Posted: Mar 30, 2021 / 2:52 PM MDT
Updated: March 30, 2021 / 2:52 p.m. MDT
The St. Louis Cardinals hope that one of baseball’s best offensive players will send them to the top of NL Central.
Meanwhile, despite losing the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, the Cincinnati Reds are still aiming for a post-season runner-up spot.
The search for these division enemies begins Thursday with a matchup in Cincinnati.
Both St. Louis and Cincinnati benefited from the expanded postseason format due to the shortened 2020 campaign.
Despite a disruption related to COVID-19 in early August and final placement in the majors at Homern (51) and 26th place at OPS (0.694), the Cardinals were two games over .500 and contested the playoffs for the second consecutive time. Cincinnati finished 27th in the runs (243) but finished seventh in the home runs (90) and fourth in the ERA of Starters (3.50) to finish 31-29 and its first postseason spot available since 2013.
To boost some of those offensive numbers, the Cardinals acquired five-time Colorado all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado. Despite having a subpar 2020 year with eight homers and a 0.253 average in 48 games, Arenado has completed 235 home races and made St. Louis the obvious favorite at headquarters.
“I made this decision because hopefully I went to a competitive team, a team with a long history,” Arenado, who claims he was cured of last season’s shoulder problem, told MLB.com. “And I think St. Louis did.
“I feel in a better place now. … I expect to be back to normal and to be who I am again. “
Arenado, a lifelong .318 hitter with 12 homers in 43 games against Cincinnati, should benefit from playing alongside colleague Paul Goldschmidt. The veteran first baseman hit .304 homers last season and at least 33 homers before 2020 for three consecutive seasons.
Goldschmidt is 3:20 with eight qualifying games against the planned Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo. However, two of these hits were home runs.
With Trevor Bauer, winner of the NL Cy Young Award 2020, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sonny Gray dealing with back spasms, Castillo kicks off Cincinnati’s opening day. The 28-year-old right-handed and 2019 All-Star went 4-6 with 3.21 ERA and scored 89 of 12 starts last season. He allowed one run and two hits during a full game, winning 3-1 on September 11 in his only start against the Cardinals last season.
“He’s still a young pitcher who is getting better and better in many ways,” said Reds manager David Bell, who mourns the recent death of brother Mike from cancer.
“He’s just as good as anyone, any pitcher I’ve been with.”
The Reds are aiming for offensive consistency with essentially the same cast of characters from 2020. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez hit .202 but secured 15 team-level homers last season. Nick Castellanos returns after hitting 14 homers in his first season in Cincinnati while Jesse Winker hit 12 homers and battled .255 – best among everyday Reds players.
Winker and Suarez are a combined 7v23 with three homers against planned Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty. Teammate Joey Votto is 5v10 against the right-handed, but his status on opening day is uncertain due to a recent battle with COVID-19.
Flaherty went 4-3 with 4.91 ERA over nine starts during a disjointed 2020 campaign. He is 2-2 with an ERA of 2.48 in seven career starts against the Reds but failed to face them last year.
In 11 career games against the Cardinals – it all begins – Castillo is 4-4 with an ERA of 3.84.
–Field level media