Friday, May 4, 2012

Reds vs. Pirates series preview

The Reds meet the divisional rival Pirates for the first time this season with a trip to Pittsburgh and a three-game set beginning on Friday night. If you like offense, you might not want to check out this series preview….

Cincinnati (12-12)  at Pittsburgh (11-14)

We’re all well aware of the Reds’ offensive woes. The Redlegs’ struggles at the plate have some of us reaching for the panic button even though the season isn’t quite 30 games old yet. While Cincy ranks just 22nd in runs scored with 92 and 25th in team batting average at .232, Pittsburgh’s offense has been even more, well, offensive. The Buccos are batting .234 as a club and have scored a mere 74 runs – easily the lowest in the majors this season.

Pittsburgh though has seen a light at the end of the tunnel recently – Neil Walker (.450), Pedro Alvarez (.429) and Jose Tabata (.273) have all gotten hot over the past week to significantly raise their batting averages as all were on the interstate at this time a week ago. Before that, things were truly ugly. In fact, they didn’t score more than five runs for the entire month of April.

For our Reds, we keep waiting for the light to turn on offensively. While Jay Bruce seems to have settled in at the plate (.529 with four home runs in the last seven games) and Brandon Phillips slowly seems to be getting healthy (.316 over that span), rookie Zack Cozart has hit his first slump (.182 in the past 7) and Drew Stubbs (three for his last 22), Scott Rolen (.154), Ryan Ludwick (.111) and Chris Heisey (.231) have continued to struggle mightily at the plate over the past week.

Let’s get to the pitching match-ups for a series where runs could be at a premium:

Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Johnny Cueto (3-0, 1.39) vs. Kevin Correia (1-1, 2.42)

Johnny must get excited every time he sees Pittsburgh on the schedule. The Reds ace is 10-3 with a 2.70 ERA and 91 Ks in 90 innings during his career against the Pirates. Andrew McCutchen has had the most sustained success against Cueto (.286 with three home runs) although Alvarez (.333 in six ABs) and Casey McGehee (.300 in 10 ABs) have had some success as well.

Correia might not be a name that strikes fear into the hearts of many opposing fan’s hearts, but the fact this season has been that the Pirates may not be able to score – but they can pitch. Correia hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in his last four starts and is part of a pitching staff that ranks eighth in the majors with a 3.33 team ERA.

Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Mike Leake (0-3, 6.65) vs. James McDonald (1-1, 2.97)

Will the Pirates send Leake one step closer to walking the plank out of the rotation?
Leake is pitching on over a week’s worth of rest after having his turn pushed back following the rain during the Cubs’ series. He’s has a bunch of time to think about his last two forgettable outings in which he gave up a combined 17 hits to, gulp, the Cubs and the Astros.

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.

McDonald is on possibly the best roll of his career. After taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Colorado, he struck out 10 batters in his last time out. Even when he’s been on rough patches, the righty has always been tough on the Reds – he’s 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA against them. Bruce (.400, 1 HR, 2 RBI) and Phillips (.462 in 13 ABs) have had success against him, though.

Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
Mat Latos (1-2, 5.97) vs. Charlie Morton (1-2, 4.22)

If Leake is happy to see April become a thing of the past, Latos certainly is. Calm fans have tried to talk panicky Reds followers back from the ledge on the Latos debate by throwing out some of these numbers – in March/April, Latos has a career ERA of 5.73 in 13 starts – giving up 45 earned runs. Compare that to May (7-3, 2.41, 21 ER) and June (5-3, 3.55, 23 ER) where Latos has been, well, the guy the Reds thought they were getting back in December. In fact, Latos has a career ERA of 3.14 AFTER April. There’s a long way to go before we panic on Mr. Dallas Latos, folks.

The Reds hope Morton has some lasting effects of his last start – five earned runs in 4.1 innings at St. Louis on Tuesday. Phillips (.348), Rolen (.350) and Stubbs (.333) have all found success against him in the past.

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