The Redbirds have swept both series against the 3-18 Reds and have a 13-8 record to lead the National League Central Division standings. Without the Reds as sacrificial lambs, the Birds would be under water at 6-8.
Pointing out that fact isn't a swipe at the Cardinals. You have to win the games that are put on the schedule — and one of the reasons St. Louis fell short of the playoffs last year is because it failed to beat the weaker teams as often as it should have. So the Birds have accomplished what they needed to — and then some — with home and away sweeps of the Reds.
But the folks who are breathlessly declaring that the local nine are favorites to win the World Series this year need to get a grip.
The Cardinals need to show what they can do against the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers before I declare this team is for real. That's not being critical. It's why they play the games instead of just letting the pundits decide which team looks the best on paper at the beginning of the season.
Still, seven games against the Reds in the first month of the season might prove to be just what the doctor ordered for several reasons:
▪ The Cardinals are counting on several very young players to make a vital contribution this year. Getting some early wins builds confidence and gets their season — or in some cases their major league careers — off to a good start.
▪ It's good experience for those players and could help them win games later when the competition is stiffer. Second, wins now are just as important as wins in August and September. Getting ahead now gives the Birds a chance to win games that could give them a cushion — or keep them in striking distance later when they're trying to get their ticket punched for the postseason.
These wins against the Reds are good news. Let's just not lose our minds about it.
Some other thoughts
▪ I'm really happy to see Harrison Bader in the big leagues. Bader doesn't get the publicity that some of the other Cardinals prospects get, but I really like his game. The guy is always hustling, a fact that is made more remarkable by the fact that he's lightning fast. He makes things happen on the bases, he makes catches in the outfield that some of the other players might not have even been able to get to. He's a gamer and I hope he fits into the team's plans someplace. Even though I'm not sure where that place will be on account of the fact that Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler seemed to be locked in as starters and there are several good, young outfielders coming through the upper levels of the minor leagues.
▪ Paul DeJong is going to be a really interesting guy to follow for Cardinals fans. On base percentage is all the rage these days. But I doubt DeJong will ever be an above average OBP guy. As of Sunday he stood at .313 which is pretty mediocre, although not terrible. The other troubling thing about DeJong is that he piles up strikeouts in bunches. He's whiffed 31 times this year while walking only five. But, the power aspect of DeJong's game is undeniable. He has seven homers in 21 games this year — and 32 in 526 career plate appearances. That's less than a full season worth or work. It's entirely possible that DeJong could be a guy who hits .235 with a .285 on base percentage and 150 strikeouts — but who hits 40 homers and drives in 85 plus runs. If that's your first baseman or right fielder, it might by tough to take some of those stats. But the get those numbers from a shortstop is amazing.
▪ Finally, Jordan Hicks has been incredible to watch this season. While I think the Cardinals originally planned to call him up to give him a taste of the big leagues and see how he handled it. Unless he totally falls on his face, I don't see how they can send him back to the minors. Hicks had to fight it a little bit Saturday to finish the middle game of the Reds series. But fight it he did, coming though to preserve a one-run lead with the bases loaded and one out. The youngster is the hardest thrower in the big leagues right now, a latter day Trevor Rosenthal, but his control has been pretty good. Yeah, he hit a guy and was a little wild in the ninth Saturday. But he was probably squeezing the ball a little tighter than usual because of nerves. The fact that he made it through successfully was a big step. While Bud Norris has pitched well so far this season, I think Hicks is the best closer on the team right now.