(Baseball StL) -- You heard it here first: The Cincinnati Reds – not the Pittsburgh Pirates – will fold up like a cheap lawn chair and miss the playoffs.
More than halfway home in the 2013 season, some interesting trends have emerged and they do not bode well for the Reds. The next few crucial weeks will be their undoing.
It is a safe bet that the Pittsburgh Pirates are not going to collapse this year. Their bullpen is superb - perhaps the best in baseball - and their starters are good enough to keep them in most games.
If they have a weakness, it’s on offense, but they seem to find just enough to make every game close. Despite owning a 53-35 record, their run differential is just +41 compared to the division-leading Cardinals +122. They are still young but youth and energy will keep them in the hunt all the way to the end of the season.
But not the Cincinnati Reds. They are fading ever so slightly right now and it will get worse from here. It is entirely dispiriting to play 11 games above .500 and be 4 games out in third place. But worse, they are losing to teams they need to beat to stay in the race, because from here, the schedule is not their friend.
Let’s look at the top three teams in the Central Division and their schedules until the end of the month:
Cardinals: Astros (2) @Cubs (4) Padres (3) Phillies (3) @Braves (3) @Pirates (3).
Pirates: A’s (2) Mets (3) @Reds (3) @Nationals (4) @Marlins (3) Cardinals (3).
Reds: @Brewers (2) @Braves (4) Pirates (3) @Giants (3) @Dodgers (4) @Padres (3).
What do you notice? First off, the Redbirds don’t play a team above .500 until they meet the Braves near the end of the month. Second, they also have eight games at home, more than either the Reds or the Pirates.
Secondly, and this is where the Reds are about to suffer a major malfunction, they play 16 games on the road for the rest of the month, and only three at home. The Reds are just 20-23 on the road and a stretch like this can undo even a solid team.
Moreover, the Cardinals will play 38 games at Busch after the break and just 31 on the road. The Pirates have only 31 home games and 38 on the road so the Birdos have a distinct advantage there. The Reds have 35 at home and 32 on the road.
So, the blueprint for Cardinal success is that they simply must win these next four series against lesser competition (although the Phillies cannot be said to be as pitiful as the Astros) and keep themselves in what will soon be a two-team race in their division.
Baseball statisticians calculated before the season that the loss of the Houston Astros in the Central Division cost Central teams like the Cardinal about three additional wins a year. That makes it essential the Redbirds cash in on these limited opportunities, especially at home.
A win against the Astros counts just as much as one against the Braves.