A home series doesn’t get much shorter than three games on the baseball schedule (excluding that “special edition” one-game Opening Night that the Miami Marlins hosted earlier this year). The Reds only have two of them on their schedule: August 24-26 against the primary Central rival St. Louis Cardinals and this weekend (May 11-13) against the East co-leading Washington Nationals. This also marks the only trip the Nationals will have into Cincinnati and the last time these two teams will meet in the regular season.
Using brief 2012 history on our side, the Reds faced the Nationals a mere month ago with some lackluster results. The Nationals took three of the four games played, nearly taking all four except for an offensive eruption in an 8-5 win by the Reds on getaway day (coinciding with Jackie Robinson Day) back on April 15. The series also potentially could have been split if not for a mini-meltdown in the series opener, as Alfredo Simon unfortunately allowed the winning run to score on a wild pitch in the 10th inning. The highlight for both teams was generally very solid pitching across all games (excluding the finale), which provides a good segue into this upcoming series.
The Nationals feature baseball’s stingiest pitching staff, allowing a mere 3.0 runs per game. Encouragingly, the Reds are not all that far behind them in allowing 3.7 rpg, good for a tie for 5th best in the NL. Where the Nationals find their biggest weakness is scoring runs, ranking 3rd worst at only 3.4 rpg marginally ahead of both the Pirates (in last at only 2.9 rpg) and the Padres (3.2 rpg). With a record of 18-12, Washington is outpacing their predicted W-L record (at 17-13) by a game due to that 0.4 run differential. Cincinnati is matching its 16-14 record directly with a 0.2 run differential (based on the 3.9 rpg the Reds score).
This weekend series could easily prove to be a tough one, as the Nationals will trot out three top-notch pitchers (only shy of ace Stephen Strasburg, who gets the start Thursday) in Gio Gonzalez (Friday), Jordan Zimmerman (Saturday), and Edwin Jackson (Sunday). With the exception of a neutral Sunday matchup featuring counterpart Bronson Arroyo, the Reds counter with weaker statistical opposition in both Mike Leake (Friday) and Mat Latos (Saturday). Although to be fair to the Reds, all three Washington starters have limited starting data against the team; however, the data says all three have been outstanding. Gonzalez has yet to allow an earned run against the Reds in two lifetime starts (spanning 14 innings, once as an Athletic in 2010 and once in the April series as a National). Zimmerman is sporting a nifty 2.29 ERA on the season but only a 1-3 record in total (including a no-decision in second game of the earlier series of the year). He would seem to be more susceptible at GABP than at home in Nationals Park; his last start of 2011 came against the Reds, where he was lifted for reaching his season innings limit after only 4 1/3 while allowing three runs on six hits (one of his poorer starts but certainly not awful). Jackson notched his lone win of the season in a complete game on April 14 versus the Reds, allowing but one run on only two hits. His most recent starts have been less spectacular (inflating his ERA to its current 3.49) but his WHIP remains a stellar 1.009. Jackson has never faced the Reds in GABP, with his other career start coming at the end of last season as a Cardinal in Busch Stadium (a no-decision but strong seven innings, two runs on eight hits performance).
The Reds three weekend starters provide interesting contrast, in the consistently good (so far) Arroyo, the “showing signs of promise” Latos (if one start can start a new trend), and the “still in a funk” Leake. Leake could use a season-changing start on Friday night and would seem rather unfortunate to draw Gio Gonzalez has his counterpart. The reality is that Leake’s last start this past Saturday was a “quality start” of seven innings, allowing only three runs on four hits (with two homers, plating all of the runs). Homer Bailey doing so poorly this past Tuesday had a weird way of taking the heat right off Leake and back on Bailey, but the season stats still show Leake’s numbers are worse. The “what have you done for me lately” idea may still catch Leake, but fans have to hope he finds the form of the past couple seasons much sooner than later after a month plus in the books. Latos and his past April mediocrity has been well-documented, so seeing marked improvement in two of his past three starts (allowing no runs on four hits in seven versus the Giants on April 24 and allowing no runs again on only two hits with 11 strikeouts (a career-high) in six this past Sunday). The biggest knock on Latos has to be lack of pitch efficiency, not lasting all that deeply into games with pitch counts driving towards 100+ in short spans; however, he looked far more impressive coming off this most recent performance than any of us have seen this season. His career numbers versus the Nationals are solid, with only a 2.43 ERA in 29 2/3 innings. Providing any analysis to a Reds fan who’s been paying attention seems almost unnecessary for Bronson Arroyo, who comes in with a solid 2-1 record on a better than average 2.75 ERA. Arroyo has shown a great resurgence in 2012 after a lackluster 2011. He looks far more like the pitcher remembered from 2008-2010 with actually statistically better results so far. His walk rate of 0.9BB/9 is preposterously low, but Arroyo thrives on nibbling the edges and is doing so with precision so far.
While I would love to give a prediction on how this weekend will go, I cannot fathom a guess. The Reds are playing far better baseball than they did the first time these two teams met, and the Nationals are struggling of late, losing three in a row coming into their game tonight. Washington has been a team of streaks – three 4+ game winning streaks and two losing streaks of 3+ (current and a five-game skid only a week and a half ago). The Reds, in contrast, haven’t won more than three in a row but also haven’t lost more than three in a row. What the Reds have done is go 7-3 in their last 10 compared to the Nationals 4-8 over their past 12 (all four wins sandwiched in a streak in the middle of two losing streaks). All told, this should make for an exciting series of probable close games. We shall see.
Like what you’re reading? Stay up-to-date on all things Reds by following Blog Red Machine on Twitter (@blogredmachine). Also, please take a minute and “Like” our page on facebook! Follow me on Twitter at @JDRentz.