The Reds play four games against Atlanta in GABP this weekend. Prior to The Second Collapse, this series was shaping up as a head-to-head battle for a Wild Card slot. Now it’s sort of head-to-ankle. Atlanta is a difficult team to figure out. After the All-Star break, they lost eight in a row including being swept by the Padres (sounds vaguely familiar) and dropped twelve of fifteen. They rallied, swept Oakland and won 2 of 3 in Pittsburgh. So is Atlanta hot or cold coming in to Cincinnati? Doesn’t really matter, does it. Their bullpen won’t set the scoreboard on fire every night.
Atlanta swept the Reds in a three-game series in April (two one-run losses).
Atlanta is middle-of-the-pack at the plate. They’ve actually scored fewer runs than the Reds overall, but more since the All-Star break. Despite the awkwardness, they ditched Dan Uggla and replaced him with a platoon of Tommy La Stella and Phil Gosselin. They picked up Emilio Bonifaco at the trade deadline, but he hasn’t played much or hit well.
Tonight’s game presents Atlanta with a sad and strange dilemma. Gosselin usually plays and bats second against LHP, but with David Holmberg being the SP in question, you wonder how many times through the lineup the Reds will actually have a lefty on the mound.
Justin Upton (.287/.364/.520), Freddie Freeman (.296/.387/.490) and Evan Gattis (.277.329/.516) are having excellent seasons. Thanks to a strong on-base-percentage, Jason Heyward (.269/.352/.390) has been above average as a leadoff hitter. He also leads the major leagues in DRS (defensive runs saved) with 32. Compare that to the Reds leaders in DRS, Zack Cozart (17) and Billy Hamilton (10).
It’s not Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, but Atlanta’s starting pitchers rank fourth in the NL in ERA and eighth in xFIP. Not bad for a staff that was patched together by general manager Frank Wren the week before the season started.
Projected top-of-the-rotation starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost the last week of March to Tommy John Surgery. Wren quickly signed free agent Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract. Wren also signed former Reds ace, Aaron Harang, who exercised an opt-out clause during spring training with Cleveland.
Probable Pitching Match-ups
The Reds won’t face Alex Wood (2.83 ERA/3.44 SIERA) and Atlanta misses Johnny Cueto (2.24 ERA/3.17 SIERA).
Thursday, 7:10 p.m.
Julio Teheran and David Holmberg are both 23 years old and starting tonight’s game. That is everything they have in common. Otherwise they are opposites. The (L) after Holmberg’s name might indicate many things. In this case, it means he’s left-handed. Teheran pitched eight shut-out innings against the Reds in April.
Friday, 7:10 p.m.
This is one of those pitching match-ups where looking at the respective ERAs could produce overconfidence. Mike Minor’s ERA is awful but his SIERA shows the lefty is actually not pitching that poorly. Mat Latos has a glittering ERA but the underlying numbers shout that we shouldn’t trust that with all our heart.
Saturday, 7:10 p.m.
Pretty even match-up of two better-than-average starters. Ervin Santana is having a solid year for Atlanta. The Reds scored four runs off Santana back in April, one driven in by some guy named Votto who had two hits and a walk.
Sunday, 1:10 p.m.
Aaron Harang and Alfredo Simon are similar pitchers. Their 2014 ERAs are low relative to the fielding-independent metrics. Both have given their respective teams a larger number of quality starts than anyone had reason to expect. Harang’s most recent start against Pittsburgh was his 21st quality start of the season — he trails only Johnny Cueto (23) in that category in the NL.
Harang is an interesting case. His handsome ERA for the Dodgers in 2012 (3.61) covered up the underlying warning signs (4.94 SIERA) that made his ERA for Seattle in 2013 (5.76) somewhat unsurprising. However, Harang had actually experienced a rebound in advance metrics in 2013 (4.14 SIERA) which foreshadowed that he might not be awful in 2014. After four appearances in spring training for Cleveland, Harang was told he wouldn’t make their major league team. He exercised an opt-out clause in his contract, took advantage of the shredding elbow ligament epidemic and signed with Atlanta.
Craig Kimbrel is the right-handed version of Aroldis Chapman. Same age (26). Same otherworldly ability to strike out hitters. And same nearly league-average save conversion rate. Kimbrel’s is 90.2% for 2014 and 90.2% for his career. Chapman’s conversion rate the past three seasons is 89.5%. The major league average for closers is 88.8%.
David Carpenter and Jordan Walden are strong set-up relievers. Atlanta acquired James Russell from the Cubs at the deadline to serve as their capable lefty specialist.