Cardinals invade Cincinnati for three

The St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds begin the 2012 chapter of their National League Central Division rivalry Monday night.

The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals are looking to build on their first series win of 2012.

So are the Cincinnati Reds, who were the last team to take a series from the Cardinals.

St. Louis continues its season-opening road trip Monday night when these clubs renew their NL Central rivalry.

After defeating Miami 4-1 on Wednesday to open Marlins Park, the Cardinals (3-1) won two of three from Milwaukee over the weekend in a rematch of last season's NLCS.

Manager Mike Matheny started Tyler Greene, Matt Carpenter, Tony Cruz and Shane Robinson in Sunday's 9-3 victory.

"That does take a lot off of the long haul of the season, being able to have those days where you can throw that lineup out there and know they're going to be able to put up some runs,'' Matheny said.

St. Louis, though, is hoping for better production in Cincinnati after hitting .207 while losing five of six there in 2011.

The last time these teams met, the host Cardinals lost two of three from Sept. 2-4 - the first time the Reds won a series in St. Louis since 2006 - to fall 9 1/2 back of the division-leading Brewers.

The Cardinals couldn't run down Milwaukee, but they won their final seven series to beat out Atlanta for the wild card.

Monday's starter Jake Westbrook didn't play much of a role in the Cardinals' playoff run in 2011 - making two relief appearances in the World Series - but the veteran right-hander is hoping to be a major factor this season.

Westbrook will make his season debut weighing about 20 pounds less than in 2011 when he finished 12-9 with a 4.66 ERA.

"I feel lighter. I feel healthier. I actually feel stronger," he told the Cardinals' official website during spring training.

Westbrook, though, doesn't have history on his side to start the season, as his 4.96 ERA in April is his worst in any month.

Still, his best start in three appearances against the Reds last season was on April 24 when he threw six strong innings in a 3-0 home win.

Westbrook should be careful pitching to Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, who has three homers after hitting two in Sunday's 6-5 victory over Miami.

Scott Rolen, who followed up Bruce's ninth-inning solo homer with a game-winning, pinch-hit infield single, should be back at third base after Miguel Cairo started Sunday.

"When you're winning series, you're winning consistently," said Rolen, who is 4 for 10 with a home run off Westbrook. "That's the name of the game."

Homer Bailey will try to keep that going Monday in his season debut. It was uncertain if the right-hander would be in the rotation after battling Aroldis Chapman for that spot, but manager Dusty Baker needed Chapman in the bullpen with closer Ryan Madson (elbow ligament) done for the year and Nick Masset on the 15-day DL with right shoulder inflammation.

So far, that decision has paid off as Chapman has five strikeouts in three scoreless innings - two on Sunday to earn the win.

Bailey was 1-2 with a 7.98 ERA in five spring starts, but he's looking to put that behind him after setting career highs in 2011 with nine wins, 132 innings and 106 strikeouts.

"It's a team that we know the hitters quite a bit so that brings some comfort," he said.

New Cardinal Carlos Beltran hit .158 (3 for 19) against the Reds last season while with San Francisco and the New York Mets, but he's off to a quick start with seven hits - including two home runs - in 18 at-bats.

David Freese, the 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP, is hitting .421 (8 for 19) with a homer and six RBIs. He was 1 for 10 as the Cardinals dropped two of three in their last series in Cincinnati from July 15-17.

Editor's programming note: Monday and Tuesday's games are the first of the 20 Cardinals games this season that will not be available to AT&T U-verse customers in the St. Louis area. Details here.

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