The Reds occupy the great middle of MLB teams, their defining characteristic being their lack of defining characteristics. They are neither a payroll juggernaut nor a struggling pauper. They are neither an elite team nor a perennial loser. Hell, even their colors are uninteresting; half the teams in baseball rock the red.
But shame on me for thinking that; they've won 90-plus games three of the past four years. They have one of the best, most cerebral hitters in the game locked up until the return of Halley's Comet. They aren't afraid of bold trades or international signings. Point of fact, they're a pretty well-run organization.
For whatever reason, though, the Rockies have matched up very well against the Reds. Since 2009, Colorado is 21-12 against Cincinnati. The only time the Rox have lost the season series was in 2012. Man, 2012 sucked.
Much like the Rockies, the Reds are a little banged up. Both teams are missing their starting right fielder and catcher; Jay Bruce tore his meniscus and will miss all of May. Their starting catcher Devin Mesoraco, off to a blistering start, is on the shelf with a strained hamstring. Flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman is still working his way back from taking a brutal line drive to the face. Starter Tony Cingrani is out with left shoulder tendinitis. Another starter, Mat Latos, has yet to throw a pitch this year.
Perhaps because of these losses, the Reds are an uninspiring 15-18. Their 94 team wRC+ puts them right in the middle of the pack in terms of team hitting in MLB. According to Fangraphs, they lead the league in defense, bumping their collective position player WAR all the way up to sixth.
Their best hitters currently active are Joey Votto and Todd Frazier, who man first and third base respectively. Frazier is having a good power-and-patience year, making him a good all-around player. Joey Votto is utterly unique; an impassive walk machine who can leave the yard in a heartbeat. The Reds have been batting him second recently, an interesting choice; that .413 OBP is a great asset to have atop the order.
Somehow, backup catcher Brayan Pena has ably filled the shoes of Mesoraco. Pena, a career journeyman, is holding an .889 OPS. He has already surpassed his single-season career high in WAR in 66 plate appearances.
Billy Hamilton, perhaps the fastest man in baseball, has been given the keys to center field this season. Unfortunately, his .277 OBP has left him few opportunities to take advantage of his best offensive strength: stealing bases. That's always been the question with Hamilton; could he get on base or would major league pitchers knock the bat right out of his hand?
(via Marc Normandin)
As far as pitching goes, the Reds have solid personnel, but are dealing with some injuries and ineffectiveness. Friday's starter, Johnny Cueto, is a stud no matter how you slice it. Cueto hasn't had an ERA above 3.00 in four years. His 1.31 mark so far in 2014 leads all starting pitchers. He is striking out better than a batter per inning and has allowed a miniscule .153 BABIP. Theoretically that has to rise, but who knows -- it could indicate an innate ability to consistently induce soft contact.
Cueto is second in the league in innings pitched and has worked at least eight innings in each of his last four starts, including two complete games. Jhoulys Chacin has certainly drawn a tough hurler go against in his second start back from the DL.
Alfredo Simon also has an ERA below 2.00, but he doesn't have Cueto's track record. He strikes out only 4.87 batters per nine innings, and his BABIP against of .192 seems even more unsustainable than the ridiculously low figure posted by Cueto.
Homer Bailey is the third pitcher in line for the series. The $100 million man has an unfortunate 5.36 ERA. So far this year he has been victimized by--you guessed it--homers. Twenty percent of fly balls he has allowed have cleared the fences, and that's to say nothing of the .369 BABIP he's allowed. Batters have been crushing him, though his strikeout and walk ratios are still pretty good.
So at the end of the day this is a pretty solid team with some hurt players and some under-performers. They might still have a run in them, but the lineup is pretty light after Votto, and the pitching weak after Cueto. Hopefully the Rockies' history of success against the Reds continues into 2014.
Friday, May 9, 7:10 PM EDT: Jhoulys Chacin vs. Johnny Cueto
Saturday, May 10, 7:10 PM EDT: Jordan Lyles vs. Alfredo Simon
Sunday, May 11, 1:10 PM EDT: Juan Nicasio vs. Homer Bailey