Friday, July 03, 2009

Birds Eye View: Cincinnati

The Birds Eye View previews are a feature item at Cards Clubhouse. I also post them here, because I'm lazy and they give me a free couple of posts each week.

The Cardinals start their July road odyssey with three games in Cincinnati. From now until 27 July they will play 15 of their next 18 away from Busch. Proving MLB uses a spin-the-random-wheel-of-cheese methodology to write the schedule, the team will have as many scheduled off-days in July (5) as they had the first 3 months of the season.

Since the millennium, the Cardinals have owned Cincinnati in St Louis, but are below .500 on the banks of the Ohio River (32-34). Last year they went 5-4 there. In their first foray to the Great American Ballpark (GAB) this season, they lost 2 of 3 (May 8-10).

Mostly well-known tidbit: Cincinnati is the oldest franchise in baseball, in terms of continuous play. They used to play the first game of the baseball season, until MLB threw tradition on the scrap heap (see play, interleague and All-Star Game, ‘this time it counts’). Also, the Reds didn’t believe in retiring numbers until 1998. Before that, only Fred Hutchinson (who died while working for the team in 1964, number retired in 1965) and Johnny Bench (1984) had been so honored. Since then they’ve retired another 7 numbers.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 42-38, 2nd NL Central, 1 game back of Milwaukee. Lost 7 of their last 10, and scored 22 runs in those games while allowing 49. Where would they be without Albert Pujols? He’s knocked in or scored 10 of those 22 runs.

Cincinnati: 38-38, 3rd NL Central, 3 games back. They’ve lost 6 of their last 10, although they’ve won 3 of their last 5 (albeit against hapless Cleveland and Arizona).

Pitching match-ups

3 July: Piniero vs Homer Bailey. Bailey (1-0, 8.68) is a ‘can’t miss’ prospect who’s struggled at the ML level. He is only 23, so he’s far from a bust; but time will tell if he lives up to expectations. Bailey has started 2 games this year, thrown an average of 100 pitches, and retired a total of 28 hitters. Bailey suffers from ‘walk-itis’ – he walked 6 and 7, respectively, in his two starts. Our not-so-patient club (see 29 June’s game vs Lincecum) would be well-served to take some pitches against this guy. He’s faced the Cardinals twice; he’s 0-2 with a 14+ ERA, and has never survived the fourth inning. His last start was 10 June 08.

Good Ol’ Joel followed his 2-hit masterpiece against the Mets with a loss to Minnesota, although he pitched fairly well (6 2/3, 3 ER). Cincinnati is a good match-up for him; they tend to beat the ball into the ground. They also tend to strike out a lot, so hopefully Piniero’s sinker will make for a short day. Joel’s had good success against the Reds (3-1, 2.97 ERA in 5 starts), though perhaps not at GAB (1-1, 4.76 in 3 starts). He did win in his only start at Riverfront, for what that’s worth.

4 July: Thompson vs Micah Owings. Micah Owings is one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball. His BABIP is a ridiculous .381. Thankfully his pitching isn’t quite so stellar (5-8, 4.63), although he’s won 2 of his last 3 starts, and he pitched well overall in June (2-2, 3.72). He’s only started one game against St Louis, and that was 2 years ago (Sept 07) when he was a Diamondback; he lasted 8 outs, but only gave up 2 ER (7 total) in an utterly forgettable game for St Louis.

Brad Thompson hasn’t had a run scored for him in his last 14 innings pitched. Although based on the scores of his last two starts, some run support wouldn’t have changed the outcome at all. Let’s hope the Cardinal offense shows up on the Fourth. His last start vs the Reds was 2 June, when he went 5 innings in a no-decision (the Cards won 5-2). Brad’s pitched against the Reds more than any other team in the league, and he’s 3-0, 3.69 in 20 appearances (5 starts). He’s 1-0 with a 2.14 ERA at GAB, and in his last start there (15 Aug 08) he went 5 and won 5-3.

Fourth of July Trivia: The Cardinals last played the Reds in 2000 (W), and in Cincinnati in 1998 (L). Until last year’s loss to the Cubs, they had won 8 straight on the Nation’s Birthday.

5 July: Carpenter vs Bronson Arroyo. Carp gets a break from his run of Cy Young-winner opponents, with the decidedly non-elite Bronson Arroyo. It’s not a good sign when you’re best known for long hair, guitar-playing, and a funky delivery, as opposed to actual pitching results. Arroyo is 8-7 with a stratospheric 5.69 ERA in 16 starts this year. He gives up a LOT of HR – in fact, the 20 he’s given up lead the league. Starting a day game in that bandbox? How many HR will Pujols hit – 3? 4?

Arroyo is 5-7 with a 4.57 ERA in 18 starts against St Louis. He is, however 3-2 against them in Cincinnati (and in games he’s started, the Reds are 4-3). His last home start against St Louis was in Sept 08, and he won 7-2.

Carpenter comes off his worst start of the year. He can’t help but be better, because that was truly awful. He threw a complete game 3 hitter against Cincinnati on June 4. He hasn’t appeared at the GAB since 2006; he went 7 and gave up 6 that day, but didn’t figure in the decision.

Prognosis. As the Cardinals careen towards .500, urgency is growing to stay in the race. This year’s NL Central is pretty weak and ripe for the taking; but the offense has to wake up. There is no better time than a 3-game series in Cincinnati. The ball park is a hitter’s park, and all the pitching match-ups favor the Cardinals. With Milwaukee and Chicago looming on this leg of the road trip, they need some momentum going into those games. Let’s be bold in our predictions.

Cards sweep this series.

Go Cards!

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