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A Completely Unbiased Cardinals Series Preview

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Cincinnati kicks off a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

The baseball season might have already started, but it really kicks into high gear when the Reds take on the Cardinals for the first time. Regardless of what anyone in the baseball media says, this is one of the best rivalries in the game. The three-game set kicks off tonight at 8:15 ET with Amir Garrett making his debut for the Reds.

Here are a few things you need to know:

Last Season and What’s Ahead

The Cardinals finished 2016 with an 86-76 record. That was good enough for second place in the NL Central (17.5 games back of Chicago).

Former Cardinals players had much more success than actual Cardinals players last season. John Lackey and Jason Heyward both left St. Louis for Chicago. That is, a team they're much more likely to win a championship with.

FanGraphs currently projects the Cardinals to go 84-78 this season. Baseball Prospectus' projection is much more exciting. They have St. Louis going 76-83 in their remaining games.

Actually, BP doesn't see much of a distinction between St. Louis and Cincinnati the rest of the way.

The Cardinals are already 1-2, so they're well on their way to that below .500 record.

The Cardinals Cheat

Reds fans have long known that the Cardinals are "the dirtiest player in the game." That fact was confirmed during the opening week of the season. On Thursday, Yadier Molina went to block a ball in the dirt, and after the ball bounced he couldn't find it. Why couldn't he find it? Because it was strangely stuck to his chest protector.

If you follow the link, MLB will tell you the ball "wedged itself" in Yadier Molina's chest protector. That seems to be a pretty generous description of what happened. It doesn't appear to be wedged into any part of his gear. The ball simply seems to have stuck right to his padding. Now how could that have happened?

As Chris Cwik notes, the practice of pitchers using a substance to enhance their grip on the ball is accepted as long as it isn't blatant. However, this ball appears to have had more than a little bit of a substance applied to it. That ball is so sticky it could have been dipped in the same stuff that makes "Flex Tape" a thing.

The Reds will need to keep their eyes peeled over the weekend as the Cardinals will try and steal wins by any means necessary. Like convincing an umpire to leave the field on a game-winning hit that should have been ruled a ground-rule double.

New Faces

Dexter Fowler

The most notable addition to the Cardinals lineup this offseason was Dexter Fowler. Fowler is coming off of a season in which he played in 125 games for the Cubs. He hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 HR and 13 SB last season. He'll be the primary CF in St. Louis and hit leadoff.

Brett Cecil

Cecil was signed to a four-year, $30.5 million deal this offseason. He was limited in 2016 due to a "torn lat muscle," but he did pitch in 54 games for the Blue Jays. Over 36.2 innings he ran a 3.93 ERA.

You can read a complete breakdown of St. Louis offseason here.

Fare Thee Well

Brandon Moss

Matt Holliday

Jaime Garcia

Seth Maness

Puzzling Moves

The Cardinals signed Mike Matheney to a three-year extension during the offseason.

via GIPHY

They also recently signed a 34-year-old catcher to a three-year, $60 million extension. According to Derrick Goold, the deal will make Molina the "highest-paid player at the position in annual average salary." This probably came as a surprise to Carson Kelly who is also a catcher and one of St. Louis' top five prospects.

The Lineup

Below is the lineup the Cardinals are most likely to employ during the series.* Each player's 2016 stats are in parentheses:

Dexter Fowler - CF (.276/.393/.447 w/ 13 HR, 84 R, 48 RBI, 13 SB)

Aledmys Diaz - SS (.300/.369/.510 w/ 17 HR, 71 R, 65 RBI, 4 SB)

Matt Carpenter - 1B (.271/.280/.505 w/ 21 HR, 81 R, 68 RBI, 0 SB)

Jhonny "cleanup hitter" Peralta - 3B (.260/.307/.408 w/ 8 HR, 37 R, 29 RBI, 0 SB in 82 games)

Yadier Molina - C (.307/.360/.427 w/ 8 HR, 56 R, 58 RBI, 3 SB)

Stephen Piscotty - RF (.273/.343/.457 w/ 22 HR, 86 R, 85 RBI, 7 SB)

Randal Grichuk - LF (.240/.289/.480 w/ 24 HR, 66 R, 68 RBI, 5 SB)

Kolten Wong - 2B (.240/.327/.355 w/ 5 HR, 39 R, 23 RBI, 7 SB)

*The Cardinals have been willing to rotate Jedd Gyorko, Kolen Wong, and Jhonny Peralta around the infield and lineup. Any three of those players could see playing time at 2B or 3B this series.

The Pitchers (for this series)

Mike Leake

It hurts to see Leake pitching for the Cardinals. He had some good times with the Reds, and we'll simply wish him the best here. In 2016, Leake went 9-12 with a 4.69 ERA in 176 innings of work.

Michael Wacha

Wacha struggled with shoulder injuries last season, and he was limited to 138 innings of work. In that time, he went 7-7 with a 5.09 ERA.

Carlos Martinez

I like Cincinnati's chances in the first two games of this series. However, on Sunday Carlos Martinez is pitching against Scott Feldman. Martinez went 16-9 in 195 innings in 2016 with a 3.04 ERA. On Opening Day, he pitched 7.1 innings and held the Cubs to six hits and zero earned runs. No, I don't feel good about the Reds chances on Sunday.

The Best Reds vs. Cardinals Moment of 2016

Prediction

Cincinnati takes the first two games of the series, but they fall in the finale on Sunday.