The first place Cincinnati Reds are coming home to play one of their biggest 3-game series in over a decade as they play host to the second place St. Louis Cardinals. They haven’t opened a home series against a 2nd place team with this narrow of a lead on August 8th or later since 1961.

With the weekend sweep of the Chicago Cubs, the Reds now have a 2 game lead in the NL Central division. This is the Cardinals last regular season trip to Cincinnati, and the second-to-last series between the two squads. The Reds are 5-7 against the Cardinals so far this year, after splitting the 16 games played last year.

The Reds hold a 33-23 record (.589) in the friendly confines of GABP this season, while the Cardinals have struggled on the road with a 23-31 record (.426.) Cincinnati has built significant momentum heading into the series. They’ve won 4 games in a row, 7 of their last 8, and 11 of their last 15. The Cardinals have a 7-8 record over their last 15 games.

All that goes out the window tonight, as the Cardinals have lined up their top rotation strength to face the Redlegs. Pitching matchups for the series:

    Chris Carpenter (12-3, 2.91) vs. Mike Leake (7-3, 3.86)
    Jamie Garcia (9-5, 2.53) vs. Johnny Cueto (11-2, 3.24)
    Adam Wainwright (16-6, 2.07) vs. Bronson Arroyo (12-6, 3.83)

Although the Cardinals boast the pocket aces, the Reds have better overall rotation and pitching depth. A key for them will be to get into the St Louis bullpen. Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying his bullpen was “on fumes” heading into the off-day, and unfortunately for the Reds, they got plenty of rest over the weekend. The Cardinals bullpen was only called on to pitch once in the past 4 days.

Bullpen stats since the all-star break

    Cardinals bullpen: 4.64 ERA, 1.516 WHIP, .268 Opp AVG, .751 Opp OPS
    Reds bullpen: 2.06 ERA, 1.005 WHIP, .168 Opp AVG, .536 Opp OPS

Both teams are coming into play with relatively full-strength rosters. The Cardinals are without David Freese for the rest of the season. He has been replaced by Felipe Lopez most nights, who is normally found in the leadoff spot. Skip Schumaker was rested from the Marlins series with a sore wrist and is expected to play. Reds Spring Training-invitee Aaron Miles, is the Cardinals primary backup at 2nd, shortstop, and 3rd base.

The Reds are without opening day SS Orlando Cabrera. Paul Janish has been filling in quite well on both sides of the baseball in Cabrera’s absence. Brandon Phillips sat out yesterday’s game with a sore shin but is also expected back today.

The Reds are currently deeper on the bench, too. Every batter on the Reds bench has an OPS+ over 100. With Cardinals SS Tyler Greene on the DL, and outfielder John Jay thrust into an everyday role, the Cardinals have no players on the bench with an OPS+ over 100.

The typical regulars/lineups we may see for this series include the top two candidates for NL MVP playing first base and batting 3rd for their respective teams:

Pos Player AVG OBP SLG Pos Player AVG OBP SLG
3B Lopez 0.259 0.337 0.382 2B Phillips 0.287 0.342 0.461
RF Jay 0.371 0.417 0.553 SS Janish 0.301 0.383 0.446
1B Pujols 0.311 0.404 0.580 1B Votto 0.319 0.421 0.603
LF Holliday 0.298 0.374 0.528 3B Rolen 0.301 0.370 0.550
CF Rasmus 0.275 0.351 0.511 LF Gomes 0.272 0.330 0.450
C Molina 0.249 0.324 0.320 RF Bruce 0.258 0.326 0.411
2B Schumaker 0.257 0.325 0.331 CF Stubbs 0.234 0.300 0.405
P Carpenter 0.128 0.163 0.128 C Hanigan 0.296 0.392 0.424
SS Ryan 0.223 0.285 0.305 P Leake 0.357 0.438 0.381

Are you ready for some baseball?