The last time the Cardinals played the Cincinnati Reds (about a month and a half ago), things were very different for both clubs. The Cardinals had yet to lose their starting catcher, shortstop and ace for indefinite periods of time. Alex Reyes was inching closer to a big league return and another season-ending injury. Red Schoendienst was still with us (rest in peace, Red.)
And as for the Reds… well I guess things weren’t that different. The Cardinals got the Reds first series after the long-overdue sacking of Bryan Pryce, master of the 77 F-bomb post-gamer. They replaced him with bench coach – and former Cardinal minor-leaguer – Jim Riggleman who hasn’t fared much better than his predecessor. The Reds are 19-26 since Riggleman took over because even if he were the best manager in the world, the Reds still just aren’t very good.
But enough about the Red Legs. The Cardinals are coming off a wildly disappointing series against the Miami Marlins, a team that has gone out of its way to lose games in this and future years, and a trip to Great American Ball Park could be just what the doctor ordered. The Cardinals are still carrying a perfect record against their division foes this year. So what will it take to keep that record intact?
As I pointed out in my NL Central roundup the other day (see the linked article above), the Reds aren’t really good at anything. Their starters are bad. The offense isn’t great. And the bullpen, while not awful, is still mediocre. There’s not really a ton of analysis to go into other than that, but it’s still helpful to look ahead to what we’ll see in this series. So let’s look at the probables in the rotation and lineup.
- Matt Harvey (vs. Luke Weaver, Friday): WELL, WELL, WELL. Admittedly, I had completely forgotten Matt Harvey joined the Reds this year, ending his tumultuous career in New York. So this is a new wrinkle for me… ah, wait, Matt Harvey is still bad. Despite his fresh surroundings, Harvey is still struggling to find the success he wrangled in 2013 and 2014. He’s thrown more than 5 innings only once in his time with the Reds, and has been prone to give up a few home runs. While he hasn’t been bad enough to give up on this early, he’s still sporting a FIP of 5.00 and an xFIP of 4.30 on the season.
- Luis Castillo (vs. Michael Wacha, Saturday): If there’s a pitcher for the Reds to be optimistic about, it might be the 25-year-old fireballer. Castillo hasn’t been great so far (4.89 FIP), but his xFIP is a much lower 3.99. He strikes out 22 percent of batters he faces, which seems low for a pitcher who throws two above-average off speed pitches. However, Castillo mostly uses his two fastballs – four-seam and sinker – and so far they haven’t been very good. If he could more effectively use his fastball to set up his other offerings, Castillo might be a bright spot for the Reds going forward.
- Anthony DeSclafani (vs. Carlos Martinez, Sunday): While Castillo is younger and has some promise, DeSclafani has been the better pitcher on the season thus far. He sports an even lower FIP (side note: it’s almost pointless to look at these guys’ ERAs because of how bad their team is) at 4.32 and a much lower xFIP of 3.34. So DeSclafani is actually quite good. He’s a little older at 28, and makes his living off of not giving up walks. He’s only giving 5 percent of batters free passes while striking out 25 percent. He throws five pitches, and only one is above average. But that pitch, his slider, comes about a third of the time and is often paired with a fastball that’s pretty close to average. This will be a tougher matchup for the Cardinals than expected if you’re like me and forget his name the second you look away from it.
So how about that lineup? Well, I can tell you one thing off the top of my head: Joey Votto is in it!
- Jesse Winker (L): I kept typing Winker’s name as, “Winkler,” and now I can’t get the image of the Fonz or Barry Zuckercorn running the bases out of my head. Oh, yes, his profile. Winker has been pretty adept bat getting on base this year (.368), but hasn’t don’t much other than that. He did pop a walkoff home run yesterday, but it was only his second home run of the year. His isolated slugging sits at a paltry .094, which means he might hit a few home runs this weekend.
- Tucker Barnhart (S): There’s not a ton to say about Tucker Barnhart. He’s not awful. His wRC+ is a tick below average at 99, but he’s not a terrible on-base guy (.341). He doesn’t hit for much power. I guess that’s it?
- Joey Votto (L): You don’t need a full explainer here. He’s really freaking good. He’s not hitting for as much power as usual but still.
- Scooter Gennett (L): Or as they call him down at the saloon, “Ole’ Four Homer Scooter.” Gennett is having his best season as a big-leaguer, amassing a 157 wRC+ thus far with a .344/.381/.568 slash line. He’s hit 12 home runs already, so he might be Cincinatti’s biggest slugging threat. However, he’s due to regress at some point: his wxOBA is .356 while his wOBA is .404, and his BABIP is sky high at .391.
- Eugenio Suarez (R): I know the Reds lineup isn’t very good, but it’s hard to imagine when the 3-4-5 is Votto-Gennett-Suarez. Suarez is the Reds second-best hitter at this point. His numbers aren’t quite as impressive as Gennett’s: 148 wRC+; 11 home runs to Gennett’s 12; both OBP and SLG are lower. But his wxOBA and wOBA numbers match up pretty closely and his BABIP just sits a tick over .300.
- Adam Duvall (R): Yikes! Duvall’s wRC+ sits at just 71 this year… but he’s also got 10 home runs? By Baseball Savant, Duvall is a top 20 hitter in his percentage of barrels per plate appearance (9.2). So he’s not as bad he has been for sure. Still, he’s not a great hitter on his career, so his power is probably all he’s got to offer.
- Jose Peraza (R): Double yikes.
- Billy Hamilton (S): Triple yikes!
- BONUS: Scott Schebler (L): Schebler is the fourth outfielder I’ve mentioned here, but the Reds do a pretty good job of getting him in pretty regularly. He’s pretty much Eugenio Suarez lite as he’s not quite as good at getting on base and his power isn’t as good. But he is still a power threat: he has 8 home runs and a .189 ISO in 178 plate appearances.
Final (and extra) Thoughts:
- Bullpen bumps! Read John’s obit for Red Schoendienst and our staff’s thoughts on the 2018 draft.
- I’ve always liked thinking of GABP as the, “Great American Launching Pad,” so this would be an ideal weekend for several players to break out of their power slumps. Tommy Pham would be an especially wonderful candidate!
- I like the Cardinals pitching matchups a lot this weekend. The Martinez-DeSclafani – I forgot his name again! – matchup isn’t great after last Martinez’s last outing, but I tend to believe him when he said he was going as hard as he could out of fear of his injury. It didn’t sound as much like an, “I’m still hurting,” situation as much as it was, “I want to pitch, but I have a healthy trepidation of getting hurt at any point in time.”
- Welcome to the STL Bullpen, Mike Bauer, Chris Griesedieck, and Mike Ritter. Looking forward to having y’all on the team.