The Rivalry Renewed: Cincinnati Reds vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Last season the Reds opened the season with St. Louis coming to Cincinnati. St. Louis began 2-0 before Jonny Gomes launched a 381 foot home run to left field to give the Reds their first win of 2011.

No one could have imagined after that first season the race to the playoffs the Cardinals and Reds had in 2011.

The rivalry heated up in 2011, and it all came to a head on Tuesday, August 10. After taking a loss to the Cardinals the night before, Brandon Phillips had some choice words for Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals.

“I’d play against these guys with one leg,” Phillips told Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News. “I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they’re little bitches, all of ’em.”

The next day as Phillips led off the ball game, he tapped Yadier Molina on the shin guard and the rest is history (linked is a video of the brawl). The Reds would get swept by the Cardinals and fall from two games up in the division to one game down. ESPN’s John Kruk announced that he thought the Reds season was over. It wasn’t.

The Reds would blow away the Cardinals down the stretch as Tony LaRussa stood shell-shocked in his dugout watching the Cardinals lose game after game. The Reds, on the other hand, won 7 in a row after the sweep and won 13 of 16.

In 2011, the rivalry should not be much different. Brandon Phillips still doesn’t like the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter doesn’t like anyone. So let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses for the Cardinals in 2011:

Strengths: A first baseman named Albert Pujols will bat in the middle of their lineup (hopefully this will be his last season in St. Louis). And Adam Wainwright will anchor the pitching staff. The Cardinals have added Lance Berkman to the outfield that already included Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus. And Ryan Theriot should provide more stability at shortstop than Brendan Ryan did in 2010. With Wainwright, Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia at the top of their pitching rotation, they are as good as anyone when those three guys toe the hill. They also have the game’s best pitching coach.

Weaknesses: Lance Berkman may be a good hitter but his fielding abilities in the outfield could be a major weakness. They will also need more consistency from David Freese and Skip Schumaker to keep any sort of consistent offense going. Ryan Franklin and Trevor Miller are a year older, and though the Cardinal bullpen ranked 11th in the majors in ERA last season, I am not sure the back end is all that dominant. Also are Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook good enough at the backend of the rotation?

How they match up vs. the Reds: The Reds often had problems beating Wainwright or Carpenter in 2010, but they beat just about everyone else they played. Offensively, the Reds outproduced the Cardinals in 2010 and I would expect more of the same in 2011. Pujols and Holliday are great but the rest of the lineup failed to find much consistency. The Reds pitching staff is deeper (though not as dominant at the top), and any Reds starter could step up to be the ace to face off against Wainwright or Chris “the jerk” Carpenter in 2011. The two teams will face off 15 times in 2011 including three games in April and three games at the beginning of September. The first trip that the Reds will take to September in mid-April is a trip to mark on both teams calendars. That series will set the tone for the games for the rest of the season. Should one team sweep the other that would give them tremendous momentum going forward.

Prediction: The Cardinals have the stars but the Reds have a deep cohesive team who now knows what it takes to get to October and compete there. The Cardinals will be a winning ball club but I see 2011 as a year that they slip back a little. I would project a third place finish behind the Reds and Milwaukee Brewers. I didnt like what I saw with some of their team chemistry in 2010 (LaRussa has young guys walking on egg shells and Carpenter is berating teammates in the dugout). As a result, I see the Reds coming out on top in 2011. Dusty Baker and company have the depth, cohesiveness, drive, and hunger that the Cardinals do not in 2011.