A year ago, the Reds had the second-best record in the National League. They won the NL Central by 9 games, and had the best pitching staff in the league by team ERA and WAR. They could be excused for believing, before this season started, they had the inside track to another Division Crown. After all, the Pirates had folded in late summer the past two seasons. The Cardinals had lost Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal for the season before spring training got into full swing.
The Reds were poised to rule the Central for 2013 and for years to come. That’s not how it’s playing out. This season must be ridiculously frustrating for the Redleg Organization.
Sure, the Reds have had injuries, just like the Cardinals. Their biggest so far has to be the loss of Ryan Ludwick on Opening Day. Unlike the Cardinals, however, the Reds have struggled to replace what they lost. Ludwick was worth 2.6 WAR last year. Four different men have manned Cincinnnati’s left in 2013, and put up 0.2 WAR through combined through yesterday. Cincinnati has also had difficulties in the pitching staff. Johnny Cueto has only made six starts. Jonathan Broxton has been hittable, Sam LeCure has become hittable, Sean Marshall is injured. Their bullpen, best in the NL last year, has been merely average this season.
St Louis has weathered injuries better than Cincinnati. Tyler Lyons and Michael Wacha have capably filled into the rotation, and Shelby Miller has been as good as advertised. Matt Carpenter is an unexpected All-Star. Pete Kozma has been competent at shortstop filling in for Furcal. After Jason Motte blew out his elbow and Mitchell Boggs started serving up souvenirs, Edward Mujica stepped into the closer role and has been a revelation. The Cardinals have the best record in baseball, largely thanks to how well the AAA call-ups have played at the Major League level.
Last year after 67 games they Cincinnati was 38-29. This year they are 40-27, so even with all their injury woes and performance regression, they are better than they were a year ago. Last year at this point they led the division by 2.5 games. This season they trail St Louis by 3.5, and the Cardinals don’t show any signs of slowing down.
The Reds will be a good team for years to come, but it has become increasingly evident their road to post-season success runs through St Louis. Cincinnati has chased the Cardinals for most of the past two decades. They finally thought they were clear for a while, and here they are looking up at St Louis again. Pity the Reds.