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SI: La Russa will outmanage Baker to win NL Central

An interesting article on claims that the race between the Cardinals and the Reds for the National League Central division crown will come down to the managers.

According to Joe Sheehan, St. Louis skipper Tony La Russa is a master at getting more out of his lineup. At squeezing out every last ounce of talent and ability. Meanwhile, Baker is known for questionable decisions that handicap his team and for burning up his pitching staff.

While I think La Russa is a better manager than Baker by a long shot. I disagree with the premise of the column.

If the Cardinals had less talent than the Reds, I think La Russa might be a guy who could find a way to steal the division title from under Baker's nose. But if the Central Division is close enough that La Russa has to make the difference, the Cardinals are in trouble.

St. Louis has better pitching, better defense and a much more talented offense than Cincinnati. The Reds have hung around while the Birds have worked through injuries to their pitching staff and waited for Matt Holliday's bat to come around. But, hopefully, Brad Penny is going to be back at full speed within the next couple of weeks and newly re-acquired pitched Jeff Suppan seems capable of holding down the fort in the fifth starter's spot.

If the Redlegs beat the Cardinals, it's going to be because St. Louis couldn't overcome injuries or because the team took it for granted that it would win the NL Central by default. Batting the pitcher eighth or juggling the rotation shouldn't enter into it.

Much is made over the way La Russa and Baker handle a roster. The Reds just raised a lot of eyebrows over their signing of Gary Matthews Jr. because it's feared he'll steal at bats from Cincy's kids. But, while La Russa is a master of playing all 25 men, he's unusually hamstrung by this season's bench.

Another recently re-acquired re-tread -- Aaron Miles -- has barely played at all. Extra outfielder Nick Stavinoha is a defensive liability, so he almost exclusively is used as a pinch hitter...

More than La Russa and Baker making the difference who wins the NL Central, I think the final outcome will be determined by their bosses: St. Louis GM John Mozeliak and former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty who now runs the Reds. If the Redbirds can't put things away early, it could all come down to who can add the piece that puts their team over the top at the trade deadline.

Click here to read the article.