Friday, August 20, 2010

The Home Stretch- NL Central

The birth of a rivalry is always fun to watch. That’s exactly what we’re seeing as the Cardinals and Reds push (both literally and figuratively) toward October.

Brandon Phillips, in an August 9th interview with the Dayton Daily News, had such choice words for the Cardinals as “I’d play against these guys with one leg,” “all they do is bitch and moan about everything,” “compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs,” and quite simply, “I hate the Cardinals.”

The next day, Phillips walked to the plate to take his first at-bat of the day and said something to Yadier Molina. Molina jawed back, and soon benches were cleared and players were pushing each other up against the backstop.

When the smoke cleared, Johnny Cueto was seen as the main perpetrator, presumably for being the third man in. He got a seven-game suspension, while managers Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker were each sentenced to two contests away from the dugout. Phillips, Molina, and Cardinals pitchers Chris Carpenter and Russ Springer all received undisclosed fines.

No one can be sure what Phillips was trying to do by issuing such inflammatory statements, but whatever his motives were, the plan backfired. The Cardinals swept the series and now find themselves just 2.5 back in a divisional race that has turned into a dogfight.

PECOTA gives the Reds a 79% chance to take the division, while the Reds win in the other 21% of simulations. The loser should be in the thick of the Wild Card race, but these teams will not want to settle for a Wild Card playoff berth.

These teams have just three remaining games, during a series in St. Louis from the 3rd to 5th of September. Expect the bad blood to boil over during this set and a lot of scoreboard-watching from both teams and their fans.

I’m going to say the Cardinals wind up winning this division. The top of their rotation, in Adam Wainwright and the aforementioned Carpenter, as well as rookie Jaime Garcia, will lead St. Louis to October baseball. It’ll be fun to watch, and if these teams disliked each other before, they now share Phillips’ sentiment of hatred.

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