Get To Know A Series: Cincinnati Reds

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Washington Nationals (23-20) vs. Cincinnati Reds (19-23)

2014 Head to Head Record: 0-0
2013 Head to Head Record: 4-3 Washington

Monday May 19, 7:05p ($1 Hot Dog Night Y’all!) 

Stephen Strasburg (3.48 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 11.6 K/9) v. Mike Leake (3.09 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 5.25 K/9)

Tuesday May 20, 7:05p

Doug Fister (4.76 ERA 6.51 FIP 6.35 K/9) v. Johnny Cueto (1.25 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 9.5 K/9)

Wednesday May 21, 4:05p

Tanner Roark (3.65 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 7.30 K/9) v. Alfredo Simon (2.45 ERA, 4.61 FIP 5.26 K/9)

The Nats and Reds have been similar ships sailing a similar course over the last three years. The two teams were outs away from meeting each other in the NLCS in 2012, took steps back in 2013 (although the Reds made a wild card spot) and are currently floating around injured early in the year. The Reds and Nats are currently down a star pitcher (Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez) and several bats at least for this series. No Jay Bruce or Joey Votto, just like there will be no Bryce, Ryan and Adam.

The Reds however have had the worse end of it, 4 game back of the Nats and under .500. They were outscored 20-4 this Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia, and are prone to giving up chunks of runs when they lose. a 6-1 loss to San Diego las week, as well as an 11-2 loss last Saturday to Colorado. The series presents a key opportunity for the Nats to beat a middling, not awful, team and establish they can muddle through these injuries better than other teams can.

How the Nats win: Despite being over all not great, the Reds starting pitchers in this series matchup with the Nats well. Strasburg, despite freak-outs to the contrary, is pitching very well. He’s currently got the 5th best FIP in baseball, and apart from hiccups is pitching damn near lights out. Those hiccups aren’t even that bad by the way. 4 Home runs? Not awful. He’s also getting BABIP’d to death (.371) so expect that to even out. Johnny Cueto is probably pitching that much better for the Reds, and neither is facing each other.

The other two Reds pitchers, Simon and Leake are not exactly slouches this year. Compare them to their match ups, Doug Fister (just making his third start this year) and Tanner Roark (who has relied on a bit of magic now and then to get out of innings), and I wouldn’t say the Reds have the clear advantage, but they might be slightly better off.

The play against the Reds is similar to that of the Mets. Get a lead early if you can, but if you can’t keep it tied or close and go after the bullpen. The Reds bullpen is, to put it politely, a mess. The Nats have posted 1.5 fWAR, good for 7th best in the majors. The Reds are DFL with a -1.2 fWAR. Even looking at pitchers individually, the Nats have one player with a negative WAR (Ross Detwiler, who’s been coming on a bit) and the Reds have just one reliever, John Broxton, who has a positive WAR.

Some of that is playing on the launching pad that is the Great American Ball Park, but not all of it. The Reds still post a 4.02 ERA and 4.38 FIP from relievers on the road.

The other thing: The Reds don’t score tons of runs. Or, at least, they don’t have to. The 3.57 R/G is good for third worst in the league. Subtracting Joey Votto  doesn’t help that at all. To the extend the Reds might have a slight starting pitching advantage, the Nats pitchers really don’t need to be better than the other staff. They just need to be able to hold down the Reds bats. They can do that a’plenty.

The Nats should treat this series like they did the Mets series. 2 out of 3 is the minimum, 3 out of 3 should be in play and would likely require beating Cueto in the second game.

Three Reds to Watch For: Baseball Reference not only has Johnny Cueto as the best pitcher in the league (by WAR) but the second best player over all. Yeah. Fun with small sample size, but in just 61 plate appearances Devin Mesoraco has a slash line of .500/.541/.870 and a wOBA of .594. That’ll come down, but he has been raking. Zach Cozart is playing very good defense at short, even if his bat is not awake (and it might not ever really be). Look for flashes of leather from him, not big swings.

 

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