COMMENTARY| The Cincinnati Reds can't quite get over the hump so far this year when it comes to beating winning teams on the road. Another three-game series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals didn't provide the kind of evidence Reds Country was hoping to see early in the season that the 2013 Reds can put away teams that aren't quite their equal.
Despite the series loss, the Reds still are the team to beat in the NL Central, having won the division two of the past three years. The Milwaukee Brewers may make some noise, but in the end, the division should boil down to the Reds and Cardinals once again and here's why the Reds are better than the Cardinals once again:
Both the Reds and Cardinals have suffered injuries this year, but it is the Cardinals who stand to lose more than the Reds over the duration of the season.
The Cardinals have done well to develop a pool of replacements for the likely permanent loss of Chris Carpenter, but Shelby Miller will have to prove over the season that he can excel the way he has so far and not pitch more like the Triple A pitcher of last year who sported a 4.74 ERA in 27 starts.
The loss of shortstop Rafael Furcal will also be a challenge for the Cardinals to offset, at least offensively. Neither Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso are likely to perform at the level Furcal would have contributed offensiveley.
Additionally, the durability of David Freese seems like it will be one that resurfaces throughout the year, which will deprive the Cardinals of much-needed power production.
The Reds took a hit in their own right with the loss of cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick for most of the season, but Ludwick is still likely to return after the All Star break and play during the final two months of the season and postseason. As long as the rash of other injuries the Reds have sustained at the outset of the season are short-term ones, they'll maintain their health advantage over the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have benefited early from sensational starts to the season by Miller, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, but that will be as good as it gets for all five with the possible exception of a slimmed-down Lynn. There's no way a 2.11 rotation ERA will hold.
On the other hand, the Reds rotation has its best ahead of it and a more polished and proven group in Johnny Cueto , Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo. Even then, Reds starters were second best in the majors as of May 1. The Reds rotation will only improve with the addition of Tony Cingrani and subtraction of Mike Leake once ace Cueto returns from the disabled list, but either way, the Reds rotation provides an advantage over the Cardinals for the long haul this year.
Even with the early emergence of Mujica replacing Mitchell Boggs, the Cardinals closer situation and bullpen overall is not at the same level of the Reds. With Aroldis Chapman closing and a lefty-righty, one-two punch in Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton, the Reds bullpen figures to lock down leads. Broxton and seventh inning righty J.J. Hoover still have some form to regain before they are back to their dominating selves, but from top to bottom the Reds bullpen gives the Reds an advantage over the Cardinals.
The Reds strike out in bunches, but when they are connecting, they live by the long ball. They were third in the NL last year in home runs and stand to maintain that level this year, even with Ludwick out because leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo will hit his share of home runs at Great American Ball Park and Todd Frazier is emerging as a power hitter, as is shortstop Zack Cozart. The power numbers for Reds slugger Jay Bruce may have vanished so far this year the same way they have for Cardinals power hitter Allen Craig, but Bruce will get untracked and he will eventually hit a lot of homers at home this year.
The Reds solved their issues of leadoff hitter this year with the addition of Choo, but it will still be the long ball that carries the Reds offense for the long haul.
Mike Matheny showed in 2012 that he was more than adequate replacing Tony LaRussa. His resolve to battle health issues and mounting financial woes was commendable and his leadership figured prominently in the success of the team he inherited from LaRussa. The organizational success of the Cardinals continues to provide Matheny with quality personnel who give the Cardinals a shot to win it all year-in and year-out.
But Matheny can bet his bottom line that no one wants the World Series ring more than Reds manager Dusty Baker. For what Baker lacks in strategy, he makes up for in his support of his players, even at the risk of losing games. Baker's patience is likely thinner now, though, after a health scare last year brought into question his future in baseball. Baker has a team loaded with talent and the backing of an organization that is making all the right moves and pouring in unprecedented amounts of money for a Reds team.
Perhaps it is desperation time for Baker, but the Reds have the advantage of a manager at the helm who wants to win it all and prove all of his naysayers wrong.
That will of their manager may prove to be not only the biggest advantage the Reds have over the Cardinals but the rest of baseball as well.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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