The Los Angeles Dodgers are in Cincinnati today to play a four-game series at GABP. If it seems like you just read a detailed series preview for the Dodgers, that’s because you did. Two weeks ago, the Reds played a three-game series with the Dodgers in L.A. The Reds lost the first two games (Ryu and Greinke) before winning the finale against Kershaw. Have I mentioned the Reds beat Clayton Kershaw?
Since that game, the Dodgers lost series to the Pirates and White Sox and find themselves barely over .500 (33-31), trailing the San Francisco Giants by 9.5 games in the NL West.
The Dodgers have been above average at offense. They lead the NL in wRC+ and are in the top five in runs scored, home runs, isolated power, slugging, walks and on-base-percentage. Their detractors will point to inconsistency, injuries, underachievement and lack of chemistry. Yet, they’ve scored what they’ve scored.
Injuries have changed the Dodger lineup that the Reds faced a few days ago. Carl Crawford is on the disabled list and starters Yasiel Puig and Dee Gordon sustained hip injuries on Saturday and neither started yesterday. Puig and Gordon are considered day-to-day for this series. Their replacements are Scott Van Slyke and Chone Figgins. Crawford (OF), and starters A.J. Ellis (C) and Juan Uribe (3B) are on the disabled list.
The move of Dee Gordon from shortstop to second base has given the Dodgers a real spark at the top of their lineup. Gordon leads the major leagues in stolen bases with 36 (Billy Hamilton is second with 23). Gordon has always been known as a slick fielding shortstop, but his solid on-base-percentage has surprised many analysts.
Yasiel Puig is actually hitting better (.335/.430.591) this year than last year. He has the highest wRC+ of any National League hitter who doesn’t play home games in Colorado.
The Dodgers starting rotation is led by two aces, Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Overall, their staff ranks third in the NL in ERA (Reds fourth), second in SIERA (Reds fifth), fourth in strikeouts (Reds eighth) and second best in walks allowed (Reds seventh). Fortunately, the Reds will miss Kershaw in this four-game series. FYI, Kershaw’s salary is a modest $4 million this year, it jumps to $30 million next year and goes up even farther after that.
Probable Pitching Match-ups
The stats in the charts:
- ERA (average number of earned runs given up over nine innings)
- FIP (fielding independent pitching, normalize BABIP, scaled to ERA)
- SIERA (skill-interactive ERA; normalize BABIP and HR/FB, accounts for ground-ball %, weights Ks)
- FB Vel (fastball velocity)
- SwStr% (percentage of total pitches the batter swings and misses)
- K% and BB% (percentage of strikeouts and walks per plate appearance)
Dan Haren is pitching on a one-year ($10 million) contract for the Dodgers, after struggling with the Washington Nationals last season. Haren is three years removed from an outstanding season. In 2011, pitching for the LA Angels, Haren finished seventh in the AL Cy Young voting. As you can see, he no longer has much of a fastball and relies more on an extremely low walk-rate. He’s a solid starter, but if the Reds are going to win this series, this is a game they must have.
This start is shaping up to be the final one for Tony Cingrani for a while. I say that not because I think it’s the right decision. But the writing is clearly on the clubhouse wall. It’s no accident that Mat Latos’ last rehab start is timed to fall on the same day as Cingrani’s. Bryan Price seems to have lost confidence in his LOOGY specialists, with decent reason. Cingrani has plenty of experience pitching in the bullpen and he could move immediately into high leverage situations.
The young Reds lefty hasn’t been able to repeat his impressive rookie season. That’s in part because his strikeouts are down and walks are up. It was also foretold by his FIP (3.78) in 2013. Cingrani was crazy lucky with BABIP (.241) last year and as that number has returned to a normal level (.291) it has taken a toll on the number of earned runs he’s allowed. His strikeout rate is still above league average, though. If he could cut down on the walks, his production would improve dramatically.
The Reds didn’t face Josh Beckett in the L.A. series. The day before it started, the 34-year-old Beckett had pitched a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies. Beckett, who is closing in on 2000 major league innings pitched, has definitely performed better than expected. Coming into the season, the Dodgers didn’t really expect much because he was recovering from a major shoulder injury and surgery to fix it that had limited him to 43 innings last season.
Beckett began his major league career in 2001 pitching for the Florida Marlins. You may remember that he and Dontrell Willis led the Marlins to the World Series Championship in 2003. Beckett shut-out the New York Yankees in the series Game Six finale. Beckett was traded to the Red Sox for current Dodger teammate Hanley Ramirez and starter Anibal Sanchez. Beckett pitched in Boston from 2006-2012. In 2007, he won four post-season games for the Red Sox, including Game One of the World Series sweep over the Colorado Rockies.
Mike Leake continues to have his best season for the Reds and happily the advanced metrics back it up. Leake has continue to improve his fastball velocity and control. His ground ball and strikeout rates continues to climb, while his walk-rate, which has always been outstanding, is at a career low. The spunky right-hander still doesn’t possess much of a make-‘em-swing-and-miss portfolio, much like his mentor Bronson Arroyo. But he’s been successful at pitching to contact and lowering the HR/9 rate that plagued the first few years of his career.
Hyun-jin Ryu out-dueled Johnny Cueto in the last series, holding the Reds without a hit or walk through the seventh inning. The Reds scored three runs off of Ryu (and Brian Wilson) in the eighth, but the Dodgers held on to win 4-3. Ryu may be a notch below Kershaw and Greinke, but there’s nothing lucky about the numbers he’s put up both this year and last. He’s a bona fide, way-above-average big league pitcher.
As anyone but the most in-denial Cincinnati Reds fan would have expected, Johnny Cueto‘s numbers are returning from other-worldly to merely super-human levels. Cueto has made it to the seventh inning only once in his last four starts. And he’s given up four or more earned runs twice in that span. He has kept his strikeout and walk numbers in line, but the luck dragon is finally – albeit with a long way to go – getting paid. Cueto is still sporting an unsustainable BABIP (.196). When Cueto faced the Dodgers and Ryu on May 26, he went 6.1 innings and gave up four runs, one earned. He only struck out three and walked two.
If the Reds want to win this series, I’d recommend they not wait until Thursday to do it. Zack Greinke has been one of the top pitchers in MLB again this year. The Reds did score three runs off of Greinke two weeks ago, bookending the pitcher’s long streak of not giving up more than two earned runs. Devin the Destroyer’s two-run homer was the big blow. But Greinke and the Dodgers got the better of Alfredo Simon and the Reds, 6-3. The Dodgers pitcher struck out eleven Reds while walking none.
The Dodgers relievers, despite including the services of Brian Wilson ($10 million), Brandon League ($7.5 million) and J.P. Howell ($5.5 million) in set-up roles, is performing in the bottom half of NL. They are ranked eleventh in ERA (Reds fourteenth), ninth in ERA (Reds last) and ninth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (Reds twelfth).
Their closer is Kenley Jansen ($4.3 million, first year arbitration). Jansen has saved 17 of 19 opportunities this year. He’s a power-arm with a fastball that averages 94.8 (same as Homer Bailey). Jansen strikes out nearly 40% of the batters he faces. Planning on winning a game with him on the mound in the ninth is not what I’d call prudent.
[By the way, a fun fact: The average fastball velocity of one Aroldis Chapman stands at 100.2 mph.]
The Reds are on a modest winning jag, with a 7-4 record since (and counting) the WIN IN LA OVER KERSHAW. They start this series only 2.5 games behind the Cardinals and 7.5 behind the Brewers. Winning a four-game series is always difficult. When you’re facing Zack Greinke in one of those games, it’s even more challenging. On the other hand, the Reds did sweep the Dodgers in Cincinnati over three glorious nights last summer.