Watch the Cincinnati Reds long enough and you realize what most fans already do: some nights they “click” but many nights they don’t. The offense has found ways to win in spite of themselves, benefited most dramatically from a pitching staff that is carrying a greater share of the burden than in the past. There is a positive to take away from this; namely, the Reds are in most games with a chance to win. The negative: they could just as easily lose a lot more games than they have.
The Reds may benefit from the off-day Thursday that the vast majority of the league got in the schedule, and traveling into Houston with another bookend off-day Monday before returning home may be just the kind of series the team could use. Houston isn’t playing good baseball, not that anyone is surprised by that. The Astros enter Friday night’s game riding a six-game losing streak, the kind of number that could indicate a change is possible, but, at the same time, their pitching was shelled in the majority of those losing games. Turning the corner against the Reds will mean only likely one outcome: the Reds offense couldn’t score runs.
There is some past history earlier this season to give us some faith. The Reds took 2 of 3 games at the end of April, a series in which they could have taken all three potentially. It came at a time when the Reds were finally breaking back to above .500, where they stayed for the rest of May that followed. Good has followed this team since, finishing May with a 17-11 mark after they stood on May 1 (post-Astros series) at 11-11. With the exception of playing even .500 against Pittsburgh, the Reds are winning games against the bottom of the NL Central, and, with 2010 as a guide, beating those teams can lead to a division crown (despite St. Louis having their number). This we know.
What can we learn from the three games the Reds will play this weekend? My guess is almost nothing. I expect the offensive numbers to get a boost just by the nature of the opponent (as indicated with the Reds scoring 4, 6, and 6 runs, respectively, in the earlier three games), and the Astros have had even worse runs allowed numbers of late (the Colorado series, and Coors Field effect with consideration, had run totals of 9, 7, 13, and 11, respectively). Somewhat inexplicably, Astros pitching tends to perform better at home (16-10, 2.85 ERA) than on the road (6-19, 5.02 ERA). I can’t say I ever thought of Minute Maid Park as a “pitcher’s park”, but recent data would sure indicate it has become one.
There is obviously no 2012 data (yet) as this is the first trip into Houston for the Reds this season, but 2011 data (with most of the same core of this team as it was then) shows this team can hit in this park. In 242 PA, the 2011 Reds collected 62 hits and 17 walks, scoring 28 runs with 8 HR, a collective .283 BA / .340 OBP / .457 SLG (.797 OPS) – translation: they liked the place. In a shock to nobody, Joe Votto led the way – .524/.545 /.857 with 11 hits in 21 AB, scoring 4 and driving in 4. Limited, but positive, data for Chris Heisey (.444/.444/.889 in 9 PA), Todd Frazier (.400/.500/1.000), and even Miguel Cairo (.333/.429/.417). Brandon Phillips was solid, but not spectacular (.308/.333/.308). Jay Bruce was easily the most abysmal (.143/.250/.333 in 24PA), possibly trying “too hard” for his nearby Beaumont home crowd.
There is reason to believe the Reds *can* sweep this series, the loss of 2 of 3 against the Pirates notwithstanding. Houston ace Wandy Rodriguez will trot out for Saturday’s game, but his opposing number of Mat Latos seemingly is turning his own corner. This middle game looks to be the toughest of the set. The opener with a resurgent Mike Leake against J.A. Happ (stringing some quality starts together in his own right) could easily set the tone, with Leake of late easily being the better of Happ (although, as we all know, nothing is guaranteed). Not much can be gleaned from Sunday, other than a bounceback from Bronson Arroyo has to be hoped (his career numbers versus Houston are pretty healthy). No comment to be made from a TBA on the Houston side, although it would be Jordan Lyles possible turn (Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell both unavailable on short rest, presumably).
June may be about to bring some additional fireworks, if not yet a consistent Reds lineup.