John Clay: Reds fans on edge as Cards come to town

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 6, 2013 

  • Reds vs. Cardinals

    Friday: 7:10 p.m. (Fox Sports Ohio)

    Saturday: 7:15 p.m. (Fox-56)

    Sunday: 8:05 p.m. (ESPN)

It is St. Louis' first trip to Cincinnati this year, the best record in the National League (the Cardinals) facing the third-best record in the National League (the Reds), so you'd think the Ohio River banks would be buzzing.

Instead, there is an uneasy feeling.

"The mood has shifted to concern around here," said Lance McAlister, the nightly radio sports talk show host on WLW-700, the "Big One" out of Cincinnati.

Johnny Cueto is back on the disabled list for the second time this season. The Reds' bullpen, especially the setup men, has sprung a leak. The team has lost five out of its last eight.

"Add those elements to the Reds' struggles beating good teams and the rivalry with the Cards," McAlister said, "and it's a showdown weekend."

It's a weekend series between two of baseball's better teams and now better rivalries, to the point where ESPN swooped in and shifted Sunday's series finale from its traditional afternoon time slot to an 8:10 p.m. prime-time game on the World Wide Leader.

St. Louis was 38-21 heading into Thursday night's game with visiting Arizona. Cincinnati is 36-24 after being whipped 12-4 Wednesday night in a rubber game against Colorado.

Cincinnati won the National League Central in 2012, but the Cards won the World Series in 2011 and reached the NL Championship Series last year.

"The Cardinals are the measuring stick around here," McAlister said. "They have the best record in baseball and the best farm system."

St. Louis has used nine — yes, nine — rookie pitchers this season, yet boast the best ERA in the National League.

St. Louis lost Albert Pujols to free agency two years ago, allowed Lance Berkman to depart last year, lost Rafael Furcal to injury this year, and is still hitting .270 as a team, behind Detroit and Baltimore.

Not that the Reds are slouches in either department, mind you. Cincinnati is seventh in the NL in hitting at .252 and fourth in the NL in pitching with a 3.34 ERA.

But the two teams have already met for two series in St. Louis this year, with the Cardinals winning four out of six games.

Over the last three-plus years, the Cardinals are 30-24 against the Reds.

Both teams are playing through injuries. The Cardinals have lost pitchers Jeff Garcia and Jason Motte for the season and Chris Carpenter has yet to throw an inning.

The Reds lost power-hitting outfielder Ryan Ludwick on opening day. Chris Heisey has been out for more than a month with a hamstring strain. Now Cueto is back on the DL with a right shoulder strain.

"The sense had been the Reds were surviving injuries and the Cardinals simply could not keep winning at the rate they were," McAlister said. "But Reds injuries keep happening and the Cardinals do keep winning. As a result, all the ghosts of letdowns past and the current expectations, have created a heightened level of angst."

That hasn't been helped by recent bullpen letdowns, starting two Sundays ago when the Reds blew a 4-0 lead thanks in part to Logan Ondrusek allowing three runs in the eighth inning against Chicago in what became a 5-4 loss in 11 innings.

Last Sunday, Jonathan Broxton allowed a two-run homer in the eighth and the Reds saw another 4-0 lead turn into a 5-4 extra-innings loss.

Tuesday night against Colorado, Dusty Baker turned in the eighth to Sam LeCure, who had not allowed a run since May 5 and a home run since April 6. Troy Tulowitzki promptly hit a line-drive, two-run homer to left as Colorado rallied for a — you guessed it — 5-4 win.

"Every move Dusty makes is scrutinized at a level I don't recall before," McAlister said. "Twitter during a Reds game has taken on a life of its own."

Why?

"Fans realize this race appears to be going down to the wire and one move, one loss might be the difference between winning the division versus being a wild card, or being a wild card versus not even making the post-season."

So now the Cardinals are coming to town, but the mood is not what you might expect.

Said McAlister, "It's a fan base on edge."


Reds vs. Cardinals

Friday: 7:10 p.m. (Fox Sports Ohio)

Saturday: 7:15 p.m. (Fox-56)

Sunday: 8:05 p.m. (ESPN)

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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