2013 Reds / Series Preview

Series Preview: Buckeye State Battle

The Cincinnati Reds are moving up in class.

After feasting for more than two weeks on teams with losing records, the Reds (31-19) now begin a 13-game stretch against clubs with records on the smiling side of the standings, starting with a unique four-game home/away series against Cleveland (27-22).

MLB has reduced the length of Interleague Rivalry Series™ from six games to four. For Cincinnati and Cleveland that means back-to-back two-game series this week, with the first played at Great American Ball Park, the latter at Progressive Field. The quartet of games will determine ownership of the Ohio Cup, a trophy no one will confuse with Lord Stanley’s. Cleveland leads the Buckeye State series 42-39.

ROCKIN’ AND ROLLIN’

Cincinnati and Cleveland share more than I-71, disappointing NFL teams and a spring training site. A trade that brought outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Queen City in exchange for centerfielder Drew Stubbs and shortstop Didi Gregorius now also links their professional baseball teams. The Reds also acquired third baseman Jack Hannahan and utility infielder Jason Donald in the deal. Cleveland quickly flipped Gregorius to Arizona for starting pitcher prospect Trevor Bauer.

The trade was part of a relatively aggressive off-season for Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti. Enabled by a new local media agreement and the expected growth of MLB’s shared revenues, Cleveland inked splashy free-agent contracts with former Yankee OF/1B, Nick Swisher ($56 million/4 years) and former Atlanta Braves CF, Michael Bourn ($48 million/4 years). Veterans Mark Reynolds and Jason Giambi have also taken their talents to the beaches of Lake Erie. Cleveland’s payroll jumped from $65 million in 2012 to $80 million in 2013.

Much of the credit for Cleveland’s rockin’ start (cue Drew Carey) has gone to new manager Terry Francona. As skipper in Boston for eight seasons, Francona oversaw the rebirth of the Red Sox and a .574 winning percentage. He also busted the nearly century-old curse by bringing two World Series championships to Beantown, in 2004 and 2007. Francona’s father Tito played six seasons for Cleveland in the 1960s. Terry himself played there in 1988 (and for the Reds in 1987). The impact of a manager can be exaggerated, but Francona’s credibility has reportedly helped land key free agents like Swisher, Bourn and Reynolds.

CLEVELAND’S OFFENSE

The three finest institutions in Cleveland used to be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Clinic and Grady Sizemore. But then one of them spent too much time as a patient of another. And alas, the epic Grady vs. Brady competitions that had many women and a few men hot and bothered are no more.

Yet even without Sizemore’s 30/30 production, Cleveland’s offense still features an explosive combination of speed and power. They rank first in the majors in OPS+ (which adjusts OPS for ballpark factors) while the Reds are 14th. Cleveland is fourth in runs scored (Reds are sixth). Already this season, Cleveland has impressively slugged their way to victories against past Cy Young winners R.A. Dickey, David Price, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez.

Their deep lineup is full of switch-hitters, lefties and players in their prime ages. Holding down Cleveland’s offense will be a considerable challenge for the Reds’ pitching staff. Possible lineup (stats through Saturday):

Player Bats Pos Age AVG OBP SLG HR SB oWAR dWAR
Michael Bourn (L) CF 30  .314  .358  .451  2  7  1.0  0.3
Jason Kipnis (L) 2B 26  .242  .311  .453  7  10  0.9  0.4
Asdrubal Cabrera (S) SS 27  .263  .325  .440  4  4  1.0  0.1
Nick Swisher (S) 1B 32  .273  .376  .487  6  0  1.3  0.3
Carlos Santana (S) C 27  .291  .412  .536  8  1  2.4  -0.7
Mark Reynolds (R) 3B 29  .264  .349  .528  12  2  1.3  -1.0
Michael Brantley (L) LF 26  .316  .369  .407  2  3  1.0  -0.1
Drew Stubbs (R) RF 28  .245  .298  .387  3  5  0.7  0.5

Carlos Santana continues a glorious tradition of things in Cleveland catching fire, as the young catcher has begun to live up to his vast promise as a hitter. Memorial Day finds him in the smooth company of Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo among MLB’s top offensive players.

Mark Reynolds, who plays first base, third base and DH’s for Cleveland, is an “Adam Dunn three true outcomes” player. He often joins the league leaders in strikeouts, walks and home runs. Mega Mark currently ranks toward the top in both home runs (12) and RBI (40).

Former Reds centerfielder Drew Stubbs now plays right field and bats ninth most games, although occasionally he leads off. Earlier this year, he became the first MLB player batting ninth to have four hits and three doubles in a game since pitcher Micah Owings did it on Sept. 27, 2007. I’ll always remember watching Stubbs make the catch on September 28, 2010, that helped the Reds clinch the NL Central title.

CLEVELAND’S STARTING PITCHING

In contrast to its offense, Cleveland’s starting rotation hasn’t taken the same meaningful step forward. They rank tenth and eleventh in the American League in ERA and FIP respectively. The pitching match-ups for the two games at GABP:

Date/Time Name ERA FIP WHIP BABIP HR/9 K/9 WAR
MON 1:10 pm Ubaldo Jimenez 6.04 4.53 1.39 .289 1.4 9.5 -0.4
Mike Leake 3.25 3.88 1.39 .326 0.8 6.2 0.9
TUE 7:10 pm Zach McAllister 2.89 4.30 1.21 .260 1.1 6.3 0.9
Mat Latos 3.17 3.39 1.19 .296 0.8 7.6 0.9

If Gordon Lightfoot still wrote songs about wrecks on the Great Lakes, he’d be busy finding words that rhymed with Ubaldo. Ubaldo Jimenez (29, RH) has been an ongoing disaster since he left Colorado fully loaded for Cleveland at the 2011 trade deadline. The Reds haven’t faced Jimenez since 2010, when he was Cy Freakin’ Young for three months. Most trips to the mound now, Jimenez resembles Neil Young.

Zach McAllister’s (25, RH) impressive ERA is belied somewhat by the underlying stats. His FIP indicates just how much he’s benefitted from an unsustainable BABIP. While he certainly has excellent games, at age twenty-five, McAllister is more Mike Leake than Mat Latos. He has never faced the Reds.

The pitching match-ups for the two games at Progressive Field:

Date/Time Name ERA FIP WHIP BABIP HR/9 K/9 WAR
WED 7:05 pm Bronson Arroyo 3.39 3.86 1.13 .326 0.8 5.2 1.2
Justin Masterson 3.20 3.08 1.13 .281 0.5 9.0 1.7
THU 7:05 pm Homer Bailey  3.08 2.79  1.13  .293  0.6  8.8  1.3
Scott Kazmir  5.94  5.06  1.65  .362  1.9  9.7  -0.3

Justin Masterson (28, RH), from southwest Ohio’s Beavercreek High School, is the ace of Cleveland’s rotation. He’s been extremely fortunate with home runs so far this year. But if he can maintain his improved strikeout rate, he stands a good chance of keeping his ERA below 3.50. Masterson had a dominating complete-game start against the Reds last year, with nine strikeouts, zero walks and giving up no earned runs and three hits in an 8-1 win.

Scott Kazmir (29, LH) is attempting a recovery from injury and ineffectiveness that in 2012 landed him on the roster of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent leagues, where he compiled a 5.34 ERA in 14 starts against the likes of the Bridgeport Bluefish and Camden Riversharks. This season, he’s been inconsistent at best, pitching brilliantly in some starts and getting blasted in others. Homer Bailey (whose first major league start on June 8, 2007, was against Cleveland) is his counterpart on the mound, Thursday.

CLEVELAND’S BULLPEN

Cleveland’s bullpen ranks tenth in both FIP and ERA in the American League.

After two awful outings last week, Cleveland’s closer Chris Perez did what any struggling pitcher would do. He deleted his twitter account. Perez left yesterday’s game with shoulder pain and just a few minutes ago, Cleveland put him on the 15-day Disabled List.

Cleveland’s set-up reliever, Vinnie Pestano, who you may remember getting lit up for the American team in the World Baseball Classic, has been having his own difficulties after spending two weeks on the DL with elbow tendinitis. So it’s not obvious that Pestano will take over the closer’s duties this week. That responsibility may fall on Amelia High School and Wright State University graduate, Joe Smith or fresh-faced closer-0f-the-future, Cody Allen.

Cleveland has three meh left-handed relievers this weekend, Scott Barnes, Rich Hill and Nick Hagadone. Barnes spent most of April in AAA before being called up and Hill is a well-past-prime veteran. Hagadone was called up this morning to replace Perez on the roster and sports a career 6.02 ERA in the big leagues. Votto fodder, all three.

21 thoughts on “Series Preview: Buckeye State Battle

  1. After yesterdays debacle I learned a few things. 1. Don’t get too excited about a win and 2. Don’t get too angry after a loss because at the end of the day, Dusty Baker will make stupid decision after stupid decision in the playoffs..This team has a 0% of winning the World Series as long as he is the manager. If the Reds went out and got Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout at the deadline they still wouldn’t win anything.

  2. Really fun reading, Steve. My only quibble would be your description of the Browns as “disappointing.” Your kindness and restraint are laudable, but as a long-time Browns fan, I’ll say this: they have managed to permanently end my NFL fandom. Also, I do fear the Indians and every other team with a winning record.

    • @greenmtred: As a lifetime Reds fan and former supporter of the Browns (I no longer follow US pro football at all) I was always of the opinion that Indians fans and Bangals fans were on the whole cut from the same cloth and of the same ilk.

  3. Great writing, and very informative. Thanks, Steve! One small thing: Hannahan wasn’t part of the trade, he was signed as a free agent.

  4. Let’s hope Choo can wake up and get out of his mini slump against his old team.

    Any thoughts on who the Reds will use as the DH later in the week?

    My thoughts:

    RH – Hannahan
    LH – Robinson???

    • @rfay00: Good question. One thing is clear: we’ll be at a disadvantage vs an AL team with a real DH. (I don’t follow AL baseball. Do I remember correctly that a DH can’t change roles, so–for example–Mes can’t DH because he couldn’t then enter the game as a catcher if Hanigan is struck by a meteor or a bounced pitch from Ondrusek?)

      • @Eric the Red: You are correct. Which is why I didn’t put him as my guess for a DH versus LHP.

        Gotta have that catcher on the bench for a 19 inning game, Dustyball rule #1305.

      • @Eric the Red: The new scheduling format works against the NL in general in this regard. In the past if they were going to spend a week to 10 days using the DH they could send a pitcher sown for a bat; or as suggested in the Reds case, bring up a third catcher to free the regular backup to DH.

  5. We have reached Memorial Day, the 1st milestone of the baseball season. With the coming I-71 series between the revitalized Tribe and the surging Redlegs, please indulge me while I share some personal thoughts and observations regarding the season to date.

    A heartfelt thanks to all veterans and current service members and their families who have been willing to sacrifice so much for the people of our nation.

    The Reds’ defense is special. Two big concerns entering the season have been put to rest. Todd Frazier can play 3B with the very best defensive 3B in the league. Shin-Soo Choo’s hard work and physical capabilities have produced solid results in CF. Choo can actually now be considered an asset rather than a liability in CF. I think he needs to continue to work on his communication to avoid OF conflicts, but he now plays a very solid CF. Robinson plays GG caliber defense when he is in LF. Bruce, Cozart, Votto, Phillips, and Hanigan are playing the superior defense we have come to expect from them. There are simply no defensive holes in the Cincinnati lineup.

    The starting pitching rotation is solid, with every starter demonstrating the ability to dominate when they are pitching at their best and the ability to compete when they do not take their best stuff to the mound.

    Dusty will make a shambles and mockery of his lineup construction, bullpen management and player management. This will not change and Dusty will continue to be out-managed and out-manuvered by opposing managers. Let’s hope the Reds’ talent and heart compensates for Dusty’s shortcomings as a manager.

    Choo was an amazing off-season aquisition, but he will not be able to maintain his early season, other-worldly performance. Choo will produce to his career norms from the leadoff position, but Choo’s career norms are very, very good. I do not see the Reds extending Choo (the Boras factor), but I’m holding out a flickering hope that Boras will again over-reach in free agency, resulting in a chance to resign Choo in the off season. The problem becomes becomes alternatives and timing for the Reds if Boras does over-reach and that probably depends on BHam’s development at AAA.

    Ludwick will not return until mid to late August and will not be productive until late regular season, if at all in 2013. His most recent interview regarding his rehab was very telling and honest (albeit disturbing). The LF position is what it is, for better or worse. As much as I like the Big Lutz, he is not major-league ready and needs to get back where he can work on his plate coverage and discipline on an every day basis. The Reds definitely need another potent RH bat off the bench, but it looks like the Reds are going to cast their lot with Heisey for that RH bat. The overriding question becomes how will Dusty manage the lineup once Heisey returns. I’m certainly not going to hold my breath for positive results from Dusty once Heisey returns. The Reds do have an open slot on their 40 man roster, at least until Ludwick returns from the 60-day DL, so some flexibility is available if WJ deems either a minor or major move needs to be made this season.

    How special would an I-71 WS be? The network sports gods would cringe and rail at the prospect, but that would simply make it even more special. Although I envy the payroll capability of the LAA & LAD, I’m really glad the Reds’ management and ownership has more baseball sense and expertise to offset the virtually unlimited financial resourses of some large-market teams.

    Thanks for your indulgence and GO REDS!!!

  6. Did you guys see Garza’s comments about Cueto? Ridiculous. And if that’s how the Cubs felt, and the ump knew it, then it’s ridiculous that he didn’t toss one of their pitchers. He warned both dugouts, then didn’t run anyone even after they buzzed Hanigan and hit Choo.

    • @Eric the Red: Garza is a WLB. No reason to say what he said. All he did there was burn a bridge for a winning team to potentially trade for him at the deadline (not saying the Reds would have).

  7. Does Drew Stubbs get any kind of ovation today and tomorrow?

    I’m thinking it will be a very light boo.

    • @rfay00: I certainly hope Stubbs will get a strong ovation. He was an important part of our first playoff team in a generation, played great defense, helped us to another Division title and never caused any off field problems. He didn’t leave as a free agent, he was traded. He deserves a nice welcome back, and I believe Reds fans are knowledgable enough to give him one.

  8. “The impact of a manager can be exaggerated, but Francona’s credibility has reportedly helped land key free agents like Swisher, Bourn and Reynolds.”

    Yes and that was said about Dusty Baker also. That he had all these relationships with player who would want to come play for him. So far, that has netted us Mark Prior at AAA. Not that we have a lot of room for a free agent, but we have had some. And it seems like all Walt J. on the free agents, no Dusty factor.

    Mesoraco would be my DH this week

  9. I’d like to see us use the DH to give a 3/4 day off to one of the guys whose bats we can’t afford to bench.

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