Posted by: mdegeorge | August 9, 2010

NL Central coming down to Cardinals Past vs. Cardinals Present

If you’re like me and dominated by the East coast, Yanks-and-Sox obsessed, overinflated media, you’re probably a mite exhausted from the excess of national coverage and Bambino-and-Boss worshipping emanating from yet another pedestrian series in the Bronx.

Since your television was probably dominated with images of John Lackey and CC Sabathia this weekend, you may have missed almost half of the Rays starting rotation being examined for shoulder troubles. You may have missed Brendan Morrow’s near no-no.

And you may not be fully prepared for the showdown series in one of the best division races in baseball currently underway in Cincinnati.

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If there’s one factor that differentiates the NL Central race from any of the other five division races currently with a margin of two games or less, it’s the familiarity the teams have with each other. Every team plays its division rivals 20 times a season, but few division races pit teams who were by and large built by the same man against each other.

But that’s the case for the Reds and Cardinals, with Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty assembling an “All-Star Cast of Cardinals Past” for the Reds drive to their first playoff berth in 15 years.Jocketty, who spent 13 years directing the Redbirds’ baseball operations, piloted the Cards to seven NL Central titles, two NL pennants, and the 2006 World Series, the organization’s first in 24 years. He was named the Reds GM less than a month into the 2008 season, and has presided over a wealth of young talent that will pay dividends in the not-too-distant future.

That young talent, specifically the cache of young arms the Reds’ system has, means they’re in a position to contend. But in putting the finishing touches on the squad, Jocketty has looked to his St. Louis roots.

That started last year at the trade deadline, when Jocketty offloaded the mercurial and perennially underachieving Edwin Encarnacion to Toronto for Scott Rolen, whose injury-ravaged career appeared to be sputtering to a close north of the border. Jocketty’s hunch paid off, with the six-time Gold Glove winner having a career renaissance in the Queen City, including a berth in the All-Star Game and my vote as Comeback Player of the Year.

He bolstered his bench over the winter by signing Miguel Cairo as a free agent. Cairo, who numbers Cincinnati as his ninth Major League home, spent the largest portion of his career (four seasons) over two stints with the Cardinals.

Then this year, three acquisitions have brought the spirit of St. Louis north to Cincy. With the reliever cupboard bare, Jocketty hit the golf courses to lure former Cardinal mainstays Jason Isringhausen and Russ Springer back to the ballpark. Springer’s already found himself on the DL, while Isringhausen is gearing up at Triple-A.

And now the coup de grace, with Jocketty bringing a veteran outfield bat into the fold with the acquisition of Jim Edmonds today from the Milwaukee Brewers. Edmonds, a pariah in Cincinnati while the two birds sat on a bat across his chest thanks to his home run-saving catches, is now onto his fourth NL Central port of call.

Now that the Reds have two prongs of the Cards’ daunted MV3 triumvirate of 2004, it looks like the Cardinals’ past instruction may be their undoing in the division race. It could be elaborate plot to frustrate Cardinals’ fans rooting for the Reds’ demise (though Dusty Baker contraindicates that pretty authoritatively).

Regardless, it’ll be a division race to watch down to the wire, regardless of what the AL East may do.

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