taken their turn at being good, and appeared in a World Series. With the infusion of young talent the team has seen over the past 18 months, we are expecting that part of the equation to change.

The other major impediment to forming a rivalry for the Royals has been the lack of consistency in their roster. Just three regulars from the Royals 2007 team figure to be on the Royals 2012 roster. That 2007 team featured only 1 significant part from the 2002 team 5 years before. It is hard to develop, and especially maintain, a rivalry when you are turning over 90-95% of your roster every 5 years. With a team full of talented players that the Royals mostly have several years of control over, that part of the equation should change, too.

So, with the Royals seemingly ripe for improvement, while at the same time developing some long term consistency in their lineup, it seems they are more than ready to develop a rivalry. Who should that rival be? Well, you would think anyone in the division would be a candidate, but it is hard to consider the Twins. For one, the Royals seem to be aspiring to be just like the Twins and seem more complimentary than anything. For two, with the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau figuring to be in question for the many years they have left on their contracts, it is hard to see them as a contender.

The only team you could even consider outside the division as a rival would be the cross-state St. Louis Cardinals. Ask Royals fans and they will probably tell you that the Cardinals are their biggest rival, but Cards fans are pretty clear that the Cubs, or even Brewers, are much more of concern for them. As much as KC may dislike the Cardinals and their fans, it is hard to have a rivalry with a team from another league that does not consider you a rival.

That basically leaves us with the Tigers, Indians and White Sox. The Sox are just beginning their rebuilding project, and just lost their most controversial part, Manager Ozzie Guillen. The chances of them being at the top of the division race, or even in the middle, seem pretty small right now. The Indians are right where the Royals are, if not a little ahead. That being said, there is just something about the Tigers that makes them the favorite to me.

The Royals and Tigers have quite a history of brawls, including the beating that Mike Sweeney laid on Jeff Weaver. Maybe that is shaping my opinion, but what had more to do with it is the Tigers position. They are much older than the Royals or the Tribe and they are the established favorite in the division right now. For either young upstart to take over the division, they will have to go through the Tigers and that could spark a rivalry more than any fight from a decade ago.

Honestly, I do not really care who it is, I would just like for the Royals to be relevant enough for someone to consider them a rival. Maybe if they start winning enough those Cardinals fans will change their mind. Maybe if I find a way to mention Don Denkinger every week that will help?

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NL Central Shakeup

2013 is Bud Norris’ first year of being eligible for arbitration. I sincerely hope you’re grinning to yourself right now, after that sentence. C’mon, though, don’t act like that thought hadn’t crossed your mind too, after yesterday’s announcement. In 2013 the Houston Astros will defect from the National League Central division, and join the American League West. This could be particularly good new for the Cardinals and their fans when it comes to Bud (“Chuck”) Norris.

“Go West, young man. No, seriously, get out of our division.”

Nevermind that his team lost more than 100 games in 2011, and in the last five years has had exactly one third place finish, their highest-ranking finish over that period, when Bud Norris faces the Cardinals, it’s usually a gloomy day in St. Louis. He’s 6-2 with a 2.37 ERA in10 career starts against St. Louis, and it’s somewhat hard to believe the Cards scratched out those two wins against him. Sometimes one guy or team just has another guy or team’s number. As dominant as future Hall of Famer, Randy Johnson was, the Cardinals usually fared pretty well against him.

Mike Metzger wrote a nice piece yesterday about some of the other factors of this move across leagues and divisions for the Astros, and as Jayson Stark wrote, it impacts all of us. The days of the rivalry between these 2001 co-champions* are numbered, and things had already cooled off considerably, and given way to new rivalries.

The Brewers and Reds have moved up that list now, thanks in part to the mouths of Brandon Philips and Nyjer Morgan (whose fingers have no rings, mind you). Those two have created some sparks between the teams…the two, who throughout all of history have appeared in a combined 13 postseason games. Their respective .333 (4-for-12 lifetime) and .179 postseason batting averages are good for exactly zero World Series appearances, let alone championships. Heck, Philips hasn’t even been on a team that’s won a postseason game, including being on the wrong end of the 2nd no-hitter in postseason history.

So, all is not lost with this rearranging of the NL Central, and the shakeup of the Astros. The Cards will have plenty of rivalry opportunities, I’m sure, even without Houston in the mix. Who knows, though, the two teams may end up playing against each other a few times a year anyway–we’ll just have to wait and see what the schedule looks like, as we don’t yet know.

We also don’t know which is the official, un-official hashtag for those Norris/Cardinals matchups: #BudChuck or #ChuckBud. After all, when it’s his day to start, he doesn’t take the mound, the mound gets Bud Norris-ed. One thing’s for sure though, after 2012 the Astros won’t have to worry about finishing the division in 6th place anymore.

*”Co-champions” is dumb.

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Royals Potpourri I

It’s been said that the Major League Baseball season is a grind. Night-in, night-out, day-after-day. I’m sure it gets old for the players and the ancillary support employees. But I’m not feeling sorry for them, not even the ancillary non millionaire employees. Would you rather have a real job? Or a real job that involves baseball on some level? I know which one I would choose.

Since I committed to blogging about the Royals once I week I’ve done a good job of coming up with stuff to write about. But now almost a third into the season it’s starting to feel like a grind. I’ve got some serious writers block, or if I’ve offended some of the formally educated writers, bloggers block. I have a few ideas marinating, but not enough time to do the necessary research before the deadline.

I have a few thoughts on this past weeks Royal’s action that I have not seen expressed by others. However, by themselves aren’t enough to write an entire blog entry worth anyone’s time. So I’ll just combine them like a potpourri:

-The Royals are 2-7 against the Indians this season. This is highly troubling to me as a Royals fan. The Royals are the second youngest team in the majors. The only team that’s younger is the Indians. It maybe true the Indians are a little ahead of the Royals in their development, and there are still pieces of the future down in Omaha. Strategically these teams are in the same place. These games haven’t been close. The Indians have throttled the Royals. If the Royals are to ever win this division they’re going to have to beat the current Indians team. They’re not going any where, and they will get better. The fact that the Royals young guys are getting beat by the Indians young guys is cause for concern. Look for this rivalry to develop a little more over the years.

-As Royals fans we’ve seen our share of losing. Not just losing, but embarrassing, comical, historically bad losing. The list of bloopers is so long I could probably write a whole post about it. But I’m not. And my favorite you can’t even quantify in a highlight real. I have a favorite blooper. Mainly because I was in attendance. On July 1st, 2005 against the LAA Angels David DeJesus and Angel Berroa batted out of order in the first inning. 2005 was also the year of the 19 game losing streak. Historical, pathetic, and embarrassing. I thought the dark days of 2005 were behind us. But this week the Royals brought us two more Yackety Sax moments in one week:

Vin Mazzaro’s 14 run performance against the Indians was the first. So bad it made not just national sports headlines, but national news headlines. You can blame Ned Yost for keeping him out there. You can blame Vin Mazzaro for being terrible. Either way it was an organizational failure that resulted in something so bad it had not been done before. However, there was some good news. Vin Mazzaro got Danny Duffy’s Nexrad Laptop, Mesonet, and barometer.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

But the Royals weren’t done with the goofyness. During Wednesday’s game Jerod Dyson and Mike Aviles got picked off first as pinch runners in the 9th inning. Think about that. They were brought in to run bases, and got picked off. Two pinch runners being picked off in the same inning not happened since 1896. At least it’s happened before.

I can deal with some losing. After all, I still care enough about the Royals to watch, listen, and write. But is it too much to ask to not be historically terrible along the way?

-Finally, This weekend is the first round of the 2011 I70 Series. I kind of feel obligated to mention it…since it’s the title of the site and all. I have to admit. I vaguely remember the 1985 World Series as I was too young. All of my memories of that would be second hand, or after the fact. I did not catch on to the full ramifications of the Kansas City – St Louis rivalry until I moved to Kansas City in 2003. Growing up in Wichita I thought it was OK to root for the Cardinals as an NL Team. I quickly learned that liking both the Royals and Cardinals is sort of bad form in either city. In 2003 the Royals had their swagger back, and I attended 2 of 3 games at Kauffman Stadium. My brother and I ran our mouths to the St Louis fans and had a good time even though the Royals lost two of three in that series. I also remember the return series in St Louis ending with Mike MacDougal, yes that Mike MacDougal striking out the Great Pujols looking with a nasty 12-6 curve ball. Royals and Cards split the 2003 I70 Series. Since the Royals have been so bad since then I really haven’t taken notice of the series since then. But since leaving Kansas City…I still kind of root for the Cardinals, but don’t tell anyone.

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A Word On The Series

There are two teams… the Royals and Cardinals.

Barely separated by a stretch of interstate 70.

Roughly two hundred and fifty miles apart, one team falls to the American League, the other to the National. Contrast is a better descriptor than comparison, but simply by relative location, a rivalry is created.

The Cardinals, or the Saint Louis Brown Stockings, were formed in 1882. One of America’s initial baseball franchises, history is the enamel of this ball club- a story to tell in every corner, every decade, and in every one of their ten championships. Despite the casual ups and downs, the organization through its lifetime, still remains above water (A total franchise record of 10130-9437).

The Royals, established in 1969, became a more modern version of Midwest baseball. The Athletics came beforehand, but the Royals created a name for themselves quickly. As time stumbles off the clock and season upon season concludes, the Royals, for the most part, have declined (A total franchise record (3230-3477).

Between the two teams it is the Cardinals who claim the series lead at 34 to 26. In respect to the Royals, this is a series they typically perform better in than others, which places more importance on the rivalry. We all remember 1985.

There are more appealing rivalries in sports, let alone baseball. This is just one that most baseball fans in the Midwest learn to appreciate. There has been animosity and a deep competitiveness that is bred into this match up. Although most of us would like to see more of it, the hard fact that it only comes once or twice a year raises the level of anticipation. For the Royals and Cardinals both, it is a series they mark on their calendars long before the start of each season. Historically, it is a revenue generating series for both teams. Any vacant seats can honestly be blamed on the lack of success in Kansas City.

If in some aspect, we found both of these teams leading their divisions by the point in time they face-off, it could easily garner national attention and spark further interest year by year. But there is always something that keeps the excitement close to home. For three to six games each season, the Cubs become a second hand rivalry to the Cardinals. The Royals become the enemy.

Even though the Royals are easy kids to pick on, they still grabbed the ring in 1985 from the Cardinals. If you are a Cardinal, you are informed about that series. Never to be forgotten, it was the day the Royals were Missouri (and the worlds) best team.

The Cardinals don’t take that matter lightly.

So far, at this point of the season we witness a team in the Cardinals who are doing the usual by competing for a first place spot in the NL Central. The Royals on the other hand, started the season in surprising fashion, maintaining an above .500 record since game 1 of 2011. But as of recent note, they are finding every way to lose. Back under .500 for the season, the struggles are harder to nudge than that of their Saint Louis counterparts.

When Kansas City and Saint Louis extend the rivalry on Friday, much of the story will be the same. A steady, trust worthy veteran in Chris Carpenter will take the mound and he will face the former National League fill in, Jeff Francis.

It is more certain that Saint Louis has the advantage in this game. They have been playing better overall and they are bumping into the Royals at precisely the right time. Sure the crowds will be a little heavier than average games, but the Royals are currently lost in the cobwebs. Their identity has screeched off road into uncharted territory and they are looking to get back into the rhythm. Until then, I expect the Cardinals to go about business with the same game plan they have all season long. At the start of the season, Carpenter was the one pitcher you would undoubtedly put your money on. A proven track record of consistent success, he was the obvious substance of reliability. Shockingly enough, Carp has been overshadowed by all-star performances from other stems in the rotation courtesy of Garcia, Lohse, and McClellan. As a group, the 2011 Cardinals pitching staff is easily the best in baseball.

This is the last thing the Royals need, but are the Cardinals going to argue? NO.

The more the Royals decline, the staler this rivalry becomes. The Cardinals give their fair share of contribution to making this series exciting, but Kansas City needs to find anyway to win- anyway to get the stadium loud, on their feet, and passionate again. The past few years have seen a drop in attendance totals, especially on the west end at Kauffman. Hopefully with an influx of thrilling youth in KC and the combination of stable pitching and competitiveness in STL, we will soon see a rise in the series once more.

Although the Royals have found that usual losing trend, they still teeter on the pendulum of even baseball. If they can find a way to scrape off an I-70 series win, that could be all they need to jump start the season all over again. Ned Yost is familiar with a lot of players on the Cardinals roster due his time spent in Milwaukee. If he can somehow build a game plan around his past knowledge, and the offense can start scoring runs again, Kansas City can easily make this a weekend worthwhile.

The Cardinals have an ability to bounce back from tough loses a little better that the Royals so I have little concern if they happen to lose. The Royals need to win at least two of three. The Cardinals are trying to keep up with a Reds team that is clicking. There is plenty of reason why each team needs to perform. I think the Cardinals are the better squad this year, but in this series (as in any major rivalry), anything could happen.

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Role Reversal: How Will The Cardinals Bounce Back From Cincinnati Sweep?

Last August, it was a sweep to remember for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds. They came into town in 2 ½ game behind the Reds in the NL Central race…and less than 48 hours later, the team jetted out of town in sole possession of 1st place. The sleeping “big dog” of the division had seemingly been awoken by the loud mouth of Brandon Phillips, who talked a big game before the series, then backed it up by going hitless in a 3-game dismantling at the hands of the Cardinals.

Most thought it would mark the turning point in the 2010 season for both clubs, but as it turns out, it was the way the two clubs responded to the sweep that made the difference. The Reds went on to win their next 7 games, while the Cardinals won just 1 of their next 6. That 5 ½ game swing was essentially the difference in the season standings as the Reds took the NL Central by 5 games when it was all said and done.

The Cardinals seemingly went from the highest of momentum boosts into an endless free-fall after that series…and it’s really hard to understand why. Matt Holliday played some of his best baseball towards the end of last season. Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter had dominated opposing teams all year. Albert was Albert. How did THAT team sweep the Reds, then win just 10 of its next 31 games?

Perhaps a better question is: “How will the players respond to this latest chapter in their renewed rivalry with the Reds?” Frankly, the Cardinals’ players should be extra motivated this time around. Reds closer Francisco Cordero taunted the dugout after getting the final out of the sweep. Brandon Phillips continues to taunt them. Johnny Cueto still needs to be punished for ending Jason Larue’s career. But the ultimate motivating factor should be this: “There’s nothing more frustrating in life than knowing you’re better than someone, but not getting the desired results.” If some you work with gets a promotion over you, and you think YOU deserve it, that puts a HUGE chip on your shoulder. The Cardinals are better than the Reds, and both teams know it. The Cardinals went 12-6 against Cincinnati last season. They beat the Reds 2 of 3 earlier this season at Busch, a series that would’ve been a sweep had it not been for Ryan Franklin’s continued inability to get people out. They had game 1 of this past series in the bag, only to let another bullpen meltdown do them in. So what if the Reds beat them down Saturday and Sunday? It’s baseball, it happens, you’re not gonna win ‘em all. Cincinnati caught Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman in the middle of slumps. They caught Carp and Kyle McClellan on bad days. Over the long haul, the Cardinals have the better team.

The Cardinals players should already have July 4th circled on their calendars. That’s the next time they face the Reds…and it’s back home at Busch. This time around, they need to respond with a vengeance. We saw what happened last year… the Cards dropped 21 of their next 31 games. These next few weeks should help us get a true feel for what the 2011 Cardinals are made of.

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Thinking Out Loud

The Cardinals have settled into a pattern of winning. That is great news for them and for the fans, but it makes it tough to come up with fresh material for a blog post such as this one. There is no real controversy, other than the continued beating of the dead horse that is Ryan Franklin. So while trying to think of something new and exciting to write about today I says to my self, “Self—instead of one story, why not touch on several?” Away we go…

–The Cards have now won eight of their last nine series, and the ninth one was a split of a four-gamer against a pretty good (no, really) Florida Marlins club. Entering Friday’s action the Cards were 22-16, which is good for third-best in the National League behind the Marlins (told ya) and the Philadelphia Phillies.

–The series against the Cubs was an interesting one. Going into the series, the two teams were #1 and #2 in the majors in team batting average. The Cardinals scored a total of 19 runs on 36 hits; the put up Cubs 16 runs on 39 hits…but the only home run in the three-game set was the solo shot that landed in the street by Matt Holliday in Thursday’s finale.

–Speaking of Holliday, he was the only member of that game’s starting lineup that was not drafted and developed by the Cardinals’ farm system.

–A lot of Reds fans hate the Cardinals. I mean, really hate them. During the series at Busch, I spent the entire game online both crafting a blog post and monitoring Twitter topics #stlcards and #reds. The vitriol coming from Reds fans was really quite unbelievable. It was hate the Cardinals this, little bitches that, expletives and wishes for injuries to various players…it was non-stop. I thought maybe this was something every rivalry experienced, and I know the fringe is often the loudest no matter how many of them there are. So I did the same thing for one of the games against the Cubs. I did see a lot of “Cardinals suck” and things of that nature, but nothing like what was coming from Reds fans. Maybe those people are not truly representative of the majority of Reds fans. But I even saw this after the series was over! What could be the cause of this hatred? Is it resentment because of all the time the Cards spent winning division titles, league championships, and a World Series over the past decade or so? Did all of that really stem from the fight last season? If anything, I would think Cards fans would hate the Reds rather than the other way around. After all, the Reds were the ones doing all the kicking and screaming. Of course, some fans understand what it means to win with class…

–If you have not seen the video of Kyle Lohse’s impersonation of Tony LaRussa on Thursday, your assignment from me is to go to the cardinals.com video page (after finishing this article, of course) and watch it.

–The Cards have a chance to put a little distance between them and the Reds this weekend, and if recent history holds true they will do just that. The Cards won two of three at Busch Stadium a couple of weeks ago and 12 of 18 throughout 2010. The Reds won the NL Central crown, of course, and that’s what ultimately matters. First place is nice but means very little in May…remember, the Cards were in this position this time last year. It will truly come down to which team stays healthy. The Reds just got Scott Rolen, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey back from the DL, so they will likely get a boost. Likewise, the Cards have had most of their success with key players like David Freese, Skip Schumaker, and of course Adam Wainwright on the shelf. Unfortunately, Freese and Schumaker will not see action for quite a while yet this season and Wainwright will not be back at all. So it will be interesting to see how sustained the Cards’ attack will be, and what will happen should anyone else go down.

–Barring something unforeseen, I do not expect any extracurricular scrapes between the Cards and Reds this weekend. I probably would not think this way if Cueto and Chris Carpenter were facing each other in this series.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained

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