Reds' catalyst Tyler Stephenson looks to close out strong 1st-half with a visit St. Louis

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson. / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages
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Perhaps the Cincinnati Reds (34-55) should petition commissioner Rob Manfred to be moved to the American League East. Somehow for a division where every team is above .500, Cincinnati is a bewildering 7-4 when facing AL East foes.

When it comes to the best team in baseball, it's clearly evident they have a kryptonite. And that kryptonite is the Cincinnati Reds. Beyond any reasonable belief, the Reds took two of three from the New York Yankees in the Bronx and were a late blown save from sweeping the series.

Cincinnati is perhaps playing their best baseball of the season. They've won five of six and seven of their last 10 contests. Additionally, they're doing it against some of the best clubs MLB has to offer. Over the last two weeks, the Redlegs went 7-5 versus the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees.

The Reds close out the first-half of the 2022 season with a trip to St. Louis.

As far as the St. Louis Cardinals (48-44) are concerned, it's been a pedestrian first half of the 2022 season. Even though the Redbirds sit in second place in the National League Central behind the Milwaukee Brewers, a deep October runs appears to be a near impossibility as the roster is currently constructed.

Injuries have certainly played a part in the Cardinals' middling ways. Outfielder Tyler O'Neill was activated yesterday following a second stint on the IL season. After finishing eighth in the MVP voting and collecting his first Gold Glove award last season, the 27-year-old has been limited to just 46 games this season while compiling a disappointing .235/.286/.353 slash line.

It also appears Father Time has caught up with a couple of Redbird legends. Noted Reds killer Yadier Molina, currently on the IL with knee inflammation, has been terrible when he's been in the lineup. The 40-year-old backstop is slashing an embarrassing .213/.225/.294 in 136 at-bats.

Forty-two-year-old Albert Pujols has been better than Molina, but not by much. Returning to the city where he became a legend after a decade on the West Coast, Pujols is hitting .214 with just six home runs. His pursuit to join the 700 homer club looks like it will fall short as he currently sits with 685 round-trippers.

To call Busch Stadium a house of horrors for the Cincinnati Reds would be kind. Since 2012, the Redbirds are a staggering 57-33 versus Cincinnati when playing in the shadow of the Arch. However, the Redlegs have won six of the last 10 contests in St. Louis.

Previewing the pitching matchups: Reds vs. Cardinals

Cincinnati Reds starter Hunter Greene vs. St. Louis Cardinals starter Andre Pallante

Fireballing Hunter Greene (3-10 5.70 ERA) opens the series tonight squaring off against Andre Pallante (2-4 3.18 ERA) of the Cardinals. It's tough to be much more spectacular than the Cincinnati rookie was his last time out.

Tossing six innings versus the Tampa Bay Rays, Greene hit the 100-mph mark an astounding 38 times falling just short of the record 39 times he hit the century mark during a start against the Dodgers in LA on April 16th. The 22-year-old right-hander was excellent in his last meeting with the Cardinals. Greene allowed just one run on two hits in five frames while fanning seven.

Fellow rookie Andre Pallante has been excellent since making his MLB debut on April 10th. The Reds saw firsthand in their last visit to St. Louis just how tough a customer he can be. Hurling 5.1 innings of shutout baseball, the 23-year-old right-hander picked up the victory in a 2-0 Cardinals win.

Cincinnati Reds starter Nick Lodolo vs. St. Louis Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas

Nick Lodolo (2-2 4.44 ERA) toes the rubber Saturday afternoon as Miles Mikolas (6-7 2.62 ERA) receives the nod for Oliver Marmol's club. Since returning from a lower back injury that kept him on the IL for two months, the Cincinnati rookie has been sensational in his two starts upon returning to the active roster.

The southpaw has yielded three runs in 9.2 frames and racked up an amazing 14 K's in his two outings. You don't have to tell the Cardinals how nasty Lodolo can be. He picked up his first career victory when he limited the Redbirds to one run in 5.1 innings with seven punch outs in an April 24th start at Great American Ball Park.

Cincinnati always looks forward to seeing Miles Mikolas on the mound. In his last five starts versus the Redlegs, the 33-year-old right-hander is winless with an ugly 6.84 ERA in 25 frames. However, you'll have a hard time of convincing Reds legend Joey Votto of his struggles. The future Hall of Famer is just 4 for 21 against Mikolas in their head-to-head meetings.

Cincinnati Reds starter Hunter Greene vs. St. Louis Cardinals starter TBD

The series will conclude with Graham Ashcraft (4-2 4.45 ERA) going for the Cincinnati Reds. The St. Louis Cardinals have yet to announce a starter for the first-half finale. It's been tough going of late for the Reds' 24-year-old rookie.

In 31 innings of work over his last six appearances, the right-hander has allowed 24 runs and a completely unsustainable 47 hits. Unfortunately, heavy base path traffic has plagued Ashcraft in his debut MLB season as evidenced by his 1.35 WHIP. His outing versus the Redbirds last month is indicative of his struggles. Completing just 4.2 frames, the Alabama native surrendered four runs on nine hits.

Catcher Tyler Stephenson is the catalyst for Reds offense.

It's obvious, Reds Country. When Tyler Stephenson is in the lineup, the Redlegs are a much better ball club. Cincinnati is 21-23 when Stepheson is in the starting lineup, and since returning from the IL on Saturday, the Cincinnati Reds are 4-1. It's no coincidence.

In his five starts since returning to the active roster, the Reds' backstop is a blistering 9-for-20 with a homer and five RBIs. Additionally, Stephenson has hit safely in every game since his return and has three multi-hit games.

Even though he's not an All-Star, there's no denying the 25-year-old Georgia native is one of the best, if not the best, catchers in the National League. And yes he's much better than Willson Contreras. Even though the Cubbies' backstop was selected as the starter for the senior circuit, there's not a GM in the game who would take him over Tyler Stephenson.

Willson Contreras is slashing .258/.373/.839 with 35 RBIs in 279 at-bats. On the other hand, Tyler Stephenson has slashed .323./376/.867 with as many ribbies in 118 fewer at-bats than his Chicago counterpart.

Honestly, the other two backstops on the NL roster, Travis d'Arnaud, and William Contreras, don't belong in the same sentence with Ty Steve. As I said, he may not be an "All-Star" this year, but there will be plenty of more opportunities to see Stephenson in the Midsummer Classic.

Prediction: Reds vs. Cardinals

This will be the first of six consecutive contests between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. Following the All-Star break, the two teams will reconvene in Cincinnati for a three-game set to kick off the second half of the 2022 schedule.

But first things first. Unfortunately, look for the Redbirds to take two of the three from Cincinnati to close out the first half, but the Reds will return to the Queen City to open a 10-game homestand a week from today.

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