Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reds vs. Astros - an astronomical series preview



The Reds will try to shake off the sting of not being able to close out a series sweep of San Francisco on Thursday. The good news is that despite Thursday’s loss, the Reds have won back-to-back series for the first time this year.

Cincinnati continues its home stand by welcoming in Houston (7-12) in the first meeting of the season between the soon-to-be ex-division foes. Surprisingly, the Astros are fresh off their first divisional series of the season, dropping two of three at Milwaukee.

Here’s a look at what to expect from this three-game set:

Saying not much was expected of Houston in its National League farewell tour would be a bit of an understatement. The Astros have proven to have a couple of intriguing young players, however. Second baseman Jose Altuve is the shortest player in the majors at 5-foot-5 and the second youngest player in the league at just 21, but has turned a lot of heads so far. In a season with nothing to lose, Houston has also found production out of J.D.Martinez and Jordan Schafer by throwing the youngsters into the fire.

Still, the Astros have recently looked more like the team everyone expected coming into the year as they’ve lost seven of their last 10.

Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Mike Leake (0-2, 6.50) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (1-2, 1.42)

Bobbleheads simply don't get much better than this.
The first question that pops into my mind when I think of Wandy Rodriguez is – how is this guy still pitching in Houston? He’s been centered in trade rumors with contenders for the past couple of years and somehow no one has pulled the trigger for him. It’s hard to answer why – Wandy is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball (his 3.28 ERA since 2009 is second only to Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels among lefties) and is off to a strong start this season, especially over his last two outings with a 0.64 ERA.  The Reds have had a decent amount of success against him, though, as he’s just 7-9 with a 4.17 ERA lifetime against the Redlegs.

One might think the Astros are the recipe for Leake to get back on track after a couple of bouncy outings at Chicago and Washington, but Houston ranks sixth in the majors in runs scored (89). Houston’s lineup is so young that there’s very little in the way of a large sample size from anyone on the roster against Leake with the exception of “El Caballo” Carlos Lee – who is an .083 batter in 12 at-bats against Leake.

Speaking of that, this recent ESPN article lists El Caballo as only an “honorary mention” among best nicknames in baseball. Come on now, it doesn’t get much better than El Caballo, right?

Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
Johnny Cueto (2-0, 1.78) vs. Lucas Harrell (1-1, 3.97)

Johnny has been good.
Cueto is coming off a win at Chicago and appears to have taken that next step toward being an ace that we all were hoping from him at the start of the year. He’s struggled against Houston during his career, though, with a 1-5 record and a 4.01 ERA in 10 starts against the Astros. Like we said before, however, these aren’t your daddy’s Colt .45’s. Again, only Lee has more than 10 at-bats against Cueto (.318) so let’s hope the air of mystery helps Johnny get on the right side of the ‘Stros.

Who is Lucas Harrell you ask? Well, he’s a guy who might project to do well in GABP as he’s a groundball pitcher (54.9 percent of batted balls are on the ground against him this year). The former White Sox farmhand was impressive in a cup of coffee with Houston last year (1-1, 3.97) in four starts but he has made just one appearance against the Reds and it was no bueno – he has an ERA of 13.50 against Cincy, albeit in just 1.1 innings.

Sunday, 1:10 p.m.
Mat Latos (1-2, 5.64) vs. Bud Norris (1-1, 5.84)

So THAT’S the Mat Latos the Reds traded for. We’ve been waiting to see him and we finally did as he blanked the Giants in his last time out. Last week I mentioned that possible reason for his struggles might be the fact that he simply wasn’t throwing the fastball as much. Well, against the Giants, 48 of his 95 pitches were fastballs and his velocity was up as well – he maxed out at 95.2 mph according to PitchFX and averaged 92.94 with the four-seam fastball and 93.50 with the two-seam fastball. Certainly good news.

Norris, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. After two quality starts in a row, he gave up nine hits and seven runs (three home runs) at Milwaukee in his last turn. He’s 0-2 with a 7.23 ERA against the Reds. Expect Ryan Ludwick to get the call in this one as he’s .333 lifetime vs. Norris. Joey Votto is also a .300 hitter against the right-hander.

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