Last year was frustrating for a multitude of reasons, but nothing was more frustrating than being dominated by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Three games against the Pirates used to mean two wins at the least–three if it was a four game series. That’s always been a staple of playing in the NL Central. Beating the Pirates. Ol’ Faithful. Trusty. If your team is struggling, Pittsburgh used to be the most commonly prescribed antidote. Take two-three wins, call doc in the morning. Last year, the Pirates were hardly a remedy for losing–in fact, they may have been one of the major viruses that plagued the Reds.
In 2011, the Reds went 5-10 against the Pirates. Of the five series the Reds played with the Pirates, they took one. The Reds never swept the Pirates.
Against the Pirates, the Reds offense virtually disappeared. In all but one loss, the Reds failed to score more than three runs. That’s nine games of three runs or fewer–they were blanked by the Buccos twice. It seemed like the Pirates could stall the 7th most prolific offense no matter who they ran to the mound. But there were three names that really stuck out.
Public Enemy #1 in Cincinnati: Charlie Morton. Charlie Morton started four games against the Reds. In those four games, he posted an ERA of .93, won three games, lost none and went the distance twice. Ouch. Against STL, Morton posted a .476 ERA–4.38 against the Brewers. The Great American Small Park didn’t scare Morton. His ERA at GABP was .50. Cincinnati’s BA against Morton was .198. Only two other teams he faced posted worse numbers.
Public Enemy #2: James McDonald. Remember this guy? The freakishly, demonic looking righty who just punished the Reds? His numbers weren’t as daunting as Morton’s, but punishing nonetheless. He posted a 3.49 against the Reds and went 2-1. The Reds hit a respectable .271 against McDonald, but struck out 22 times. Morton only struck out 13 Reds all season. And the only time the Reds beat McDonald was because of the longball at GABP. McDonald allowed four homeruns against the Reds–only one was hit in Pittsburgh. In fact, McDonald posts a surprisingly bad 5.73 ERA at GABP; 3.19 at PNC.
Public Enemy #3: Kevin Correia. He only posted a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings pitched against the Reds, which is surprising because the Reds only hit .214 against him. He tossed a complete game against the Reds–2.00 ERA at GABP, .125 BA for the Reds when he visited GABP.
The Three Amigos went 6-1 against the Reds. What happened against these three pitchers? To discern such information, you look for any common tendencies between the three. What do these pitchers throw with two strikes in the count? McDonald and Morton both throw the curve over 30% of the time with two strikes–Correia throws that 20% of the time, but more often than not will finish with the fastball. So there’s not really a noteworthy connection here. In fact, after looking at the numbers these pitchers posted on the Reds, I was at a loss; that is, until I looked at exactly who the Pirates were shutting down.
The two most prolific RBI producers in Cincinnati: Joey Votto (103), Jay Bruce (97). Joey Votto, against these three pitchers, batted a combined .259. That means the Pirates shut down a player who accounted for nearly 15% of the Reds total RBIs. Jay Bruce went a combined .235 against these pitchers. Bruce accounted for about 14% of the Reds total RBIs.
Perhaps that’s the story here. The Pirates stuck it to the Reds because they stymied Votto and Bruce.
So the question is, is that how you beat the Cincinnati Reds? Furthermore, can the rest of the lineup be counted on to produce when these two aren’t?
Maybe you disagree with my theory. But let’s apply it to another NL Central foe, say, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Reds went a respectable 8-8 against the NL Central Champions. Against their top three starters (Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum) Joey Votto hit .375, Jay Bruce hit .342.
Makes you wonder about the depth of the 7th best offense in MLB.