As April winds to a close and May quickly approaches, the Reds have a golden opportunity to capitalize on facing the dregs of the NL Central, starting this weekend with the visiting Houston Astros. Nobody expects the Astros to do much of anything this 2012 season after an abysmal 2011 that saw them win only 56 games, lowest in franchise history.
This Houston team has shown some ability for producing runs so far in this young season, however, in actually scoring more runs (89) than what they’ve allowed (81). How they’ve managed to have such an ugly 7-12 record after their first 19 games is more indicative of two recent lopsided games (an 11-4 win over the Nationals on April 19 and a 12-0 landslide this past Sunday, April 22) than that margin would suggest. The task at hand for the Reds this weekend is shutting down the Houston offense, and the three probables are most likely up to the task.
First out of the gate is Mike Leake, whose 2012 campaign hasn’t exactly been stellar to date. His opposing number – Wandy Rodriguez – is an ace on any team, but, unfortunately, Rodriguez plays for a team that hasn’t quite benefited his talent (i.e. Felix Hernandez in Seattle). Despite a sparkling 1.42 ERA in four starts, he sports only a 1-2 record. Leake, in contrast, is taking a bloated 6.50 ERA (starting staff worst after Mat Latos’s last effort) into tonight. Many have already been questioning Leake’s place in the rotation, unsurprisingly, but a solid effort tonight would go a long way in silencing some critics (at least for a little while). The Reds’ biggest challenges are scoring runs off Rodriguez and Leake keeping the Houston bats at bay.
Saturday provides a nice afternoon match-up with Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto versus the Astros’ Lucas Harrell. Cueto has already blossomed early, showing continued progression year-on-year the past few seasons, in bringing his tiny 1.78 ERA and unblemished 2-0 record into this one. There is little data from which to draw for Harrell, who has only 21 career appearances, mixed in relief and spot starting. All appearances in 2012 have been starting for Harrell so far, and his 3.97 ERA isn’t spectacular but it isn’t horrible, either. Control appears to be his biggest weakness thus far, with 10 walks in only 19 innings as well three wild pitches. The head-to-head match-up of starters most certainly favors Cueto if the Reds can prove their patience at the plate working pitch counts against Harrell.
The Sunday series finale brings Mat Latos’s second start of this homestand, after he shone brightly in his Tuesday night effort versus the San Francisco Giants. Latos allowed no runs in his seven innings of work and proved his mettle with a gutty 6th inning that saw him work out of a bases-loaded jam. He still has a 5.64 ERA that was ballooned in large part from his outing against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, but this past start went a long way to building confidence. His counterpart is Bud Norris, a hard thrower who has had a rough 2012 start of his own. Nothing against Norris as the Astros “typical” #2 man, but it is quite the precipitous drop from Rodriguez to Norris, who has the ability to strike out batters but gives up his fair share of walks as well. He was shelled in his last outing versus the Brewers in giving up seven runs (including three homers) in only 5 2/3 innings. This one seemingly favors the Reds, if only slightly.
Is it realistic to expect the Reds could sweep this weekend? Probably not, but it really depends on what they can do tonight against Wandy Rodriguez. Taking two of three is certainly not out of the question in what should be some solid baseball to come this series.