The Reds' lead over St. Louis is shrinking just as Operation Cardinals East seems to have fallen on hard times.
Cincinnati second sacker Brandon Phillips may profess to hate the Redbirds. But that didn't stop former St. Louis General Manager Walt Jocketty from rounding up as many of them as he could since setting up shop in Ohio. Scott Rolen, Mike Lincoln, Miguel Cairo, Russ Springer, Jason Isringhausen and Jim Edmonds were all imported by Jocketty in an obvious move to Cardinal up the Redlegs.
The problem with trying to relive the mid-2000s St. Louis heydays is that all of those players are five years older now -- and are that much more brittle.
-- Lincoln, 35, who pitched in only 13 games for the Cardinals because of problems staying healthy when he was here way back in 2004, has a 7.24 ERA for the Reds. He currently resides on the 60-day disabled list with more arm troubles and isn't expected back this season.
-- Edmonds, 40, has been fighting problems with his legs all season. But he was forced to leave Cincinnati's Monday night game with the Giants thanks to a strained oblique that threatens to send him to the disabled list.
-- Springer, 41, is out for the season with back troubles. The once reiiable St. Louis set-up man managed 1 2/3 innings for the Reds before being shelved due to injury.
-- Jason Isringhausen, 38 in two weeks, had a 9.54 ERA in Class AAA Louisville where he was trying to tune up for a comeback to the majors. He'd given up 11 baserunners -- seven of them due to walks -- in 5 2/3 inninngs pitched. But the comeback seems to be over before it started. Izzy hasn't pitched since July 15 when he strained his pitching elbow, threatening to end his career.
Speaking of the Reds... I'm not sure who to root for these days as Cincinnati plays the Giants in a three game set.
The Reds are the obvious foe because they're the team in front of St. Louis in the National League Central standings. But, as I write this, St. Louis is 2 1/2 games out of the division lead -- but only one game behind the Phillies for the lead in the wildcard race... tied with the Giants.
From a common sense standpoint, it might be easier to get into the playoffs if San Francisco falls off the pace. Then the Cardinals can make up one game against Philly instead of having to beat Cincinnati's record over the last six weeks of the season by three games.
While it may be more honorable to win the division title outright, it could be in the Birds' best interests to win the wild card. If they did, they would be in line to play the Padres in the first round of the playoffs. Although they are only 1-2 against San Diego this season, the Redbirds have had the Padres' number in the Tony La Russa era, beating them in the first round of the playoffs in 1996, 2005 and 2006 by a combined record of 9-1.
And, if the Reds could get by Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs, it would set up a National League Championship Series grudge match of epic proportions. Besides, the Birds are 10-5 against Cincinnati so far this season.
Still, it's easy to loathe the Reds' loudmouthed Phillips, not to mention former Cubs and Giants manager Dusty Baker. The skipper's teams seem to always be involved in shenanigans that result from the opposition's resistance to let him bully them. The whole mess during the Birds' last trip to Cincinnati wouldn't have happened if he wouldn't have rekindled tempers by trying to belittle St. Louis third base coach Jose Oquendo.
Bottom line is, I don't care how the Cardinals make the playoffs. I just hope it works out in a way to give bitter comeuppance to the Reds.