A common trend in my three up, three down articles thusfar in the season have been discussing how the Reds have been successful at winning series. Today, that streak comes to an end. The Reds dropped game three of their first NL Central matchup, and ultimately lost 2 of three, in their series with the St. Louis Cardinals. Fresh off the heels of two straight series victories against playoff-favorite teams, the good guys couldn’t make it three in a row against the bitter rival Cardinals.
The Reds finished with a 1-2 record in the series, but man, was that one win a dandy. In a 13-4 walloping to spoil the Cardinals’ opening day festivities, the Reds looked to be on their way to dominating the Cardinals in three games. However, as we know now, that wasn’t the case. Spectacular pitching on the Cardinals’ behalf limited Cincinnati to only one run in the final two games, including a game three shutout thrown by Jake Westbrook.
Reds fans need to take two things away from this early season defeat. First and foremost, there is absolutely no reason to worry. The offense, with the exception of those last two games, is clicking on all cylinders. The Reds headed into an off day yesterday, and as John Rentz points out in his article from yesterday, the day off couldn’t have come at a better time. Now is not the time to worry about the Reds missing the playoffs. Now is the time to regroup, remember that baseball is a game in which losing (in small doses) is completely acceptable, and look forward.
With that being said, the second thing Reds fans need to take away from this series is that the Cardinals are a very real threat to the Reds repeating as division champs. Of course, if you’re a Reds fan, you already know this. The Cardinals and Reds (and on their good years, the Milwaukee Brewers) are consistently battling for the number one spot in the NL Central for most of the year. The Cardinals look to be just as annoyingly good as they have been for the past handful of seasons. And, let’s not forget, they made it further in the postseason last season, despite needing a Wild-Card victory to get into the playoffs.
Our attention now turns to another division rival, the Pittsburgh Pirates. More on them in a minute. First, our three up, three down.
Don’t look now (really, not now, it’s way too early), but Todd Frazier is tied for second in WAR. You read that right. According to sabermetrics, Todd Frazier has had just as good a season as Justin Upton. Granted, the ToddFather has had nowhere near the amount of publicity as Upton has had in Atlanta, due to a number of factors (name recognition, small market, Atlanta’s seemingly unbeatable team), but in the opinion of this writer, that’s for the best. Frazier’s currently sitting pretty at .333/.400/.639 with 3 homers and 10 RBI. Like the rest of the Reds, Frazier’s output has been down over the past two losses, but expect big things out of this guy in the series with the Pirates.
It seems that Choo and Frazier are staples in this list, but hey, they’re producing. Choo continues to be everything Reds fans thought he could be, including some gaffes in the outfield. Choo had two errors in the series opener, dropping two very catchable balls. But, the new leadoff hitter redeemed himself at the plate, going 2-5 with a walk, 2 runs and 3 RBIs. Speaking of WAR, Choo is currently 9th in the league, if that means anything to you this early. His slash line of .371/.511/.686 is exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of a solution at the top of the lineup.
How clutch is this guy? Seemingly every time the Reds need a big hit, the X-Man is there to deliver. He was clutch through most of 2012, and has continued that streak in ’13. We all saw that pinch-hit grand slam early in the series, and he also delivered in that first game against the Cardinals. With the injury to Ryan Ludwick, Paul was thrust into the role of fourth outfielder. And I have to say, he’s done very well so far.
We were wondering what the “shoulder fatigue” issue was with Marshall, and now we know the injury was a bit more serious than most of us thought. Marshall was placed on the 15-day Disabled List, “opening up” a roster spot for the big right hander Logan Ondrusek from AA. Marshall had one appearance on the young season, in which he pitched pretty well. He’s one of my favorite relievers to watch due to his downright nasty breaking balls, and I hope to see him back soon.
Although still getting on base, Joey Votto has yet to return to his 2010 MVP form. Many a fan have been crying out against Votto on twitter, to which I say, calm down! We don’t need to trade Joey Votto. In fact, we don’t even know if this Joey Votto we’re seeing now is the “new” Joey Votto, or if he just hasn’t hit a Home Run yet. Jay Bruce hasn’t hit a long bomb either, so does that mean his power is completely gone as well?
But still, there’s a certain amount of expectations when it comes to Joey Votto for Reds fans. And right now, he’s not living up to all of them. The series with the Pirates would be a great time for his breakout party.
The Reds catcher has been downright awful at the plate thus far. Hanigan has one hit in 29 plate appearances on the season. For those of you not good at math, that’s not very good. Those looking for the reason for the catcher’s struggles need look no further than Hanigan’s BABIP — a measly .053. Hopefully his bad luck ends soon, and Hanigan can start racking up the hits.
What to Expect in the Series vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are, and have been for years, one of those teams that are a pain to play, but for some reason can’t put everything together for an entire season. Our Yellow NL Central rivals have had a tough go of things so far in the season, losing the opening series vs. the Cubs and getting swept by the Dodgers before turning things around and taking two of three from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The pitching matchups are a bit up in the air for the series. Although the Reds are set with their rotation and will put Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos on the mound, the Pirates rotation is in a bit of a pinch with starter Wandy Rodriguez going down to injury. The Pirates training staff has said that it is “unlikely” that Rodriguez will pitch against the Reds this weekend. The Pirates are projected to put A.J. Burnett on the mound in game one, and Jeff Locke in game two.
The obvious place to start dissecting the Pirates is in Center Field. Andrew McCutchen is one of the best ballplayers in the National League. This fact is well known to most Reds fans by now. McCutchen is off to a bit of a slow start, batting .233/.314/.433, but is far from being in a slump. McCutchen could easily go off against the Reds this weekend.
One Pirate who has been hot early in the season is leadoff man Starling Marte. Marte is batting .333/.368/.444 for the Buccos early in the season, and should provide some top-of-the-lineup excitement for Pittsburgh moving forward.
The series looks to favor the Reds, who have lost two straight games. However, as we all know, the team that’s supposed to win is far from guaranteed to do so. If the Reds play a good series and can get the bats swinging again, they shouldn’t have a problem against the Pirates.