It might not translate into a playoff push, but no team in the National League is playing better baseball at this point than the Cincinnati Reds.
Cincinnati will look for its 22nd win in 31 games Sunday when it tries to polish off a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in each team’s final game before the All-Star break.
The Cardinals (47-46) will have a new manager on the bench Sunday after firing Mike Matheny late Saturday night and naming bench coach Mike Shildt the interim manager. The organization also dismissed hitting coach John Mabry and assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller.
Matheny, 47, had managed the Cardinals since 2011 and led the franchise to the playoffs four straight years from 2012 to 2015 and to the National League championship in 2013. Shildt, 49, managed for eight years in the minor leagues before joining the Cardinals’ major league staff in 2017.
“These decisions are never easy, but we felt that a change in leadership was necessary as the team prepares to enter into the second half of the season,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said.
At 43-52, the Reds still fit the profile of seller rather than buyer. They are well behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the National League Central, although they’re creeping closer to leaving the cellar they’ve occupied all season.
And at this point, Cincinnati players sound as though they’d prefer the status quo instead of leaving for contenders. A day after All-Star second baseman Scooter Gennett voiced his preference for a contract extension that management seems willing to talk about, closer Raisel Iglesias told mlb.com that he hopes to be around when the Reds are fortifying their roster for a run at the postseason.
“I’ve been through this rebuilding process, and I feel like we’re getting closer,” he said through an interpreter. “I would like to be part of this team when we become a really good team.”
For the last month, Cincinnati has been really good, marrying effective starting pitching with typically explosive offense. Reds starters have the fourth-best ERA in the NL in the last 30 games, a marked difference from the first 65 games, which saw them regularly fail to keep the team in games to give the hitters a chance to overcome deficits.
That’s what happened Saturday, when the Reds trailed 2-0 before scoring in each of the last four innings to post an 8-2 win. While Luis Castillo didn’t get a win, he did minimize damage in the fourth and fifth innings to keep the game close.
Cincinnati will give the ball to Anthony DeSclafani (4-1, 4.43 ERA) on Sunday. The right-hander is coming off his best performance since returning from the disabled list in June, shackling Cleveland on five hits and a run in seven innings on Monday night in a 7-5 win at Progressive Field.
DeSclafani’s first win this year came at St. Louis’ expense. He scattered 10 hits in five innings on June 10 in a 6-3 verdict that started Cincinnati’s surge. In eight career outings against the Cardinals, DeSclafani is 5-1 with a 2.30 ERA, going 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts at Busch.
He’ll be opposed by unlikely All-Star Miles Mikolas (10-3, 2.65), who has been the paragon of consistency in St. Louis’ rotation. After receiving his first All-Star invitation on July 8, Mikolas celebrated two nights later with a 14-2 win at the Chicago White Sox, checking them on three hits and two runs for six innings with one walk and six strikeouts.
Mikolas owns two April wins over Cincinnati, 6-1 and 9-2 victories in which he sailed through seven innings in each game.
The Cardinals could use another game like that to avoid falling to .500 before their break, especially after firing their manager.