Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reds vs. Cubs series preview

Don’t look now, but the Redlegs are winners of their past three series and where did that streak begin? In Chicago, of course, and that’s just who happens to be heading to GABP as the Reds and Cubs meet up for the second time in just over a week. 

This fella appears to be doing his thing again this season.
The Cubs enter the week at 8-14, tied for last in the NL Central along with Houston. Chicago ranks 23rd in runs (78) and have three fewer home runs than Matt Kemp has all by himself (eight). The pitching hasn’t been much better – the Cubbies are 19th in team ERA at 4.10. Looks like the video game created dreams of Cubs fans won’t be coming true anytime soon, or at least we hope.

The Cubs recently picked up a spark to their offense with the call-up of speedster Tony Campana. The Springboro, Ohio native played his college ball at the University of Cincinnati and made his debut against the Reds on May 17 last year. Campana, who was recalled during the Reds’ visit to Wrigley last month, has six stolen bases already.

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.
Bronson Arroyo (1-0, 2.70) vs. Jeff Samardzija (2-1, 4.13)

Arroyo has been a pleasant surprise to start the season. What have been the keys to his success? Well, one might be the usage of his slider. According to FanGraphs, Arroyo has gone to the slider 25 percent of his pitches this year – far and away the highest rate during the past six seasons. Along the same lines, he’s using the curveball just 9.8 percent of the time, the lowest total of his career. While the fly ball rate (44 percent) is still scary, there’s a good chance he can continue to succeed against what has been a punchless Cubs club.

Samardzija is making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, and for the most part the results have been solid. He blasted on the scene with 8.2 innings of four-hit ball against Washington and recently blanked the Cardinals over 6.2 innings of work in his last turn. He’s struggled on the road, however – giving up five earned runs in both of his road starts (at St. Louis, at Miami).

Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.
Homer Bailey (1-2, 3.60) vs. Paul Maholm (2-2, 6.20)

The Reds hope to repeat a bit of history (Bailey picked up the W with seven innings of one-run ball April 20 at Wrigley)  and to swing a reversal of fortune (could only muster four hits in loss vs. Maholm on April 21) on Wednesday night.

So if this is the ‘make-or-break’ year for Bailey in a Reds uniform, he’s off to a good start – three of his four outings have been of the quality variety and one bad, homer-filled inning in his first start vs. St. Louis is the main blemish on his record so far. Last outing aside, the Cubs haven’t been kind to Homer, though – he sports a 5.77 career ERA against them.

Maholm, on the other hand, is one of those guys the Reds can mysteriously make look great at times. He owns a career 4.39 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, but he’s 7-4 with a 3.40 ERA vs. the Reds. Yuck.

Thursday, May 3 12:35 p.m.
Mike Leake (0-3, 6.65) vs. Ryan Dempster (0-1, 1.33)

Leake needs to right things in a big way after allowing 13 earned runs in his last three starts. Not only are the amount of base runners concerning (29 hits, five walks in 21.2 innings) but the drop in strikeouts is also concerning – his K/9 is at 3.74 in his four starts this year and while he’s never going to be a strikeout artist, that total is still half of what it has been over his career to date. The good news? The calendar now reads May – and that’s a month that has been very friendly to Leake. His career ERA is 4.61 in March/April and drops to a tidy 3.06 during the month of May.

The Reds get their first look of the year at Dempster, who is scheduled to make his first appearance after spending some time on the DL with a quad strain.

A quad strain isn’t an average pitcher’s injury, which got me to thinking about some of the strangest baseball injuries. Sammy Sosa headed to the DL after a nasty sneeze in the dugout, Wade Boggs missed time after straining a muscle while pulling on cowboy boots and who could forget Glenallen Hill falling through a glass table after a nightmare about spiders. Perhaps the best of that list, though – Denny McClain mysteriously waking up with four dislocated toes. That’s when you know you’ve had a good night, folks. Hopefully the Reds will be having three at the expense of the Cubs, without the mysterious injuries, of course.

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