Who are these Reds?
They are surely not the 3-18 Reds of April 22 or the 19-37 Reds of May 29 or the 22-43 Reds of June 9.
By June 9 and 21 games under .500 we were seeing more things we liked out of this team than we saw in April. But we didn’t see a 19-8 stretch coming. That was as unlikely as Tuesday night’s seven-run, two-out, ninth-inning rally to beat the Cleveland Indians 7-4.
Today the Reds are 41-51, 14 games out of first place in the NL Central, still in last place by 1.5 games and 10 games out of the second wild-card spot occupied by the 50-40 Atlanta Braves. Yes, even getting into real contention at this point is a long shot, but at least this stretch has made us curious enough to check the standings.
For almost a month, the Reds are playing like a 90-plus win team. They now have a 1 percent chance to make the postseason according to the projections on fivethirtyeight.com. Who thought that could happen.
The past four weeks — and the four previous to that to a lesser extent — have confirmed what I thought at the beginning of the season. This teams is not half of a rebuild away from contending. This team is only a couple key pieces and more experience away from playing meaningful games in September of 2019. In April, we wondered if a rebuild reboot was needed. It is not. Add a starter or two — not three or four — and tweak the lineup.
The Reds are second in the league in on-base percentage. You can live with two or three players being below average in OBP in a lineup like that. Losing magnifies the weaker links in the lineup, and no lineup is ideal. This team can win with Peraza’s bat and Barnhart’s bat.
A better hitting center fielder would be nice. And I’m all for a move that would be a hitting upgrade that doesn’t sacrifice defense. Billy Hamilton has been a big part of this 19-8 stretch. He scores at a higher rate when he gets on base and right now he’s getting on base.
I don’t expect the Reds to move on from Hamilton yet. They are going to see how the rest of this month goes at the least. If he becomes old Billy again this month, they will trade him if anybody wants him. If not, don’t be surprised if he is the starting center fielder next year. Not saying that’s the best move, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Last week I wrote about lineups I like based on the current roster and a future one based on the assumption that Scooter Gennett and Adam Duvall will be traded to put Scott Schebler, Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel in the lineup every day.
This team can win with Hamilton being average or close to it at getting on base. Imagine a postseason series with Billy getting on base a lot.
Dick Williams is on record that the payroll will increase next year. He wasn’t specific, but if his words didn’t mean that he will go find one or two good starting pitchers then trust will be lost.
The youngsters are growing, and Anthony DeSclafani’s comeback is encouraging. But a No. 1 starter is a must. Williams should not wait to see if DeSclafani, Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle is going to become a shutdown ace. Go get one and maybe you end up with three or four above-average starters and one or two average starters.
The potential for a rotation that reminds us of Cueto, Bailey, Latos, Leake and Arroyo is possible. But to be there next year requires a big addition like the Latos move accomplished.
To get the great No. 1 requires a trade. There are too many factors in trades to speculate with any reasonable certainty. The free agent market is different. Most of the available starters are getting too old for for more than a one- or two-year contract.
But there are three pitchers who will be available at a favorable age:
Patrick Corbin: He’s making $7.5 million for Arizona this season. He was a second-round pick in 2009, is a second-time all-star and turns 29 on July 19. He has a career-low 3.09 ERA this year and is hitting the peak age range for a pitcher. Corbin could be affordable with a good upside as his 2.70 xFIP suggests.
Dallas Keuchel: He will be 31 and pushing the age level I am comfortable with for more than a two-year contract. He’s making $13.2 million with the Astros and unlikely to command much more than that unless he is World Series MVP. His only rough year since he became a full-time starter in 2012 was 2016. He’s been average this season with a 3.95 ERA and a 3.66 xFIP. He’s also been to the top personally (2015 Cy Young winner) and with his team. He would be a good mentor to younger pitchers.
Matt Harvey: Trade him and then try to sign him if he finishes the season well could be a good strategy. Harvey will be 30 at the start of next season and is making $5.6 million this year. He should be affordable. His 3.79 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 11 starts with the Reds and the way he is trending make it tempting for the Reds to keep him and sign him. That decision would be difficult to disagree with, but the trade-then-sign strategy is sound.
The 2018 roster is doing all it can to win. Now it’s up to Dick Williams, Nick Krall and the check writers to give the 2019 roster a chance to be even better.
Reds Lose and Bunting Stinks
The Cincinnati Reds (64-87) tested the fortitude of the fans who continue to pay them some form of attention as they got blasted by the Milwaukee Brewers (86-65) 0-8, Monday night.
Anthony DeSclafani (7-6, 4.92 ERA) continued his struggles as he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings. The Brewers scored three runs in the fifth and four runs in the sixth, but, really, the one they scored in the third was all they needed.
Christian Yelich (4-for-4) became the first player in the history of baseball to hit two cycles in one year against one team.
The most the Reds threatened was in the fourth inning when Scooter led off with a single. A bunt into a fielder’s choice and another single later gave the Reds runners on first and second with one out and Disco up to bat. Yet another bunt was called, which successfully moved over the runners, but Billy Hamilton grounded out to end the threat. That’s it. The Reds were, largely, toothless from the batter’s box, on Monday.
Due to Yelich’s cycle and Scooter’s 1-for-3 performance, they both are now tied for the NL batting title at .318 with 11 games to play.
Fox Sports Ohio loved the Reds’ performance, so much, that the postgame interview on the field was courtesy of Fox Sports Wisconsin as they interviewed Yelich.
Real quick, because the thought is permeating my mind and I have to write about this. Bunting stinks. It was a “whoa buddy” thought whenever sabermetrics and Moneyball first started, but now there are numbers to back it up. Here is a run expectancy chart, as seen on FanGraphs.com:
|Runners||0 Outs||1 Out||2 Outs|
|1 _ _||0.831||0.489||0.214|
|_ 2 _||1.068||0.644||0.305|
|1 2 _||1.373||0.908||0.343|
|_ _ 3||1.426||0.865||0.413|
|1 _ 3||1.798||1.140||0.471|
|_ 2 3||1.920||1.352||0.570|
|1 2 3||2.282||1.520||0.736|
Quick explanation – the numbers above represent the average runs a team can expect based on the base runner situation, given the number of outs in an inning. Notice anything? The number is higher for a runner on first with no outs versus a runner on second with one out. This means that, if a sac bunt is successful, then it actually is more detrimental to a team’s run-scoring ability. That’s math, not an opinion.
The Boston Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored, with 799. The Red Sox also have the second-fewest sacrifice hits in the majors, with six. The New York Yankees are the second in runs scored at 763, but have just 10 sacrifice hits (5th least in MLB). The Cleveland Indians have scored the third most runs at 752 and have 22 sacrifice hits, which is more than double the Yankees, but still bottom half of MLB. The Reds have scored 672 runs, 127 less than the Red Sox, but lead the world in sacrifice hits with 47. Now I am no major league manager, I know this, but it just does not equate. Stop. Bunting.
The Reds and Brewers do it again tomorrow. I’ll be watching and tweeting (@jefffcarr) and also follow @lockedonReds, if you haven’t already done so. We’ll be with you, when the calendar turns to the offseason, so keep it tuned here!
Catching You Up on the Reds
The Cincinnati Reds (64-86) starting pitching allowed one run in three starts, but the Chicago Cubs (87-62) took two-out of-three over the weekend in the Windy City.
Luis Castillo (10-12, 4.52 ERA) showed another flash of ace stuff on Sunday in the lone Reds win. He tossed 6.2 innings of one-run baseball. He only struck out two, but he limited one of the best lineups in the NL to four hits. Castillo’s outing was indicative of the Reds’ rotation, as a whole.
Cody Reed, once again, made a start and didn’t get his first career win, though he didn’t lose either. He tossed five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks, while fanning 10 Cubs. Manager Jim Riggleman decided to pull Reed after he threw 91 pitches, bringing in Sal Romano (7-11, 5.43) who allowed a single, solitary run, which was enough to beat the Reds.
Matt Harvey was the other tough luck start for Cincinnati, this weekend. He got a no decision after six shutout innings in which he struck out six and allowed just four hits. His quality start was smashed when David Hernandez (5-1, 2.65) allowed three runs in the seventh, earning his sixth blown save of the year. Fatigue may be playing a factor for Hernandez as he has a 6.30 ERA in his last 10 appearances. His ERA has climbed from 1.89 to 2.65 in that time span.
Baseball is a team sport, though, and the losses, while they can be pinpointed to an inning in each game, aren’t all on the relief pitching. The bats were averaging just a shade under five runs per (4.75) in their last dozen games, but were held to four runs, total, for the weekend, in Chicago. Cincinnati lived (four homers) and died (no other RBI) by the long ball, this weekend, with four solo shots hit out of Wrigley. Jose Peraza and Joey Votto continue the most unlikely home run race in the Reds lineup as they both hit their 12th on Friday, while Scott Schebler (17) and Phil Ervin (Seven) went yard on Sunday.
Scooter Gennett endured a 1-for-8 weekend and saw his average dip, slightly, to .318. He still leads the National League for the batting title, though, as Christian Yelich’s average dipped to .313. Scooter gets three more chances for revenge against his old team, coming up, so he may be able to bump that number up.
Speaking of what’s next, let’s take a look at the series with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Anthony DeSclafani has been sputtering, down the stretch this year and will look to flip the script in game one at Miller Park. Here’s a look at Disco’s rough stretch through his last five starts, courtesy of baseball-reference.com:
He’s given up quite a few hits over this span and most of these starts can be broken down into an inning, or two, each time where the opposition strings together some hits to blow the score wide open. His last start, he had a perfect game going through three, only to see the Dodgers slap two runs on in the fourth and four runs in the fifth. His season stats show that, due to his xFIP being 4.08, he pretty much has been exactly what his ERA says he is and isn’t getting all that unlucky.
He’ll be opposed by Wade Miley, whose just been a revelation for Milwuakee. In 13 starts, he has a 2.23 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). In 13.1 innings against the Redlegs, Miley has allowed just two earned runs while striking out 10.
Michael Lorenzen (3-1, 3.21) makes his long awaited return to the rotation in another 180 degree decision by the Reds, in 2018. Just a week back I recall hearing Riggleman say something to the effect of “We like what he gives us out of the bullpen” to a question of whether Lorenzen will start a game in 2018. Now, sure enough, here he is, a probable starter. Reminiscent of the team’s handling with Winker, and Harvey, and Senzel…anyway.
This is Lorenzen’s first start since in just over three years. His last one was against the Giants on September 16, 2015. His rookie year in the majors was the only year he pitched out of the rotation, making 21 starts and compiling a 5.45 ERA. He averaged right at five innings per outing but had an alarming 1.42 strikeouts per walk (78 Ks to 55 BBs). Granted, it was his first venture into the starting rotation, and most Reds fans think he has earned another shot, but the numbers do not support the revisionist history that some have ascribed to Lorenzen being a rotation stalwart. As we’ve said many times this year, though, let’s put him out there and see what he has.
His opponent on the mound will be Chase Anderson. The man thought by most to be the Milwaukee ace (except when Jimmy Nelson is healthy) has a 9-7 record with a 3.85 ERA. He’s not pitched more than five innings in any start this month, but he also hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of those starts. Back on August 20th, he held the Reds to two runs on two hits (both home runs) in six innings enroute to his fifth win of the year. He is 5-1 in his career against Cincinnati.
Matt Harvey (7-8, 4.67) will look to continue the success he had in his last outing, and maybe get his record back to .500, in the series finale. He’s 1-2 in five-career starts against the Brew Crew, with a 5.26 ERA. His last outing, a memorable game of 2018 for both the Reds and the Brewers, he allowed five runs on 11 hits in four innings.
Opposite him will be future-Red (hopefully, maybe) Gio Gonzalez (8-11, 4.44). In two starts, as a Brewer, he is 1-0, having allowed three earned runs in 10.1 innings of work. In his last start, he got a no-decision, pitching 4.2 innings and allowing the three runs, against the Pirates.
Locked on Reds will keep you covered during the doldrums of September baseball. Check out @lockedonReds and @jefffcarr on Twitter for your Reds social media fix.
The 2018 Reds Will Miss the 2018 Dodgers
The Cincinnati Reds (63-84) dropped the series finale with the Los Angeles Dodgers (79-67) by an 8-1 score, Wednesday afternoon at Great American Ballpark.
Anthony DeSclafani (7-5, 4.80 ERA) failed to pitch at least five innings for the third-straight start. The Dodgers touched him up for six runs on five hits and three walks. Disco actually got out to a roaring start, retiring LA in order the first time through the lineup. It unraveled the second time around, however, following a Joc Pederson home run. He changed his strategy, trying to hit the corners, but failed, leading to multiple at-bats where the hitter was ahead. LA strung together hit after hit, leading to Disco getting pulled with two outs in the fifth.
Jose Peraza provided the lone fireworks for the Reds lineup with a first inning solo shot, his 11th of the year. Billy Hamilton added a double and a triple, but was stranded at third, both times, as the Reds gave the Dodgers free pizza (aka, the Reds struck out 11 times).
Scooter Gennett managed one hit in four tries, keeping his season batting average at .321.
The Reds finish 6-and-1 against the Dodgers in 2018. They have never gone an entire year undefeated against LA, so a win on Wednesday would have been historic, but all things considered, Cincinnati liked its matchups with their old NL West rivals. They hit .280, as a team, against the Dodgers, with 34 runs scored to go along with a team ERA of 3.14. The Reds racked up 63 strikeouts in the 63 innings pitched against the Dodgers.
Scooter will personally miss the LA pitching staff as he compiled 16 hits (.727 batting average) in five games played. He also had two homers and 10 RBI.
Also of note, all three former Dodgers (Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, and Brandon Dixon) homered in the season series against their old team. Schebler even had a pair of dingers.
Luis Castillo dominated the pitching performances for the Reds in this season series. He started a pair of games, pitching 12.1 innings, and compiled 17 strikeouts. He won both his starts, allowing just nine total base runners (though they got at him with three homers).
The Redlegs hit the road again with an off day, Thursday. They will play a weekend series against the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs. We’ll see if they can play spoiler as the Cubs lead is razor-thin over Milwaukee.
Keep your eye on @lockedonReds and @jefffcarr on Twitter!