Ladies and gentlemen, THAT is how you win a division title. By winning individual series throughout the year. You don’t have to sweep a team every time — that’s impossible — but winning two out of three games in series like these with a tough opponent will really speak volumes about just how good a team you really are.
It’s young in the season, and we’re still judging teams “on paper”. The Angels are one of the best teams on paper in the entire MLB. The fact that the Reds took 2 of 3 from a team of that caliber doesn’t mean much right now. But if the good guys are able to string together a couple of series like that, especially in the tough month of April, a certain amount of confidence and consistency might set in.
Speaking of consistency, I mentioned in a post before the season started that Brandon Phillips might be in for a big season due to the lineup finally settling him in the 2 hole. Well, as most of us now know, it only took three innings before Ryan Ludwick went down with a 3 month injury, and Dat Dude BP was forced back into the cleanup role. Two games with the new lineup have resulted in wins, so it seems as though all is good on the home front as of now.
Here are the Three Up and Three Down for the series vs. the Angels (Reds won, 2-1).
There are a handful of guys every year who bloggers, fans and journalist alike deem “on the bubble” for making a roster spot. J.J. Hoover being one of those this year, proved himself pretty well in Spring Training and eventually made the 25 man roster. Perhaps Hoover’s spot on the roster wasn’t as in jeopardy as some of us believed it to be. Old Dusty, who infamously tends to go with older players in key situations, opted to give the young pitcher a chance in not one, but TWO of the games in the first series.
Overall, Hoover proved that he should be a pretty good bullpen arm in 2013. He did end up getting lassoed in to that first loss of the season, but that was after 50+ pitches and working out of a pretty big jam the inning prior. He got into another jam his second outing, but again proved his nerves of steel and worked his way out of that jam as well. The fact that Dusty turned to Hoover twice in a series like this either proves that J.J. has his manager’s full backing, or maybe good ole’ Baker is finally changing his ways. I bet you know which of those this writer believes.
What an introduction! The microscope is certain to fall on “the new guy” to the roster for just about every team, but something is different about Choo. Doesn’t it seem like he’s been batting leadoff for years? Maybe it’s just me wanting to forget about the dreadful leadoff hitters of years past, but man, this guy just seems to be made to play for the Cincinnati Reds. He’s already got his own chant and everything!
Choo is exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of a leadoff hitter. He did have one incident in Center Field in game 1 of the series, but other than that, his defense was strong. His arm was highlighted in game 3, when he nearly threw out Albert Pujols at the plate. In fact, the ball was there a good two and a half steps before Pujols was. If not for Ryan Hanigan missing the tag, we’d all be ranting and raving about his arm in Center Field.
But that’s okay, because we can rant and rave at his offense! Choo did exactly what we asked him to: got on base, scored runs, and hit for some power. His slash for the three game series vs. the Angels was .333/.467/.667, he scored 4 runs, and hit his 6th career leadoff Home Run in game 3. All of those statistics are currently leading the team. Even though it’s still very, very early, the people who watched in agony as Drew Stubbs attempted to bat leadoff will surely welcome this with open arms.
I touched earlier on Ludwick’s injury. I’ll admit, I was not sold on Chris Heisey taking over Left Field. I’ve been a Heisey fan over the years, but watching him try and fail to make Left Field his own the past couple of seasons has definitely skewed my opinion of him as a full time player. Well, so far, so good. Chris hit an absolute bomb to left today that made me grin. Of course, as I’ve said over and over in this article, it’s early. But the fundamentals of the game are the same no matter what time of year it is. If Heisey is hitting in front of Votto, he’s going to get more strikes. That’s just the way the game works. We saw what he can do with those strikes today. Now let’s see if he can find some consistency, something that has been hard to find in that 2 hole outside of Brandon Phillips in the past couple of seasons.
This injury is very unfortunate. A heads up, veteran play sending Ludwick sliding into third is going to cost him three months, at least. The Reds (and I) were very excited about the 2013 season for Ryan Ludwick. A healthy and 2012-esque Ludwick in 13, paired with Choo at the top of the lineup, would give the Reds that ultimate balance at the top of the lineup. We’ve been talking about it since the Choo deal was struck, about how perfect that top 5 (or 6…or 7…or 8) was. Three innings into the season, it’s all gone.
The backup plan of Brandon Phillips batting cleanup has worked out so far, but for the millionth time this article, it’s still very early in the season to tell just how much this team misses Ryan Ludwick. We here at Blog Red Machine wish Ryan a speedy recovery.
I’ve had to bite my tongue on twitter multiple times after Jay Bruce AB’s in this series. Bruce was flat out terrible against the Angels. The Beaumont Bomber was 0-6 with runners on base, 4 of those 6 outs coming in the form of strikeouts. Those watching the games know that Bruce is very visibly trying way too hard at the plate. Each swing is vicious, clearly aimed to hit the ball out of the park. With runners on, while a home run would be nice, it’s not by any means necessary. Bruce is forgoing the two-run single for a three-run bomb. Baseball math says that this approach needs to stop.
As Reds fans, we should hope that Bruce isn’t in one of his infamous streaks. I’ve mentioned before here at BRM that Bruce won’t be a great player until he can find some consistency. Streaky players, although they can put up some good stats, don’t help the team win 100% of the time. Until he can find some consistency, I’ll be cringing every time he steps up to the plate.
Only one Red who has started all three games has yet to garner a hit, and that Red is Zack Cozart. Cozart is 0-11 at the plate, with no walks and one strikeout. That one strikeout says that the Reds Shortstop has had a bout of bad luck in the opening days of April. I don’t want to say it again, but I will: It’s early. The fact that this is one of our top three problems in the season so far, although bad luck for Cozart, is good luck for Reds fans.
What to Expect from the Washington Nationals
The Nationals are fresh off of what looks to be a 3 game sweep of the Miami
Firesales Marlins in the nation’s capital. Opening day was a big one for sophomore phemom Bryce Harper. He gave Stephen Strasburg all of the offensive support he needed, belting two solo-homers in the opening game of the series to bring home a 2-0 victory for the Nats.
Game two was the same song, different chorus. Gio Gonzales went 6 innings, allowing only 2 Marlin hits. Gonzales was helped out offensively by…well, Gio Gonzales. The pitcher belted a solo home run in the 5th, and along with RBIs from Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman, would be enough to blank the Marlins yet again.
The third game, as of the time of this writing, is looking like the Nationals will be coasting to a third straight victory. Seconds before writing this sentence, Right Fielder Jayson Werth launched a three-run bomb in the bottom of the 7th to put the Nationals up 6-1 over the Marlins. Of course, if I need to edit this article later I will be more than willing to, however, things are looking grim for Miami in this one.
As for the matchup for the Reds, we’ll be seeing pitchers Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler, and Stephen Strasburg. The good guys will be putting up Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Johnny Cueto to battle them, respectively. Like the series with the Angels, pitching on the Reds’ end will likely decide the series. The bats in the Nationals lineup, while not nearly as scary as the Angels on paper, are still very real threats. A Home Run is a possibility at any point in their lineup, so keeping the ball down and away will be key for the Redlegs. Bryce Harper, in my opinion, was very over-hyped in 2012. It looked like his skills weren’t quite 100% ready for the super star persona he was being forced. However, after seeing the replay of his two bombs on Opening Day, I’m here to tell you that this kid is good. Really good.
The marquee matchup of this series is obviously Cueto v Strasburg. Stephen Strasburg is as legit a pitcher as they make. Facing him seems to be similar to facing Aroldis Chapman for 9 innings, but with a nasty breaking ball and better secondary stuff. The kid is legit, so don’t be surprised if hits are scarce and strikeouts are aplenty on Sunday night.
It doesn’t get much easier after this series, as the Reds go on the road to take on the arch nemesis Cardinals, and then travel back across the Mid-West for a “break” against the Pirates in PNC Park. The schedule isn’t easy, but if we as fans want to claim that our Reds are an elite team, these are the clubs we need to beat.
If you like being entertained during Reds games, follow me on Twitter @JordanBarhorst. I almost always live-tweet the games, so be sure to check it out!