The ink from the Cincinnati Reds’ improbable and hard-earned 51-44 record is dry in our scorebooks. The Reds overcame a case of little town blues to finish strong in June and July. As Bryan Price’s team wakes up today in the city that doesn’t sleep, they are somehow only 1.5 games out of first place.
Start spreadin’ the news.
As a Reds fan, it’s hard not to be excited about the next ten weeks. This weekend’s series in old New York marks the symbolic beginning of the second half of the season.
And yet, the Reds face the grim reality of taking the field without Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips for half of those ten weeks, maybe more. When the Reds played much of May without Votto and Jay Bruce, they finished dead last in the league in runs scored. Without reinforcements, the impact of Votto and Phillips’ lengthy absences won’t melt away.
And while the Reds’ competition is flawed, it remains daunting. Not only do they face the three-headed Central division hydra of St. Louis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, they also confront those three teams plus the Dodgers, Giants, Nationals and Braves for Wild Card slots.
To be king of the hill, the Reds will need to rely squarely on their outstanding starting pitching and defense, which anchored their first half success. To reach the top of the heap, the bullpen will have to resolve its seventh-inning issues. And most importantly, to get to the top of the list, they’ll have to figure out how to score enough runs to win. Only then will the Reds will make it there. To the post-season.
Are you ready to be a part of it? The anxious scoreboard watching, the stretch drive, and the pulse-quickening pennant race.
A brand new start of it.
The Reds second-half adventure begins with a three-game series this weekend in Yankee Stadium. The New York Yankees are 47-47 and five games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Least.
The last time the two teams met in Yankee Stadium, in May 2012, Sean Marshall entered the series as the Reds’ closer. But as the weekend went on, manager Dusty Baker could no longer resist the lure of watching Aroldis Chapman strike out those hitters in the ninth inning. It was that Sunday when Aroldis Chapman whiffed Yankee pinch hitter Andruw Jones, earned his first save for the Reds and began our Aroldis Addiction.
And just as they did back in 2012, the Yankees today have the oldest roster in the major leagues, averaging 31 years. The Reds are 10th youngest, at a 28.3 year average. Derek Jeter (have you heard, he’s retiring) is the most senior of Yankee citizens checking in at 40. Although he’ll leave baseball with nearly 3,500 hits, the Captain’s gift basket isn’t as compelling as it used to be.
This season marks the first time in 15 years the Yankees haven’t flashed the highest payroll in baseball. The LA Dodgers, aided by a lucrative local media contract, are outspending the Yanks by a cool $30 million. Don’t bother taking up a collection for the Steinbrenner family. The Bronx Bombers are still pumping out a $209 million payroll, $20 million over the league’s luxury tax limit. Meanwhile the Reds, who are spending a record amount themselves, are getting by on just more than half that.
Allan Huber Selig can babble about competitive equity all he wants. But as he ambles gently into retirement (it counts this time) on his $22 million annual salary, I hope the commissioner will reflect on this: In the past ten years, the New York Yankees have spent $1.3 billion more on payroll than the Cincinnati Reds. /rant over
The 2014 Yankees and Reds offenses are similar – both in the bottom half of the major leagues in hitting. The Yankees are #22 in runs scored, the Reds are #20. The Yankees are #21 in isolated power, the Reds are #15. The Yankees are #19 in on base percentage, the Reds are #23. Overall, in weighted runs created, the Yankees are #24 and the Reds are #22. Their line-up is heavily left-handed.
Brett Gardner (.279/.353/.424) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.282/.346/.400) are having excellent seasons. Other bats that were counted on for big production have fallen short. Two expensive free agent signings, catcher Brian McCann (.239/.294/.377) and outfielder Carlos Beltran (.216/.271/.401), have slumped. Another outfielder, Alfonso Soriano, who was given 238 at bats, was so bad at the plate he’s been released, from a bottom-third offense. Derek Jeter, has a puny OPS of .646.
At the start of the season, the Yankees expected their starting rotation to be C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda. Sabathia is essentially out for the year with a knee injury. Nova had Tommy John surgery in April. Pineda hasn’t pitched in almost three months and is out at least until August. Tanaka, after three brilliant months, is out for six weeks at least and may be facing Tommy John surgery.
If all this happens, you end up trading for Jeff Francis and putting him on your active roster.
Probable Pitching Match-ups
The Reds miss Yankee legends Shane Green and Chase Whitley in this series. While New York misses Homer Bailey and Mat Latos who will start the following two games in Milwaukee.
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Aside from being the player his teammates would choose to find out about the latest news, David Phelps is an average MLB pitcher. Extremely average. In his third season as a part-time starter for the Yankees, Phelps’ control has been poor, his strikeout rate continues to decline and his fly ball rate is astronomical. Clear advantage for the Reds and Mike Leake.
Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
Brandon McCarthy was recently acquired by the Yankees from the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is McCarthy’s second start in pinstripes and his first in the House that Steinbrenner Money and New York Taxpayers Built. McCarthy is sort of the the anti-Simon, as non-run metrics rate him much higher than run-metrics. He’s got great control and a league-average strikeout rate. What also stands out is that McCarthy is an extreme ground-ball pitcher.
Brandon McCarthy is an interesting guy. First of all, he shares hit in head as a Google prompt with Aroldis Chapman. He credits sabermetrics with saving his career. He’s been described as the funniest player in baseball. And he’s battled the hegemonic heterosexist normativity of the Kiss Cam.
The Reds did hit McCarthy pretty well in Arizona in late May. Skip Schumaker got two hits that game, so if Skip has made his gritty return from the DL by then, expect him to get a start on Saturday.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
Hiroki Kuroda is the lone healthy survivor of the Yankee’s Opening Day starting rotation. And he’s 39 years old. Kuroda had an apparent late-season swoon last year, which some attributed to his age and tiring. But a deeper look at his stats shows he was pitching just as well or even better in the second half. Still, even at his normal level, he should be no match for Johnny Béisbol.
David Robertson is a tremendous closer. He’s converted 23 of 25 save opportunities (the same number of blown saves as Mariano Rivera had before the AS break last season). Robertson has the second highest strikeout rate in baseball (44.7%) after Chapman (54.1%). And his walk rate is lower than the Cuban Missile’s. The Reds need to get the scoring thing done before the top of the ninth this weekend.
Make that before the top of the eighth. Setting-up Robertson is rookie Dellin Betances, who has been equally dominant as Robertson. Betances strikes out 40.8% of batters he faces, fourth best in the major leagues. Manager Joe Girardi uses Betances a lot. Twenty five of his forty appearances have been longer than one inning. Betances’ 55.1 IP ranks third in the majors among relievers.
Adam Warren is another RHP who has pitched well in the Yankee bullpen. As for the LOOGY who will give up a home run to Jay Bruce, that would be veteran Matt Thornton, formerly of the White Sox.
Bring it home, Frank.
And for the Liza fans.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.