Series Preview: Cards meet Reds in battle for first place


The Reds came into the month of May riding a five-game win streak. The Cardinals ended that run and won the second series between the division rivals. Now, the Cards are faced with the same task as the Reds welcome them to Cincinnati on another five-game win streak. Cincy is looking for their first series win against the Redbirds this year. Tonight, the Reds have their sights set on first place in the NL Central. With a win, they would jump St. Louis by a half-game in the standings to become top dog for a day. A week ago, first place was far from the Reds mind. They just got blasted 14-7 by the Cubs and Starlin Castro to fall below .500. Thanks to a five-game winning streak that included a sweep of the Pirates, the Reds are 19-15 and a half-game out of first place.

Cincinnati’s pitching staff has been the driving force behind this streak. After the Cubs offensive explosion last Friday, they only managed five runs in the final two games. The Pirates wished they could have scored five runs in three games; Pittsburgh scored just one run in three games. So, the Reds staff has surrendered six runs in five games and they’ve gotten stronger with each game. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey threw consecutive complete game shutouts to finish the Pittsburgh series. The club’s overall ERA during the week: 1.40.

Aaron Harang gets the ball with the task of continuing what he started. The streak began with his solid start against the Cubs. He gave up two runs in 6 2/3 innings. That’s a far cry from the last few times St. Louis faced him. It looks like the former ace is finding his stride again to compliment the young guns that have injected life into the Queen city again. He’ll be a tough opponent for the Cards in what should be a highly competitive series. If Bailey can keep improving and Mike Leake sustains his early season success, the Reds could be more than an early season pest for St. Louis.

Jaime Garcia is saddled with the task of stopping the Reds and sparking his club to its own run of success. The Cards have lost seven of nine and are going in the opposite direction of their counterparts. The rookie has been up to every challenge thus far, so the youngster could be the perfect guy to open the series. He has faced Cy Young award winners and World Series champions early on, and he’s been very good handling the pressure. He’s been durable and given St. Louis quality starts in nearly every game. With first place on the line in May, it’s just another challenge for the lefty to mark off on his list.

More on this weekend’s matchups after the jump. […]

Saturday, the Cards send a seasoned pitcher in Adam Wainwright to the mound and the Reds go with youth in Mike Leake. Wainwright has been on top of his game again this year and sports a 5-1 record and 2.08 ERA. We all know how good Waino is. Leake is the intriguing opponent. He skipped the minors after a brilliant career at Arizona State and he has been more than capable for Cincy. Leake is 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA. His best start came against the Cubs when he took a no-hitter into the sixth. He relies on a good sinker to keep the ball down for groundball outs.

The finale pits Brad Penny against Bronson Arroyo in a rematch of the opening series of the season. Penny and Arroyo were locked in a pitcher’s duel that ended with Jonny Gomes’ walk off homer in the ninth. Penny went seven and gave up one run and Arroyo went for eight innings of one-run ball. Penny has kept the momentum for much of the season with many quality starts. He has a 1.70 ERA but has had some tough luck and sits at 3-3 on the year. Arroyo got back on track against the Pirates with a seven inning, one run performance. He is 2-2 with a 5.36 ERA.

It appears that the Reds have emerged as the surprise team that can challenge the Cards for the division. If the young pitching staff can hold up, Cincy will be a formidable opponent deep into the summer. In baseball, we know there are no sure things. Even the Cardinals are going to have to fight to win the NL Central again.

St. Louis can set the tone this weekend.