This is quickly becoming an annual tradition for Cards N Stuff – like holiday fruitcake and birthday swats. Last season, the post focused on catching the Brewers for first place in the division. Sure, that didn’t happen…but I think we all know what did happen in 2011. So, being the superstitious baseball fans we are over here at CNS, here is your 2012 “Comeback Cardinals Attack Plan: Reds Edition.”
The Redbirds open play today 8 1/2 games back of the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the NL Central. A comeback is unlikely, sure, but far from unrealistic. I know, I know…most of us see the separation in the standings and think, “How could THAT be realistic?!” Well, the short answer is “schedule, schedule, schedule.”
But before we get too far into it, let’s lay out the attack plan series by series for both the Reds and the Cardinals. Each remaining series is listed below (except for the Reds vs. Cardinals at the end of the season) in Team A vs. Team B format. To the right of each series match-up is the needed record for the Reds or Cardinals in order for the Comeback Cardinals to stay “on plan”. For example, if the series is “Reds vs. Brewers (1-2)”, that means the Reds could win only 1 game and lose 2 to the Brewers. A quick note before we get right into it: These match-up totals were compiled yesterday (September 4th) before both the Reds and Cards games.
Okay…here we go (FYI – Games against winning/contending teams are in BOLD, and critical series match-ups are in RED):
Reds vs. Phillies (1-1): [Reds won yesterday, so they must lose today against Halladay]
Reds vs. Astros (2-1)
Reds vs. Pirates (1-2)
Reds vs. Marlins (1-2)
Reds vs. Cubs (2-1)
Reds vs. Dodgers (1-2)
Reds vs. Brewers (1-2)
Reds vs. Pirates (1-2)
Cards vs. Mets (1-1): [Cards won yesterday, so they can afford to lose against Dickey today]
Cards vs. Brewers (2-1)
Cards vs. Padres (2-1)
Cards vs. Dodgers (3-1): [Dodgers are a contender AND this is a critical series]
Cards vs. Astros (3-0)
Cards vs. Cubs (2-1)
Cards vs. Astros (2-1)
Cards vs. Nationals (2-1): [Without a shutdown Strasburg…]
Bottomline: Reds must go 10-13 while the Cardinals must go 17-7.
Critical Reds Series
vs. Marlins The Marlins’ struggles this season are well-documented. The Miami front office tried to sell their fans on 2012 and beyond with a new, god-awful stadium and a gaudy payroll to match. But all those free agent signings didn’t exactly pay off, and the GM quickly shifted to the all-too-familiar “sell, sell, sell” gear. Now, the Marlins are a shell of their former selves. So why am I looking for this team to steal two games from the Reds? 3 Reasons: 1. That horrific park. Its dimensions don’t exactly play well to power and should contain the more potent bats in the Reds’ lineup. And, it looks like this is the Reds’ first visit to the Miami Monstrosity, which negates any comfort/familiarity with the way the park plays. 2. The Marlins’ rotation, for the most part, is capable. With guys like Johnson and Buehrle, their staff is able to shut down an offense when things go right. 3. Pure, dumb luck.
vs. Brewers The Brewers’ record is deceiving. In their last 18 games, the Brew-crew is 14-4 while playing opponents like the resurgent Phillies (2 wins, 2 losses) and contending Pirates (5 wins, 1 loss). Their rotation is still effective, and Braun is putting up MVP-caliber numbers at the plate. This team is more than capable of rolling the Reds in September. But it’ll be a chore with the series taking place at the GABP in Cincy.
Critical Cardinals Series
vs. Dodgers This one is a no-brainer. The Dodgers are emerging as not only the most serious and immediate threat to the Cardinals’ wild card chances, but also the most intimidating series on the Redbirds’ September schedule. This LA team took advantage of the trade market and loaded for bear. Kemp may be ailing a bit, but bats like Gonzalez and Ramirez should pick him up nicely. The negative? The Cards have to face the Dodgers for 4 games, meaning the best team on their schedule in September also has the most games against us. The positive? Uh…how about this…the Cards still remember that Dodgers series last year. I would have to believe that lends a bit of extra motivation to the effort. But it may not be enough for a series that takes place in LA in front of a fan base that is becoming convinced it’s their year.
vs. Astros The Redbirds simply must take advantage of the bad teams on their schedule, and no team fits that description better than the Houston Astros. The Cards play the Astros two more times – a fact that should be a benefit to their chances – and they simply must sweep at least one of those series. The good news is that a sweep of both series is entirely possible. The bad news…this team seems to be allergic to series sweeps. But let’s not forget…one of those Astros series could see the return of Chris Carpenter to the rotation.
So where would that all leave us…?
Of course, “the plan” laid out above only does one thing: Assure the Cards finish within striking distance of the Reds on the last day of September. The Cardinals would finish at 90-69 while the Reds would finish at 92-67. That leaves a HUGE series between the Cardinals and Reds in Busch October 1st through the 3rd to determine the NL Central division title. If the Cardinals sweep that series…they’re NLC champs at 93-69. If they lose even one game…the Reds win the NLC.
Sure this is all a bit unlikely. The idea that the Reds could slump at the same time as a Cardinals surge is far-fetched at best – and I’ve heard many people say the return of Joey Votto to the Reds’ lineup will galvanize them for a strong September finish. But I would point out two key factors in how each team finishes the season. The first is the Joey Votto factor. Votto himself has stated he’s not 100%, a statement somewhat confirmed by the team’s reluctance to throw him in the lineup right away. In addition to that, Votto won’t be “up to speed” without a chance to get several at-bats. That means a less-than-100% hitter still a bit behind game speed will be taking the spot of a hitter who has been effective everyday in his place. And that assumes he plays. On days he doesn’t play, the factor is negated anyway.
The second is the schedule factor. The Reds play 9 games against winning/contending teams and 14 against losing teams. But those “losing teams” include the likes of the red-hot, pitching-rich Phillies, the much-improved Brewers, and the Miami Marlins in that ridiculously-sized park. The Cardinals, on the other hand, play 7 games against winning teams and 17 games against losing teams. By contrast, those 17 games against losing teams include 3 against the Padres, 3 against the Cubs, and 6 against the soon-to-be-100-loss Astros.
Realistic? Eh…maybe that’s a stretch. Possible? Absolutely.