Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reds vs. Nationals series preview

The Reds welcome the Washington Nationals to town for a three-game set at GABP. Cincinnati is looking for a bit of a revenge after losing three out of four in the nation’s capital last month which came at a low point of the early season, sending many fans running for the cliff. Since, though, the Reds have won four out of five series, including four straight, not counting a two-game split with the Cubs. Can Cincy show the Nats a little Cincinnatiude this weekend? All the details after the break…

If it seems like these two teams just met, it was exactly a month ago that they played in D.C. After Sunday, the Reds won't meet the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos again this season.

Washington has been one of the success stories of the year’s first 30 games, posting a 19-12 record, good enough to place them atop the NL East. The Nats haven’t lit the world on fire offensively, in fact, they’ve been pretty poor – tied for 27th in the league in runs scored (102) entering Thursday, ahead of only the Pirates, who by the way are really bad at the plate with just 87 runs in case you were wondering. The Nats have suffered through injuries to Ryan Zimmermann and now Jayson Werth who will likely be out until after the all-star break with a broken wrist suffered last Sunday.

Welcome to the big leagues.
In case you haven’t heard, the Nats have a guy named Bryce Harper on the roster these days. Harper has been basically as advertised, showing an amazing amount of patience at the plate for a 19-year-old while posting a .265/.381/.441 line through his first 10 games in the big leagues.

What has gotten the Nats to the top of their division, though, has been an excellent showing by their starting rotation. Their starters are posting a combined ERA of 2.25 with the dog of the group being Edwin Jackson who still is at a very respectable 3.49. The other four starters had an ERA of 2.29 or better entering Thursday’s games. In other words, just because the Reds will be missing Stephen Stasburg doesn’t mean that they’ll be getting off easy.

Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Mike Leake (0-4, 5.97) vs. Gio Gonzalez (3-1, 1.72)

Well, on paper this one isn’t pretty. Leake has been the weakest link in the Reds rotation while Gonzalez has been an all-star so far in his National League debut. The Reds righty is coming off his best outing of the year, a seven inning performance at Pittsburgh while allowing three runs on four hits. He was hurt by a couple of long balls, and admittedly got away with a couple other misses against the weak-hitting Pirates. He went 6.1 innings with five earned runs, three walks and a strikeout at Washington on April 15.

Gonzalez owned the Reds in an April 12 win, limiting them to just two hits while walking none and striking out seven in his seven innings of work. Since allowing four earned in his first start of the year at Chicago, the lefty hasn’t given up more than two earned runs in his other five starts.

Saturday, 7:10 p.m.
Mat Latos (2-2, 4.93) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (1-3, 2.29)

Maybe Latos will be better served by eating something foul the night before the game and waking up with a sour stomach. He might not like that idea, but Latos was battling flu-like symptoms last Sunday and responded by throwing his best outing as a Red with a career-high 11 strikeouts at Pittsburgh to earn the win. Latos struggled with control and threw too many pitches in his last outing against Washington last month, but is still 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA lifetime vs. the Nats.

Zimmermann might be the most underrated starter in the NL with a 2.74 ERA and 1.07 WHIP the past two seasons but little to show for it record-wise (just 13-21 in his career). Every one of his starts has been a QS this year. Some Reds have had success in limited action against him though, including Ryan Hanigan (5-for-5), Joey Votto (2-for-4 with a homer), Brandon Phillips (2-for-4) and Ryan Ludwick (.375, homer, 2 RBI).

Sunday, 1:10 p.m.
Bronson Arroyo (2-1, 2.75)  vs. Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.49)

This has been a thing of beauty so far on the year.
Let’s make this a time for a little Bronson appreciation, what do you say? He of the wicked leg kick has been great this year, never more so than in his last turn at Milwaukee when he channeled his inner strikeout machine with nine punch outs in a Reds win. He allowed four earned in his first start of the year vs. Miami, but since all five starts have been quality, including 7.1 brilliant innings at Washington in an extremely hard luck loss. He left with a 1-0 lead that night before Bill Bray surrendered a home run to Xavier Nady. Luckily that won’t happen again, one because Bray is not on the active roster and two, if Nady hurts the Reds again … well, let’s not discuss the distant possibility. The name of the game for Arroyo has been control – he’s struck out 27 while walking just four over his first six starts. Yes, it is OK to get excited about Arroyo. Maybe that long blonde hair will break our hearts again this summer, but he’s healthy for the first time in over a year and he’s working up those wicked breaking balls just like the old days. He’s 3-3 with a 3.65 ERA vs. Washington overall.

Jackson has been a thorn in the Reds’ side in limited work against them, posting a 1-0 record with a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings. Scott Rolen (.433) has hit him well, but the chances of him playing on Sunday afternoon aren’t high. Phillips is 2-for-3 against the right-hander, and other than that it has been rough for Reds hitters.

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