2013 Reds / Reds - General / Series Preview

Series Preview: Washington’s Dynasty on Hold

The Reds (13-9) begin a long and challenging road trip tonight with the first of four games against the Washington Nationals (10-11). This is the final regular season series between the two teams, who played each other at GABP three weeks ago (preview).

You remember the breathless pre-season hype. Experts, including the Worldwide Leader’s power rankings, preordained the Nationals as the best team in baseball. The lofty acclaim made sense. Washington had notably improved a team that won a major-league-best 98 games in 2012. The Nats opened their 2013 season with an impressive thumping of the hapless Miami Maaarlins. The only question for pundits appeared to be whether Washington would win 120 games or merely 110 on their way to bringing the World Series championship to the nation’s capital.

But funny things happened on the way to the Nationals’ coronation.

The Cincinnati Reds beat the Washington Nationals two out of three, including The Obliteration featuring six home runs. The Atlanta Braves marched through Nationals Park like Sherman in Georgia. And this week, Bryce and his pals failed to exorcise their 2012 playoff demons as the struggling Nats were swept at home by the St. Louis Cardinals.

If you bracket off their six games against Miami, the Nationals’ record would be an Expo-like 5-10. Their record against playoff-caliber teams is 1-8. Stephen Strasburg owns a record of 1-4. And Washington has lost six games in a row at home, outscored 27-9. They have fallen below .500 for the first time since 2011.

On Opening Day, the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore wrote of the local club “launching baseball’s next dynasty.” Yesterday, the paper of Woodward and Bernstein lamented: “The giddy joy of last season and a winter of sky-high World Series aspirations seemed so distant.”

Isn’t there a proverb about pride and the fall?

WASHINGTON’S HITTING

Through the first four weeks of the season, the Reds (.259/.348/.409) have outhit the Nationals (.235/.299/.402). While the Reds lead the league in runs scored, Washington has fallen to the bottom half of the NL in that category. They managed only 4 runs in the three games against the WLB.

Here is the Nats’ usual batting order, but manager Davey Johnson yesterday suggested he’d be changing things up to “try to light a fire.”

1. Denard Span (L) CF - .268/.366/.296
2. Jayson Werth (R) RF - .259/.302/.432
3. Bryce Harper (L) LF - .352/.429/.689
4. Adam LaRoche (L) 1B - .169/.258/.339
5. Ian Desmond (R) SS - .272/286/.506
6. Anthony Rendon (R) 3B - .133/.133/. 197
7. Danny Espinosa (S) 2B - .155/.197/.293
8. Kurt Suzuki (R) C - .250/.380/.525

The Nationals lineup has been affected by injury since the series three weeks ago. Starting third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has landed on the disabled list with a case of Encarnacion Throwing Disease. He’s been replaced by the Nationals’ next super-phenom, über-prospect, all hail, Anthony Rendon.

Also on the DL is one of their co-catchers, Wilson Ramos. You may remember the home runs he hit off Mike Leake and J.J. Hoover on April 6, the latter a game-winner in extra innings. He has a strained left hamstring and scheduled to rejoin the Nats just after the Reds series.

OMG! Bryce Harper has certainly lived up to the hype. His bat has carried Washington the past couple weeks. Jason Werth and Ian Desmond have made valuable contributions to their offense. But Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa are nowhere near the Mendoza Line.

WASHINGTON’S STARTING PITCHING

In 2012, the Nationals had the top pitching in the NL as measured by staff ERA and FIP. But in 2013, a declining strikeout rate (K/9) and rising home run rate (HR/9) has resulted in a league 9th-rated ERA and 12th-rated FIP. The Reds staff is top five in both categories.

Three weeks ago, the can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it match-up was Johnny Cueto vs. Stephen Strasburg. This time around, the Reds miss Strasburg and a strained oblique has once again sidelined the Reds’ ace. Here are the probable starters for the series:

The Reds face lefty Gio Gonzalez tonight. Gonzalez, who didn’t pitch in the first series against the Reds, has had an up-and-down start to 2013. But he was kryptonite in two games against the Reds last year, striking out 16 in 12 innings and giving up just two earned runs.

The Reds were also fortunate to miss Jordan Zimmermann in early April. He also had two dominant starts against the Reds in 2012, giving up only 8 hits and 3 walks in 14 innings, while notching two wins. He’s off to a solid start in 2013.

Our early-April box of chocolates metaphor about Dan Haren stressed that Washington wasn’t sure what it would get from their free agent signing. Early returns have been unpalatably bitter. Not only did the Reds light Haren up in The Obliteration, but in his first four starts, including one against the Marlins, he hasn’t made it past five innings.

Ross Detwiler pitched six strong against the Reds on April 6, giving up just one unearned run. He was in line for the win before a spectacular crash by the Nationals bullpen.

Speaking of which…

WASHINGTON’S BULLPEN

The elite trio of Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard was supposed to be a formidable strength of the team. Instead, they have proven to be pretty hittable, particularly Storen and Soriano. Each pitched just once in the first series, with both Storen and Soriano surrendering runs.

Zack Duke remains the sole lefty in the Nationals bullpen and he’s been dreadful in 2013. Manager Davey Johnson uses him more as a long reliever than as a situational LOOGY. If he pitches against the Reds, that’s probably a good sign. He’s not one of those fiercely tough lefty match-up for Choo, Votto and Bruce. Duke gave up six hits in less than three innings of work in the first series.

SUMMARY

Sure, it’s fun to point out Washington’s recent difficulties. But the Reds will more than have their hands full against a talent-laden and angry team. The Nationals aren’t the bottom-feeding Marlins, Cubs or even Phillies. This is a dangerous series.

To guard against overconfidence possibly inspired by the recent homestand, recall the Reds’ last road trip — the one where the game situations dictated that Aroldis Chapman would throw a total of five pitches. The one where the Reds limped home with a 1-5 record.

Here’s to hoping for better game situations this weekend.

49 thoughts on “Series Preview: Washington’s Dynasty on Hold

  1. Steve,

    So will you refer to the Nationals as the “Harpers” or the “Dynasty” going forward? :)

  2. I agree that it’s possible for a team as talented as the nationals to wakeup. Let’s hope it happens on Monday morning.

    All in all, with the way the reds have pushed runners across the plate the last week to 10 days (a couple of innings here and there not withstanding), I’d be happy with asplit and turn cartwheels going 3-1. Especially in light of their last road trip.

  3. All along, I’ve said a .500 April is a win for the Reds. It’s even more true now with the MASH unit they’ve become. They’re on the cusp of getting that done but the 1-5 record on the road is worrisome. Here’s to hoping they turn around the road woes in the nation’s capital!

  4. Both teams slug about the same, but the Reds OBP is much better. I’ll bet that’s almost all from Votto and Choo.

    I would guess we might see Marshall back for the 3rd or 4th game of this series. Hopefully Parra gets his outright release.

    …..still can’t get over how far Frazier hit that ball yesterday…….

  5. I hate when we use sarcastic or negative stuff in our posts or headlines…always seems like karma comes back and almost immediately bites the Reds on the #ss.

    • @Bill Lack:

      It certainly does. I was thinking the same thing. With the Red’s fortunes looking up and the Nat’s looking down right now, a quick reversal could happen. We don’t want that, as we want the Reds to keep trending up.

    • @Bill Lack: You guys know that what we write at our blog doesn’t really effect the outcome of the games, right?

      Even assuming that karma is a thing, wouldn’t the karma pluses and minuses of the players, owners, etc. vastly dwarf what one or two fans write? :-)

      • @Steve Mancuso:

        @Bill Lack: You guys know that what we write at our blog doesn’t really effect the outcome of the games, right?

        Even assuming that karma is a thing, wouldn’t the karma pluses and minuses of the players, owners, etc. vastly dwarf what one or two fans write?

        Of course I KNOW it. But, if I go to a game and the Reds win, I also wear the same hat and shirt to the next game I attend….you don’t mess with a streak.

      • @Steve Mancuso: On a side note, the lamest thing in baseball is when a pitcher is throwing a perfect game, and the play-by-play guy refuses to say anything about it because he’s superstitious. Everyone doesn’t tune in and watch the entire game. Do your job!

  6. The Reds will face 3 RH’s in the first 3 games. I’ll bet that XPaul and Hannahan get a start or two. Even with the bomb Frazier hit yesterday, he still could use a game to sit. He was struggling a bit. Its a long season and Frazier ran out of gas in late August last year.
    XPaul and Hannahan have earned a couple of extra at-bats for this series.

  7. I was surprised at the Nationals’ defense in that first series. Didn’t they make five or six errors? Any more help they want to give the Reds will be gladly accepted.

    • @rfay00: The problem their is davey is running a lefty after a lefty in the order. He is crossing the streams.

      I am sure laroche would be batting .300 if he were dropped to 5th and didn’t have to face so many lefty specialists pitching to Harper had himself.

  8. To put an exclamation point on the road woes:

    53 of the next 87 games are on the road. That’s 61% of all games played during that stretch.

  9. I have watched/followed a decent # of Nationals games including going to the 3 games at GABP. Their defense has been abysmal so far–what do the advanced fielding stats/metrics say? (Short sample, I realize) I know they have already racked up their fair share of errors and that doesn’t include plays that should’ve been made or scored an error.

    For example-the Sunday game Cueto vs Strasburg….Wash top of first was short circuited by a brilliant start to a 6-4-3 by Cozart in the hole. Reds bat in the 1st and XPaul reaches on an infield hit of Strasburg’s mitt, and Zimmerman botching a ground ball hit by BP with 2 on 1 out. It was scored a “hit”, but just as easily was an inning ending double play with the defense we are accustomed to seeing the Reds play in the field.

    I see the biggest difference in these two teams on the defensive side , followed by guys like LaRoche etc that had career yrs last yr and are coming back down.

    Interested to see how the Reds fare vs Gonzalez, he had 2 dominant starts vs Reds last yr in the home games he pitched

  10. I really did not think that we were going to miss Ludwig this much.

    granted he was ice last April and maybe we would be missing him if he were here, but if he is gone all year, we need another solution.

    Sultan, I think Mesoraco is part of that also. I would be open to him spending his off days in Left Field because we need his bat.

    Heisey continues to baffle me even though everyone says he is a platoon player. I conveniently ignore that and live in my disappointment.

    I would even give Hannahan a start in LF if he can continue to hit.

    Or we could move Votto to left field as many suggested a few years ago. I kid, I kid

  11. It’s still way early in the season. Come the end of the year, I think the Nationals are going to be right there. They are in a rough stretch now and I hope the Reds can dig them into it a little deeper. 3 of 4 would be great but honestly, I’d take a split on the road.

  12. Cozart in the 2-slot. You’d better start hitting dude. Last thing I want to see is Stubbs Part 2. Dusty should move him down the order but we know that’ll never happen because: we gotta get him going!

  13. A sorta minor note – it says in the Preview that Detwiler is a RHP but I’m pretty sure he’s a lefty. The Reds face 2 lefties, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, in this series.

    The games against Zimmermann and Haren seen like great opportunities to start Xavier Paul. Cozart has hit decently off lefties (.276 in 29 ABs) so far and I hope he can keep that up against Detwiler and Gonzalez.

    Adam LaRoche hasn’t hit well and Ryan Zimmerman is on the DL. It’s a nice time to face the Nationals. once again I’m really looking forward to seeing Tony Cingrani face his biggest challenge yet.

  14. here’s an excellent fangraphs article on clutch hitting (i.e. sequencing of hits) that shows that the Reds are second to the Cardinals right now in all of baseball.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-importance-of-sequencing/

    It includes a good discussion of how we should expect some regression towards less clutchy hitting, which would make the Reds more like an above average offense, rather than an elite offense.

    • @al: Sequencing theory isn’t about clutch hitting. In fact, it’s about the opposite. Hitters don’t control when they get hits. They can’t get hits sometimes “when they really try hard.” Sequencing theory shows the luck involved in scoring runs when hits are bunched together. It’s not like hitters can decide, OK, this time I’m going to get a hit.

      Example: The sequence hit-hit-hit-home run-out-out-out produces four runs when the sequence home run-hit-out-hit-out-hit-out might produce one or two. Same number of hits, same number of home runs. But the first sequence was luckier than the second.

      Lineup design can have something to do with it, though. If a manager spaces out good hitters, say Choo-Cozart-Votto, it can disrupt the ability of the offense, on average, to sequence their hits most effectively.

      Here’s an interesting article discussing the concept of “clutch” – it’s not that major league players aren’t “clutch,” they all pretty much are. That’s why they are in the major leagues. The point is that over the course of their careers, they can’t outperform their established abilities in clutch situation.

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2656

      The point of that article is that teams who have scored extra runs because of sequencing can expect to be less productive in the future.

  15. Publishers/Authors unwittingly helping to ruin an outsiders perspective of an up-and-comer.

    The Bryce Harper Story – Rise of a Young Slugger – 2012

    The first published book about Jordan wasn’t even until 1987 (4 years after being in the NBA). They could have at least waited another few years, right? No?

    Michael Jordan: The Bull’s Air Power – 1987

  16. Did anyone listen to Keith Law today on 1530? I didn’t have access to a stream at the time and I’m serious what he said to Lance considering what Law tried to get Fay going the other night

  17. I am driving down to DC from New York for the Sat and Sun games. I seem to recall reading here somewhere about a bar in DC that has been taken over by Reds fans, but I can’t seem to find the post now… A little help? Or am I mixing up cities?

    Go Reds.

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