Cincinnati and Cleveland play a four-game series in a battle for bragging rights in Ohio and post-season relevance. The first two games will be played at Progressive Field (an ironic name given the team’s logo) and the third and fourth games are at Great American Ball Park.
The Cincinnati-Cleveland series has ended in a tie the past couple seasons, with each club sweeping the games at its home field. The last time the Reds won a game on the shore of Lake Erie, Orlando Cabrera was batting lead-off (going 0-for-5), Laynce Nix was the hitting hero and Nick Masset was healthy enough to pitch.
The Reds have yet to win a game in an American League stadium this season, having dropped two in Boston and three in New York. Designated hitters are supposed to be better at the plate than the pitchers they replace. However the 2014 Reds’ roster is threatening to offer evidence against that theory; their DHs are batting .125 while their pitchers are hitting .124 (that’s looking at just batting average, which you should only do when you’re trying to make a smart aleck point like this.)
Last week, Cleveland traded two key players, sending SP Justin Masterson to St. Louis and SS Asdrubal Cabrera to the Washington Nationals. As pending free agents, both of them were logical trade candidates.
The two teams enter the game with identical 56-55 records. Cleveland is three games out of the AL Wild Card but trails four teams. The Reds are 3.5 out but are behind only Atlanta. [Correction: The Reds are also behind two of the NL Central teams.] It’s an important series for both teams in their efforts to stay connected to the front-running teams.
When Neil Young penned the lyrics “this summer I hear the drumming” about Ohio, he was writing about a vastly different context. But if you’ve ever attended a game in Cleveland, you know they have their own annoying, monotonous drumbeat related to runners in scoring position that dates back to the early 70s. John Adams still pounds the same 26-inch bass drum that he bought for $25 at a garage sale in 1973. He’s missed fewer than one game per year over 41 seasons.
Cleveland ranks fifth in the AL in runs scored, sixth in on-base-percentage and eighth in power (ISO). Their center fielder, Michael Bourn, is on the DL with a left hamstring strain. He may start a rehab assignment this week but is unlikely to play in the series. Nick Swisher left yesterday’s game with soreness in his right wrist.
Carlos Santana has ceded most of Cleveland’s catching responsibilities to Yan Gomes (.283/.326/.469). Santana has played 1B and 3B, mostly at first. Overall, he’s had a good season, despite batting just .234 – his OBP is .374 and he’s slugging .448 with 20 home runs. His walk-rate is 17.7%. But in the last month, Santana has been on a tear. Since the All-Star break he’s hit .375/.500/.768 – that’s right, slugging .768.
The 2014 season has been a coming out party for RF Michael Brantley. He has hit .322/.383/.508 with 16 home runs and 12 stolen bases. His walk-rate (8%) matches his strikeout-rate (8.3%) and Brantley ranks tenth in the major leagues in wRC+ at 152. From a personal financial standpoint, the timing of his breakout was poor. Brantley had just signed a 4-year deal with Cleveland for $25 million. The way he’s playing, he’ll produce that much value for Cleveland in 2014 alone.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall has also blossomed (avoiding the word bloom) this year hitting .305/.370/.473 and putting up a wRC+ of 140.
Cleveland acquired former Reds outfielder, Chris Dickerson, from the Pirates in a trade on July 7. In Dickerson’s limited time with Cleveland, he’s hit well (.300/.375/.460) with two home runs and two stolen bases. Dickerson has played LF for Cleveland and has been sidelined recently, but not DL’ed, with left knee pain.
Cleveland’s starting rotation is 13th in the AL in ERA but first in xFIP. The fielding-independent metrics are more favorable because Cleveland’s starters have suffered through a relatively unlucky .327 BABIP and also because of Cleveland’s porous defense. They are ranked either dead last or next-to-last in every measure.
Probable Pitching Match-ups
The Reds won’t face Trevor Bauer (4.25 ERA/3.86 SIERA) this series. Bauer is noteworthy as the 23-year-old pitcher Cleveland received from Arizona in the Shin-Soo Choo/Drew Stubbs/Didi Gregorius trade.
Monday, 7:05 p.m. in Cleveland
Corey Kluber might well be the best pitcher in the American League. In Kluber’s last start, he squared off against presumptive AL Cy Young leader, Felix Hernandez and threw a two-hit shutout on 85 pitches, striking out eight and walking none. It was Kluber’s second complete game in a row allowing no earned runs. He ranks second in Tom Tango’s Cy Young formula for the American League. Kluber has never faced the Reds, but he has to be licking his chops at the prospect of his third straight complete game and second consecutive shutout.
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. in Cleveland
Josh Tomlin is making his 69th career start, all of which have been for Cleveland. He’s started 3 games against the Reds with a 1-1 record. Tomlin hasn’t made it through the sixth inning in either of his post All-Star break starts. His major weakness has been giving up the long ball – 16 in 86.2 innings. To put that number in perspective, Tomlin and J.J. Hoover have virtually identical HR/9 rates.
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. in Cincinnati
Remember when Johnny Cueto figuratively and literally dropped the ball in last season’s Wild Card play-in game? Well, the next day, Cleveland’s Danny Salazar took the mound against Tampa Bay in the American League’s match-up. Salazar had earned the honor with ten impressive starts (3.12 ERA/2.72 SIERA) in that, his rookie year. Unfortunately, in 2014, Salazar’s much anticipated sophomore season began less well and he was sent back to the minors for more than two months. Since his call-up he’s made three successful starts (2.00 ERA/3.74 SIERA) and on July 27, he rang up the 2-millionth strikeout in major league history (only half of which have been recorded by Aroldis Chapman).
Thursday, 7:10 p.m. in Cincinnati
Left-handed rookie T.J. House has made ten starts for Cleveland. He’s basically a 5-6 inning, extreme ground ball pitcher.
Homer Bailey won his first professional start on June 8, 2007 against Cleveland at GABP. He hasn’t had much success against them recently, including a disastrous start last year when he gave up a season-high seven earned runs.
Cleveland has a solid bullpen. They are 3rd in the AL in ERA, fourth in SIERA and fifth in strikeout-rate. Cody Allen has been their closer since early May. He’s converted 14 of 15 save opportunities since taking over those duties from John Axford. Bryan Shaw has been a capable set-up reliever in the eighth inning. Allen and Shaw pitched on Saturday and Sunday for Cleveland, so they may not be available tonight. Then again, with Corey Kluber pitching, it might not matter.
Let’s play four!