Once the Cardinals finish up their West Coast swing through Arizona and San Francisco, they'll find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a duel against their fiercest competition for the NL Central crown, the Cincinnati Reds.
Over the last few seasons, this has developed into a bitter rivalry. David Schoenfield of ESPN said in 2011 the Cardinals and Reds has become the best rivalry in baseball.
There have been some tense and exciting moments over the last few seasons between these two teams. From Brandon Philips igniting the fire with his inflammatory remarks over Twitter a few years back to the infamous brawl that ended backup catcher Jason LaRue's career, this rivalry has taken on a life of its own.
Now fast-forwarding to 2013, the NL Central race will most likely come down to the Reds and the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have not started off the 2013 campaign the way they had hoped. Ace Adam Wainwright did not pitch well on Opening Night in Arizona and the Cardinals fell, 6-2, to the Diamondbacks.
After playing well in game two of the series and taking down the D-Backs 6-1, the bullpen killed the Cardinals in game three, blowing four leads before losing in 16 innings, 10-9.
On Friday, the Cardinals' left their bats in Arizona and were blanked by the Giants, 1-0.
The Reds, on the other hand, have started out the season well. They have posted a 3-1 record and taken two-of-three from the offensive juggernaut known as the Los Angeles Angels, to go along with thrashing the Nationals in their series opener, 15-0.
Last season the Cardinals held a slight advantage against the Reds with an 8-7 record. This season, the Cardinals will need to improve upon that record if they want to win the NL Central. They will need to create separation from the Reds by winning the head-to-head competition.
Game 1 Pitching Matchup
The first game of the series features Jaime Garcia against Mat Latos. Garcia pitched very well against the Diamondbacks in his first start this season. As he starts the home opener for the Cardinals, fans should know that Garcia has a 8-2 record in his career against the Reds in 11 career starts.
Latos will have to face his demons in Busch Stadium. He is 1-3 there with a 13.50 ERA Hopefully for Cardinal fans, that trend will keep up.
Game 2 Pitching Matchup
In Game 2 of the series, the Cardinals will send Lance Lynn out to face Bronson Arroyo. Lynn hasn't seemed to overcome his postseason demons from last season. He only lasted four innings in his season debut and gave up four runs, walking three and serving up a home run.
Arroyo has made 31 career starts against the Cardinals and posted an 8-13 record with a 4.56 ERA. In 2012, he was 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA when pitching against the Cardinals.
Game 3 Pitching Matchup
Jake Westbrook will lead the Cardinals into the final game of the first 2013 series against the Reds. He'll be opposed by Homer Bailey.
Westbrook owns a 3-2 record agains the Reds in his career in nine starts.
Bailey hasn't pitched very well against the Cardinals in his career. He has a 3-7 record with a 5.00 ERA in 13 career starts. That said, Bailey shut down the Nationals' lineup in a 15-0 shellacking on Friday night. He allowed two hits and no runs in six innings of work.
Game 1: With the Reds hitting the ball like they have a vendetta against it, it will be tough for Garcia to keep them in check.
However, he is quite capable of doing so and with the Cardinals' success against Mat Latos, game one should go to the Cardinals.
Game 2: I don't have much faith that Lance Lynn will get out of the fourth inning against the Reds' prolific offense. He hasn't had much luck in 2013 between spring training and his first start of the season.
If the Cardinals' offense doesn't show up against Bronson Arroyo, it could be a long day for the Cardinals and their bullpen. Game two goes to the Reds.
Game 3: If Jake Westbrook can get his sinker to do what it is capable of and the Cardinals can get to Homer Bailey early, it could be a good day for the Redbirds.
With the way Todd Frazier (.471 batting average, three home runs at time of writing) and the Reds' bats have come out of the gate, it will be a tough assignment for Westbrook.
This one will be a tossup. Whichever club strikes early will probably get the win. Neither Westbrook nor Bailey are prone to make it past the sixth inning, so it will come down to the bullpens. Both clubs are expecting their bullpens to be a strength this season, and this will be an early test.
With the history that has been built over the last few seasons between these clubs and the lack of love for one another, it should be a great series to watch.
Hopefully there will be some fireworks to set the tone for the rest of the season when these two clubs hook up down the road.
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