Cincinnati is one of the strongest teams in an NL Central race, which many are predicting to be wide-open. These games between the Cardinals and Reds will be crucial in determining who clinches the Central Division come September.
The series should also be very interesting because of the recent "bad blood" between the two teams.
Here is a preview of this week's three game series between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Game One: Monday 6:10 PM, TV: STL: FS-M, CIN: FS-O
Pitching Matchup: Jake Westbrook vs Homer Bailey
Game Two: Tuesday 6:10 PM, TV: STL: FS-M, MLBN, CIN: FS-O, MLBN
Pitching Matchup: Kyle Lohse vs Mike Leake
Game Three: Wednesday 11:35 AM, TV: STL: FS-M, MLBN, CIN: FS-O, MLBN
Pitching Matchup: Jaime Garcia vs Johnny Cueto
Three Things to Watch
1) Jake Westbrook
Jake Westbrook is the only Cardinals' starter that we have not had a chance to see pitch this year. So far the St. Louis rotation can be described as extremely good, during the first four games of the season.
Westbrook indicated during spring training he was changing some of his mechanics, because he believed he was frequently tipping his pitches to the hitters.
If Westbrook has figured out some way to be more deceptive with his pitches, he could make the St. Louis rotation deadly this season.
I expect Westbrook to have a solid season in the No. 5 rotation spot, and I think his starts will greatly contribute to the Cardinals in 2012.
2) The Long Ball
So far the Cardinals have displayed a lot of power through the first weekend of the 2012 season.
Although they did not have any home runs in the first game against Miami, the Cardinals launched six long balls in Milwaukee this past weekend.
The most power so far has come from new Cardinal outfielder Carlos Beltran, who has already launched two home runs this season. The Cardinals also have seen home runs from David Freese, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Shane Robinson.
The Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati is a hitter-friendly stadium, and it would not be surprising to see St. Louis send a few shots into the seats this week.
3) St. Louis Bullpen
The bullpen for the Cardinals has not been very stellar to begin the 2012 season. So far there have been 11 appearances out of the bullpen from St. Louis this season. Five of those appearances have resulted in runs scored for the other team.
Not many of the Cardinals' bullpen pitches have been able to shut down the opposition, and the ones that have, have not been in for very long appearances.
The bullpen for St. Louis was the strength of the 2011 Cardinals in the playoffs, and it will need to be a strength again for St. Louis to make the playoffs in 2012.
Hopefully this week, St. Louis can expect better performances out of their bullpen pitchers.
Cardinal to Watch: Carlos Beltran
One of the favorite early season stats for St. Louis fans is that Carlos Beltran has more home runs then Albert Pujols does in Los Angeles.
Currently Beltran is hitting .389 with three RBIs and has been a good glove in the outfield as well. Carlos Beltran has provided a great bat for St. Louis so far this season, and I expect his success to continue this week in Cincinnati.
Red to Watch: Joey Votto
When you play Cincinnati, the key is to not get burned by Joey Votto.
Votto has gotten off to a slow start in 2012, as he is only currently hitting .200. Hopefully for St. Louis, he continues to stay cold this week.
With the departures of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the American League, Votto has turned into one of—if not—the most dangerous hitter in the NL Central. The production of Joey Votto will be a major factor in determining who wins the series this week.
This is another big divisional battle for St. Louis to begin the season. After seeing how close the division races were in 2011, every one of these games is crucial.
With the Cardinals being on the road once again, it will be a difficult test this week. Just like in Milwaukee, I expect St. Louis to make a statement once again.
St. Louis should be able to take two-of-three from the Reds and make it a successful road trip, before heading home for Opening Day. The most interesting and toughest matchup should be the finale between Jaime Garcia and Johnny Cueto.