The Reds have barely escaped their homestretch-ending series with the division bottom feeder Chicago Cubs, taking 2 of 3 and hitting the road. Despite winning the series, the Cubs and Reds actually scored the same amount of runs in the series — a measly 8 in three games. Considering the good guys have scored more than 8 runs in one inning multiple times in the very young season, this sort of offensive output is a bit upsetting.
With that being said, the Reds did put up a good fight when it counted. They never gave up, and ended up nabbing a nice extra-innings come-from-behind win in game one. That won’t help pad the stats, though. The middle of the lineup especially — Votto, Phillips, Frazier and more — will be looking forward to getting out of Cincinnati and hitting the road in hopes it might kickstart some offense.
Of course, fresh in our minds are the results of the last stretch of away games. We saw our Reds dominate the arch rival Cardinals in their home opener, only to drop the next 5 straight games. It was enough to make some fans on edge, and the fact that they started playing better immediately upon arriving back home has some wondering if this team might struggle on the road all season.
The Nationals, although struggling a bit early, are a tough team to beat. The Reds currently own the season series 2-1, but this is a team that can sweep anyone in the league. I’ll get to the Nationals in a bit. First, Three Up, Three Down.
It’s not often a pitcher finds their way on to these three up, three down lists. But Aroldis Chapman has continued his ways of dominance. Through 11.1 innings the Cuban Missile has already 20 strikeouts on his way to 4 saves. His command has been almost as great as his velocity so far, only walking 4 batters and arguably only throwing one mistake pitch, that being the home run ball to Justin Ruggiano that bought the Marlins their only win against the Reds two series ago. His early success certainly has those in the old “Chapman for Starter” camp wondering “what if?”, but our starting rotation has been doing great things all year. Let’s let Chapman close, and dominate doing it.
Choo is arguably the only Red to have not hit a slump in his offensive production thus far, and considering the ridiculousness of his stats, that’s definitely saying something. Steve wrote a great piece on Choo earlier in the week, highlighting these insane statistics and putting them into perspective. Will this be the Shin-Soo Choo we see all year? Probably not. But he’s definitely making things interesting, especially when you consider he’s a Free Agent at the end of the season.
Ever since Ryan Ludwick went down on opening day, the Left Field position has been wildly inconsistent and not all that great. Reds fans are pretty used to this by now, as Left Field has been a zone of mediocrity for some time now. Starting Left Fielders are only hitting .209 on the season, better only than a struggling (but quickly improving) catcher’s spot, and only .001 better than the pitcher’s spot. That’s right — starting left fielders are hitting just as well as our pithers.
One bright spot has been the relative success these Left Fielders have had in pinch hitting roles, and especially the efforts of Xavier Paul. Paul has been a clutch hitter ever since he first donned the Reds uniform, and this season has been no exception. Paul is even stepping up when getting the chance to start in Left Field. Could he be stealing the spot from Chris Heisey? Only time will tell.
Brandon Phillips is the latest victim of the “who gets hot must get cold” law of baseball. After garnering some big media attention for his clutch hitting, RBI-gaining ways, Phillips was cold as ice against the Chicago Cubs, getting only 1 hit in 13 ABs. Most of this can be attributed to his aggressiveness at the plate. He’s a first pitch swinger, and often times he’s beat on that first pitch. He was only able to draw one walk in the series vs the Cubs, and only 8 all season. He’s one of the Reds bats that will be looking to get things going on the road trip.
Joey has been hot and cold to begin the season. He’s striking out a lot (22.4% K rate compared to his 18.5% lifetime average), has stopped accumulating walks at a Herculean pace, and overall just didn’t hit the ball very well against the Cubs. Possibly more concerning were the amount of times Votto came up in a big situation only to fail. If the Reds are going to be contenders, not only this year but for years to come, Votto needs to excel in situations when we really need him. I am by no means doubting his abilities, but he’ll need to play better against the Cubs in the future, that’s for sure.
Parra is quickly becoming the anti-Choo. Whereas everyone loves Choo, Parra is generally being called to be sent down by just about every Reds fan. After almost losing the wrap up game against the Marlins, he did lose the second game of the series against the Cubs. If the front office has any mercy, they’ll send this guy back down to Louisville when Sean Marshall comes back. Which hopefully is sooner rather than later.
What to Expect from the Washington Nationals
The Nationals are the first team the Reds will see twice in 2013, and this time we’re playing in their park. The Nationals, who everyone expected to be unbeatable coming into the season, have yet to get things going. Sitting at a game under .500, you’ve got to think the Nationals and their fans are pretty disappointed. Indeed, it didn’t seem as though the Nationals were world beaters when the Reds took 2 of 3 games from them early on, and they’ll be looking to cash in on their negative momentum in the nation’s capital.
Someone who hasn’t been cold to start the season is Bryce Harper. He’s currently hitting a scorching line of .351/.429/.689 with 7 bombs and 15 RBIs. He is certainly fairing better in his sophomore year than fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Mike Trout, and as crazy as it seems, is outperforming even the high expectations that come with being named Bryce Harper.
The Reds will avoid Stephen Strasburg this time around, but the Nats’ rotation is so deep that each matchup should be a good one. Game one tonight will see Bronson Arroyo take on Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of the Nationals players struggling to get things going in April. Through 20 innings he’s the owner of a 5.85 ERA. He’s surrendered 13 runs, walking 11 and striking out 20. Gonzalez is a great pitcher, and is surely about ready to start pitching up to his usual standards. If he does so against the Reds, watch out.
Game two will pit Homer Bailey against Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann is 3-1 in 2013, and has a 2.67 ERA through 27 innings. He’s given up only 8 Earned Runs, walked 8 and struck out 15. Zimmermann, like the rest of the Nationals pitchers, is good for a great game at any given moment. He is fresh off surrendering two runs in 5 innings in a loss to the Mets.
Game three will be the second time the Reds have seen Dan Haren this season, and man, did they see him the last time. Haren surrendered 6 earned runs in only 4 innings in the April 5th game at Great American Ballpark, a game the Reds eventually won 15-0. Haren hasn’t worked more than 5 innings in an outing yet in 2013, and has given up 3 earned runs in each of his starts since the game in Cincinnati. The Reds, in support of Mike Leake in that game, will be looking to repeat their performance against the three-time All-Star.
The wrap up game in the 4 game series will see Tony Cingrani taking on Ross Detwiler. Detwiler blanked the Reds through 6 innings in the two teams’ last meeting, but couldn’t get the win as the Reds came back in the 8th and 9th before losing in extras. Detwiler has been very solid thus far, owning a 1.38 ERA through 26 innings. The Reds will have a tough time in this one, so Cingrani will need to be on his A game.
Overall, I think the Reds stand a good chance at winning their second series against the Nationals. To do so, they’ll need to get the bats going. The Nationals are down, but they’re at home. Both teams are putting some really good pitchers to the mound, so we should be in for a great series.