The San Diego Padres (18-21) arrive in Cincinnati for a three-game series against the Reds (17-19) beginning today. Although the teams have similar records, the Reds have a positive run differential (+10 runs) while the Padres’ differential is negative (-23 runs). The Padres are 6-10 on the road while the Reds are 10-8 at home. The Padres had an off-day on Monday, after finishing a home stand winning three games in a row against the Miami Marlins.
The only surprise about the Padres’ fourth place standing in the NL West division is that they aren’t in last place, where virtually every pre-season forecast projected them to finish. Oh, and the Padres had a dinosaur throw out the first pitch last week.
No one will mistake the Padres lineup for the Colorado Rockies team that just visited GABP. The Rockies ranked first in every offensive category in the National League. The Padres rank 14th in runs scored (Reds #12), 15th in wRC+ (Reds 7th), 15th in OBP (Reds 7th), 15th in AVG (Reds 10th) and 13th in power, whether measured by HR or ISO. The Reds are 9th in home runs and 8th in ISO.
On the other hand, in their last three games against the Marlins, the Padres scored 24 runs, including 5 earned runs in 5 innings against Jose Fernandez. In the previous ten games the Padres had scored 23 runs.
Here’s the Padres’ likely lineup, although manager Bud Black moves hitters around quite a bit:
Without a doubt, the hot bat in the Padres lineup is left-fielder Seth Smith (.331/.419/.575; wRC+ 179). The former outfielder for the Rockies and A’s was traded by Oakland to San Diego this off-season for reliever Luke Gregerson. His quick start has been inflated by a lucky BABIP (.386 compared to .308 for his career) and his line drive rate is below average and declining. Before 2014, Smith has primarily been used in a platoon because of his severe R/L split. He’ll face three right-handed starters from the Reds, his best side.
Yasmani Grandal, one of two former Reds who were part of the Mat Latos trade and still on the Padres roster, is off to a so-so start (.218/.313/.425) to 2014. While Yonder Alonso, the other former Red has begun 2014 in a terrible slump (.200/.241/.272).
Chase Headley has been among the best and worst hitting third basemen in the league in the span of two seasons. He returned Saturday after a trip to the DL with a strained right calf and promptly homered off of Carlos Marmol. Headley has been the subject of trade talks since his outstanding 2012 season where he hit .286/.376/.498, with 31 home runs, 115 RBI and 17 stolen bases. Tony Liao suggested Headley as a possible target for the Reds this past off-season, but with the emergence of Todd Frazier’s bat, that seems a remote possibility now.
Outfielder Carlos Quinten has been sidelined all year with a knee bruise and, according to Sports Illustrated, is expected to be reactivated today. When effective, Quinten provides a big bat to the Padres lineup. It’s far from clear if Quentin is ready to offer that kind of a lift right now. He’s struggled so far in his minor league appearances.
With former pitcher Bud Black as their manager, it’s not surprising that the Padres once again are led by their pitching staff. The team ranks second in the National League in ERA (Reds 8th) and are fourth in xFIP (Reds 11th). Their pitchers are middle-of-the-pack in striking out hitters and are the second stingiest in the league when it comes to walks. And before you assign all the credit to the dimensions of Petco Park, remember the Padres moved the fences in a year ago and now the park rating is only slightly favorable to pitchers at 98, with 100 being neutral. By comparison, GABP rates 107.
Probable Starting Pitchers
The key, which includes the current NL average for starting pitchers, for the stats in the charts:
- ERA (average number of earned runs given up over nine innings, NL: 3.59);
- xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching, assumes normal BABIP and home runs based on fly ball rates, scaled to ERA, NL: 3.60);
- SIERA (skill-interactive ERA; further refinement of xFIP taking into account hit-ball percentages, weights strike outs, NL: 3.68);
- K% and BB% (percentage of strikeouts and walks per plate appearance, NL: 20.4% and 7.1%);
- SwStr% (percentage of total pitches the batter swings and misses, NL: 9.2%)
The Reds will face the top three pitchers in the Padres starting rotation.
Tuesday, 7:10 pm
Andrew Cashner, the Padres presumed #1 pitcher, began the season with four excellent starts, including a 1-hit shutout of the Detroit Tigers in a game where he struck out 11. This prompted a short-lived boomlet in opinion that the Padres may have actually won the unusual trade with the Cubs back in 2012 where the Cubs swapped Cashner one-for-one for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. But the 27-year-old Cashner hasn’t made it past six innings in any of his last four starts and his walk and strikeout rates are returning to their past levels. You can see from his well-below-average SwStr% that his fastball velocity doesn’t translate into many swings and misses.
Wednesday, 7:10 pm
Ian Kennedy has performed like the real #1 pitcher for the Padres. His strikeout and walk %s are nearly the same as Johnny Cueto’s this season, producing a comparable set of forward-looking overall metrics (xFIP and SIERA). Kennedy previously pitched for the Yankees and Diamondbacks. He was part of the three-way trade between the Yankees-DBacks and Detroit Tigers that included the names: Curtis Granderson, Max Schurzer, Austin Jackson and Edwin Jackson.
After a promising season with Arizona, when Kennedy went 21-4 (xFIP 3.22) and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting, the 29-year-old has slumped severely, being sent from the DBacks to the Padres last year at the trade deadline as Arizona was in search for relief pitching down the stretch. Kennedy’s career has been revived with the Padres.
Thursday, 12:35 pm
The 27-year-old Tyson Ross is in his first year of arbitration with the Padres under Super 2 status. He’s coming off an outstanding season with the Padres (xFIP 3.20). He’s somewhat of a strikeout pitcher, with a well-above-average swinging strike rate, fueled mostly by his slider. Ross is basically a two-pitch starter (fastball-slider) but his second pitch is one of the best in baseball at achieving whiffs. Think of Ross as a solid #3 or #4 pitcher.
The Padres bullpen has been a team strength in 2014. Their ERA (2.13) and FIP (3.01) are both second in the NL. The Reds are 14th in both categories (4.70 and 4.51 respectively). But they are due for a major luck correction as their BABIP (.264) and LOB % (80.6%) and HR/FB (5.5%) are all due for corrections toward the frowning side of the scoreboard.
Huston Street (30) is the Padres closer. Street has amassed 245 saves over his career and has converted 11 of 11 this season. The Padres’ key set-up relievers are RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Dale Thayer, RHP Nick Vincent and LHP Alex Torres. Benoit, who closed for the Detroit Tigers for a good part of last season, has continued to pitch well for the Padres.
On paper, this series sets up well for the Reds, who won 2 out of 3 when San Diego visited Cincinnati last August. The Reds start this week six games behind the Brewers and a half game behind the Cardinals. With a sweep of the Padres, Bryan Price’s team could make up some ground on the division leaders.
With Cueto pitching the second game and the fading Alfredo Simon (Mat Latos, we need you…) pitching the third, Mike Leake’s start in the first game may hold the key to a series win. Leake was born in San Diego and went to high school at nearby Fallbrook Union.