The Cincinnati Reds (15-29) will look to continue their 2018 dominance of the Chicago Cubs (22-18) this weekend in Great American Ball Park. Despite their poor overall record, the Reds have eviscerated their division foes, going undefeated against the NL Central favorites this year. The two teams will meet for four games in three days, with the opener kicking off tonight at 7:10 p.m. ET.
If you just glanced at Jon Lester’s ERA, you’re probably thinking he’s having another typical season. Despite the positive results, he hasn’t looked like his usual self in 2018, however. He’s struggling to strike out batters — his strikeout rate hasn’t been this low since 2012 — and his control is the worst it’s been since his rookie year in 2007. The left-hander’s velocity has also declined incrementally over the last two seasons and is down to a career-worst 90.7 mph in 2018. He’s also allowing hard-contact at a career-high rate (34.1%) and his groundball rate is down significantly (37.6% vs. a career 46.8%). In other words, Lester looks very hittable and the ERA is bound for regression, barring any significant changes. That could bode well for a Reds offense that has come around since an early-season funk.
Lester vs. Reds
Even while he was posting a respectable ERA, Homer Bailey’s peripherals indicated regression was coming. It has arrived in full force. Over his last four starts, Bailey has lasted only 19 innings and allowed 18 earned runs and 31 hits, including eight home runs. Hitters are barreling up ball after ball against Bailey, with his hard-contact rate topped by only eight other qualified pitchers. He’s also continuing to struggle with missing bats, with his strikeout rate ranking 92nd among 95 qualified pitchers and his swinging-strike rate (7.1%) ranking 89th. While his velocity has been fine, sitting between 92 and 94 on most nights, his secondary pitches simply aren’t getting the job done either. All of his offerings have negative pitch values, according to FanGraphs, with his splitter seeing a particularly large drop in effectiveness. If Bailey doesn’t turn it around, the Reds are going to face an interesting decision on what to do with him. His contract locks him up through 2019, but the team has too many talented arms to let him continue to get shelled for the next year-and-a-half. Chad Dotson believes Bailey’s landing spot should be the bullpen.
Bailey vs. Cubs
RF Ben Zobrist (108 wRC+)
SS Jose Peraza (73 wRC+)
- Some lineup shakeups tonight, as Joey Votto is batting cleanup for the first time since May 15, 2014. There are two sides to this coin, of course. The argument for this move is Votto will (hopefully) have more runners on base in front of him to drive in. The downside is Votto gets fewer plate appearances. Personally, I’d flip Votto and Scooter Gennett, but I’m also not a major-league manager so what do I know?
- Jesse Winker slides down to the six hole, presumably because a left-hander is on the mound.
News, Notes, & Pre-Game Reading
The Reds bullpen has been pretty, pretty good of late.
— Jamie Ramsey (@Jamieblog) May 18, 2018
Dilson Herrera keeps raking in the minor leagues. It will be interesting to see what the Reds ultimately do with him because he has the talent to be a major-league hitter, by all accounts.
— Doug Gray (@dougdirt24) May 18, 2018
Cliff Pennington is now a free agent.
Cliff Pennington has elected free agency. Cliff appeared in 16 games for the #Reds and most recently was at AAA-Louisville where he appeared in 11 games for the Bats.
— Jamie Ramsey (@Jamieblog) May 18, 2018
Stat of the Day
Hitting the ball has always been important, but now we have a way to measure it as way to determine the best batters in the game thanks to Statcast. The Reds have quite a few players capable of hitting some frozen ropes, but no one has done it more consistently than Eugenio Suarez this season. His average exit velocity of 92.2 mph leads the team and ranks 30th in baseball out of 282 players with 50 or more batted balls.
No Reds player has hit the ball harder in an at-bat this year than Jesse Winker, who lined this double at 114.1 mph against the Twins on April 29.
The Reds are playing much better baseball these days, looking much more like the team most people thought would show up when the year began. Better pitching has, for the most part, fueled the recent success. Bailey has been the lone exception to that. Let’s see if he can get his season back on track tonight.
Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.