For a few months the Pirates were a nice, uplifting story, but deep down everyone knew the Cardinals were the real threat, the real enemy of the Reds.
Sure, Tony La Russa’s not around, Chris Carpenter has plenty of time around his children and Albert Pujols is off in Disneyland, but they’re still the Cardinals and the reigning champs.
And after taking two of three from the Reds this past weekend, they are the alpha threat for the Reds, while the Pirates flounder and are playing to keep their head above the magic .500 mark, which would be a first for the team in 19 years. The Cardinals, though, are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Coming off a World Series title, general manager John Mozeliak, who won a power struggle with current Reds GM Walt Jocketty in St. Louis five years ago, compounded his masterful work at last season’s trade deadline with perhaps the best offseason of any GM — even if it didn’t immediately look that way.
Because of Mozeliak’s moves — and huge non-move — the Cardinals are in for the long haul. They haven’t had one of their two aces in each of the last two seasons, with Adam Wainwright missing last season due to injury and Carpenter this season. When the two are finally together again, they will be that much more formidable.
While the loss of Pujols was thought to be the end of an era, it was more like a big-time college football program losing a Heisman Trophy winner and replacing him with different parts. After losing Pujols, the Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran, this year’s version of the veteran rejuvenated by the Gateway to the West. No Pujols, no Lance Berkman, no problem, as Allen Craig and others have stepped in to take their place.
Pujols has rebounded to put together typical Pujols numbers in California, but the team hasn’t noticed a drop in production at first base. Through Aug. 26, Pujols was hitting .283/.344/.533 with 28 home runs, while Cardinals first basemen are hitting .303/.369/.521 with 19 homers.
On display this past weekend was a lineup much better and much deeper than the Reds’. Of course, this was a Reds offense without Joey Votto, who should return soon. And, to play the cliched game of “would you have taken,” you probably wouldn’t have bet on a 27-14 record without Votto.
The good news is that even after the Reds lost two of three at home to the Cardinals, they still had the largest lead in baseball. The bad news is six games is nothing to a Cardinals team that rallied from much further out a year ago.
Thinking Out Loud
I’m not much interested in preseason records or statistics, but what matters to me from the four preseason games is injuries. And it appeared the Bengals would score relatively well in that regard — until the week leading up to their final preseason game. Center Kyle Cook could be lost for the season -— and that is much bigger than any injury the team had suffered so far. Also, first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick could be out longer than expected. ... The Bengals aren’t alone. The Steelers may have lost first-round pick David DeCastro for the season with a knee injury. Many expected the Bengals to take DeCastro, a guard out of Stanford, with their second first-round pick in April’s draft. Instead, Cincinnati selected a different guard, Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler. Because the two play the same position, were drafted so closely and were taken by teams in the same division, they were inevitably going to be compared to each other. Although it’s unfair to judge this early and give the edge to the Bengals because of an unfortunate injury, the Bengals still get that edge. And considering the offensive line has been an issue for the Steelers in recent years, it could be a defining moment for Pittsburgh. ... I understand why the UC football team is opening on a Thursday — it’s good exposure, the conference wants it, TV, etc. — but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m sure if I were in Butch Jones’ Adidas, I’d do the exact same thing, but the mid-week games have always reeked of desperation to me. But in this new world order of college football, that may just be what the Bearcats and Big East are — desperate. Especially in this very much a pro football town, I think an opportunity is being missed with the first weekend of college football. While the NFL is dormant, UC could have had a marquee matchup against a real conference opponent and been the center of attention for at least one week. Instead, they’re once again going to be the opening act.
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