4 Keys for the St. Louis Cardinals Taking Home Series vs. Cincinnati Reds
The St. Louis Cardinals have survived a disappointing start to the 2014 season. They now return home to Busch Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Reds for a three-game series. The division rivals will square off for the second time already this season.
Game 1: Tony Cingrani (CIN) vs Michael Wacha (STL)
Game 2: Homer Bailey (CIN) vs Lance Lynn (STL)
Game 3: Mike Leake (CIN) vs Shelby Miller (STL)
The first two games feature starters that faced off just last week. Leake and Miller, however, will both look to rebound from rough outings against New York and Pittsburgh, respectively.
The Cardinals will look to take charge against Cincinnati to wipe away the disappointment of their recent trip to Pittsburgh, where they dropped two of the three games to the division rival Pirates. If they are to find success during the opening homestand, there will be a few things they need to accomplish.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise specified and are current as of April 6
The St. Louis Cardinals Need to Send a Message with a Blowout
The Cardinals have a highly-regarded offense that is poised to propel them deep into the 2014 postseason. They have a pitching staff that is the strength of the organization and will keep them within reach of winning almost every ballgame. The problem is that the offense and pitching have yet to send the message on the same day.
The Cardinals have played six games so far in 2014, splitting between the win and loss columns. They have been outscored 22-17 in those six games and have won only one game by more than one run.
For a team projected to be dominant, they have yet to dominate.
As the team returns home and faces a division rival, they can make the strongest statement by delivering a dominant performance. A lopsided game can go a long way toward showing the rest of the league that this team is worth the hype.
It takes a combination of pitching and offense to pull that off. The team needs to produce on run-scoring opportunities. The pitching staff needs to put together a solid performance. The two things need to happen on the same day.
The St. Louis Cardinals' Pitching Will Need to Step Up
The Cardinals have shown that Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha can anchor the pitching staff going forward. The early pitching performances from the top two in the rotation have shown that the team will have every chance to win when they take the mound.
The other three have shown some weaknesses.
The challenge against Cincinnati in this series is that two of those other three will toe the rubber. Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn will take the mound looking to forget their first starts of the season. More importantly, the Cardinals will need them to go deep into the ballgame if they expect to win.
Neither pitcher was able to make it through the sixth inning in their respective starts. Miller struggled with his command while Lynn quickly ran up a large pitch count. Lynn struggled with runners on base but escaped well enough to earn a victory in his first start. Miller would take a loss after being roughed up in Pittsburgh.
If Miller and Lynn can pitch to their expectations, the Cardinals should have no problem with the Reds in this series. If they pitch the way they did in their first starts, the team may have a challenge ahead of them.
The St. Louis Cardinals' Offense Will Need to Find Consistency
The strength of the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals was their ability to drive in runs. A team that may not have put up amazing power numbers seemed to find a way to drive in runners in scoring position every time you turned around.
Consistency is the biggest key to the offense of this team. In the first six games of the 2014 season, the Cardinals have driven in more than five runs twice. Conversely, they have driven in two runs or less in the other four games. Had they scored three runs in the games that they lost, they would have won all three.
If the offense can find the consistency to produce runs at a regular clip, the Cardinals will find themselves winning more games. If they expect to win the division, they will need that consistency in games with division foes.
Three players specifically need to get going, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The Cardinals open their home schedule with a first in decades for this early in the season – three regulars with at least 10 at-bats are batting less than .100 a week into the season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Peter Bourjos is hitless in 13 at-bats. Peralta has two hits, both homers, in his first 21 at-bats with the Cardinals, and Craig is two for 22 to start the year.
Allen Craig was the spark plug of the team in 2013. So far in 2014, he is hitting .091 and has driven in just two runs. If the Cardinals' offense is going to get started, Craig will need to be the catalyst he has always been for them.
If Craig can anchor the middle of the lineup and help produce runs, the Cardinals will find the success they need against Cincinnati in this series.
The St. Louis Cardinals' Defense Must Be Solid
Inconsistent offense and pitching aside, the St. Louis defense has struggled to start the season. Amazingly, the team took strides this offseason to ensure that the defense would be drastically better in 2014. Through the first week of the season, the defense does not seem to have improved much at all.
Six errors through the first six games is likely not what the team anticipated. While the team was able to withstand the errors for the most part, sooner or later the defensive miscues will cost them. The team identified the need to improve and, to this point, those solutions have yet to produce desired results.
Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos were brought in to solidify the defense up the middle for the Cardinals. Wong was long acknowledged for being a solid defensive presence. Bourjos was regarded as one of the best center fielders in all of baseball. Both have produced an error in the first week of games.
Both players will likely be the defenders they were expected to be by the end of the 2014 season but right now, the Cardinals need them to lead the defense so that the team can win against Cincinnati.
The St. Louis Cardinals Should Easily Win This Series
The Reds continue to face injury issues. The early part of the season will be a key point for the Cardinals to try and distance themselves from the remainder of the division.
The Cardinals simply need to establish the parts of their game that they know will lead them to a successful 2014. Strong pitching, consistent offense, an improved defense and run production from the middle of the lineup will drive them forward.
There is no reason to think that the Cardinals will not take at least two of the three games with the Reds. They need to make a statement by sweeping the series at home.