Homer Bailey against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. / Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Welcome Home – Reds’ Momentum Building?


I couldn’t help but be struck by the negativity that pervaded Twitter following the loss to the New York Yankees this past Friday night.  Sure, Dusty Baker probably left Bronson Arroyo out at least one if not two batters too many (despite how strong the rest of Arroyo’s start was that many quickly forgot), but, as the final 4-0 score indicated, the Reds offense really had no punch against starter Andy Pettitte, making the point practically moot.

What took me further by surprise was the negativity following Saturday’s win, not looking for the positive that Jose Arredondo saved (in relief of now-defunct closer Sean Marshall, who couldn’t close out the ninth) to capitalize on a solid outing by Homer Bailey.  All that could be shared was a feeling of “mediocrity” – the team had holes that couldn’t be filled.  I had a few energetic “exchanges” disputing the very arguments that previous seasons hadn’t started all that well either through game 39 (which Saturday was), including the 2010 season.  It got me thinking: since play began at GABP, how had the Reds played through the first rougly 39-40 (i.e. first 25% of the season)?  This is the resulting inquiry:

Season: Record through 40 games: Final Record: Notes:
2003

21-19

69-93

Boone fired, Miley took over
2004

22-18

76-86

2005

14-26

73-89

Miley fired, Narron took over
2006

23-17

80-82

2007

16-24

72-90

Narron fired, Mackanin interim
2008

17-23

74-88

Dusty Baker hired
2009

21-19

78-84

2010

23-17

91-71

NLDS
2011

23-17

79-83

(went to 25-17, 5gm win streak)
2012

21-19

?

(won last 2 games)

(source: Baseball-Reference.com)

5/19/2012; Joey Votto connects on 3-run HR. Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Interpret these results if your fortune teller skills are good and fill in that question mark box. Seven times in the past ten years (70% of the time, easy math), the Reds have been over .500 by the 40 game mark, but only once (2010, en route to the playoffs) did the final record end over .500 as well.  2003 would certainly seem like an anomaly, as the team collapsed shortly after May ended into a death spiral in June that cost manager Bob Boone his job as manager.  Otherwise, at least 21 wins by the third week in May translated to a 76+ win season.  It is certainly deflating to look how well the 2011 Reds started just one year ago, reaching 25-17 (8 games over .500) before the slow slide backwards began.  The five-game winning streak which started with Game 38 of the season was followed by a six-game losing streak with Game 43, and the 2011 Reds never recovered (playing slightly below .500 ball the rest of the way).  Where the 2011 Reds faltered between mid-May through June, the 2010 Reds had done just the opposite, building to 12 games over slightly before the All-Star break and continuing some momentum with a strong August.

There are so many things to like right now.  The Reds took 2 of 3 from the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium.  They have only lost one series (against the Nationals) since winning the three-game set on the road in Chicago (6-1-3), with three two-game splits against the Cubs at home and the Braves and Mets just this past week.  All signs point to some degree of the hard-to-define “momentum” that all teams seek.  This team has been steady if not “hot” (no worse than three losses or better than three wins in a row).  A team that wins those three-game series over the course of the season while splitting the rest ends with around a .600 winning percentage (good for 95-97 wins, for those curious).  The best teams in baseball right now (Dodgers at .683, Orioles at .643, and Braves and Rangers both at .619) are doing pretty much that, if not slightly better.

You can look this four-game set against the NL East-leading Braves starting tonight as being a “big one”. Of course it is; that almost goes without saying.  Splitting the series doesn’t silence the critics (but winning doesn’t really silence them anyway).  Winning three of the four would be downright huge.  Ace Johnny Cueto was the big winner Sunday, so he will be the only starter of the current rotation the Reds won’t trot to the mound in the next four days. This will only help highlight if the gains observed in both Mike Leake and Homer Bailey are here to stay for a while.  The probable starters set up as follows:

Game: Braves Starter Reds Starter
5/21 (Monday) Mike Minor (2-3, 7.09 ERA) Mike Leake (0-5, 6.21 ERA)
5/22 (Tuesday) Brandon Beachy (5-1, 1.33 ERA) Mat Latos (2-2, 4.63 ERA)
5/23 (Wednesday) Tommy Hanson (5-3, 3.31 ERA) Bronson Arroyo (2-2, 3.46 ERA)
5/24 (Thursday) Randall Delgado (2-4, 4.26 ERA) Homer Bailey (2-3, 4.34 ERA)

Minor has been struggling of late (his ERA, much like Leake’s inflated number, shows that), and he has never faced the Reds. However, he is a lefty, and, somehow, first-time lefties against this team (for some inexplicable reason) seem to stymie the lineup.  There’s nothing saying the Reds offense that showed some spark the past two days can’t light him up, either.  Tonight could certainly help set the tone for what follows, especially if a win tonight (which would be only the second three-game winning streak of the year to date) turned into more wins.  Beachy has the ML-best starter ERA going for now, so one *could* say he is overdue for a bad start; conversely, Latos is due for an innings-eating outing if he can find one.  His pitch efficiency hasn’t been nearly what the Reds need from him, and something in the neighborhood of 6 to 7 innings with a couple runs or less would be great medicine.  On paper, Wednesday’s matchup is the most intriguing from a starting pitching perspective.  The best overall thing to note of this week’s four games? No Tim Hudson (which accounted for a part of the Braves win this past Tuesday, although Cueto’s lone meltdown didn’t help matters).  The Delgado-Bailey matchup in Thursday’s finale is a rematch from the first game of a week ago (in which both left with a no-decision after reasonably strong performances).

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