Apr 1, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (8) (right) reacts with his brother center fielder B.J. Upton (2) after hitting a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Three Up, Three Down -- 5/6/13 (Reds vs. Braves)

So far, April showers have indeed brought May flowers. The Reds swept the Chicago Cubs in the first series of May, and the bats looked a little more lively than they have in weeks past. But, with the increase in the productivity of the bats, the pitching has suffered a little. Aroldis Chapman almost gave up a huge lead, Mat Latos‘ streak of quality starts came to an end, and we saw J.J. Hoover forced to save two games. Needless to say, despite winning, this team will always give us something to gripe about.

The Reds, who got off to a terrible start to their road trip in Washington and St. Louis, rebounded with the three wins at Wrigley Field to draw even for this particular road trip at 5-5. The Reds are still posting a terrible 6-10 road record (vs 12-4 in Great American Ballpark), but are luckily coming back to Cincinnati for another homestand.

I’ll be attending this Saturdays’ game vs. the Brewers, but before we get that far, the good guys will have to face the team who had baseball’s best April, the Atlanta Braves. But first, Three Up and Three Down.

Three Up

Joey Votto

After going a whole 8 games without a walk to end April (which is a lifetime in Votto Years), Joey has been knocking the cover off the ball so far in May with a triple slash of .307/.455/.469. It’s easy to say that Votto struggled in April, but looking back at the numbers, it’s very comparable to what the Reds superstar usually does in April. At the end of the day, Votto is the very essence of consistency. We know what we’re getting with him, and he rarely fails to deliver. Let’s hope this hot streak he’s on can carry over into the series with the Braves.

Jay Bruce

Apr 27, 2013; Washington, D.C., USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) singles in the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. The Nationals defeated the Reds 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of us have been hard on Bruce so far in the season, and for a good reason. He’s a home run hitter who’s only hit one home run. And that’s still the case in May. So, why is he on the Three Up list? Because he’s still finding a way to drive in runs. He drove in 4 runs in the series against the Cubs, none of them coming from the long ball.

It’s been very evident that Jay is attempting to become a different kind of hitter. Like Joey Votto before him, I think Bruce has realized that being successful on offense doesn’t always come down to hitting home runs. He’s driving the ball to left much more this season than he ever has before, he’s starting to see more pitches (although his strikeout rate is still absurdly high), and he’s starting to deliver some key hits with runners on base.

Now, naturally someone as successful at hitting bombs as Bruce will struggle trying to change his playing style. Maybe that’s what we saw in April. I think his mind is trying to tell him to be more patient, but his body just wants to crush the ball into the Ohio River. Until he can become a master at both, he’ll continue to hit very few home runs. But, as long as he’s getting the RBIs, I don’t mind it.

JJ Hoover

The youngest Red in the bullpen finally looks to be coming around. I was very hot on Hoover coming into the season, demanding that he be placed on the 25 man roster to start the season, which he ultimately was. However, early struggles had me wondering if his rookie season may have been a tiny fluke. Of course, everyone who reads my articles knows I’m not nearly as reactionary as some of my fellow writers. Remember when everyone wanted to jump ship when the Reds got swept by the Pirates? Seemingly, JJ Hoover was in the same situation.

But boy, did he ever come up big against the Cubs. After the Cuban Missile almost lost us game one, Hoover came in like a champion and got the last out with runners in scoring position. And in game three, with Broxton and Chapman both having worked two games in a row, Dusty trusted Hoover over Sean Marshall to pitch the 9th, and he didn’t disappoint. I’ve said all along that this kid has closer potential. It’s just one of those things you feel when you watch a guy pitch. If Chapman ever finds his way into the rotation, this guy should be good to go to take his place.

 

Three Down

Shin-Soo Choo

“But Jordan! How can a guy who hit a leadoff homer and hit .330 during the Cubs series be on the Three Down list?” I can hear you all crying, wearing your Choo jerseys and throwing your “How to Speak Korean” books against the wall in disgust. Well, I’ll tell you. No, I’ll do you one better: I’ll show you.

There. Did you see that? That wasn’t Brandon Phillips‘ fault. That was all Choo. I’m sorry, but I don’t care how good you are at the plate, if you’re making boneheaded plays in the outfield that potentially injures not only yourself but our star second baseman, I’ve got a problem. Choo’s defense has been below average at best this season, but due to his scorching bat a lot of Reds fans have been quick to forget.

I bet you BP doesn’t forget about this one…

Zack Cozart

Apr 29, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart (2) lays down a bunt during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Cozart has had an awful start to the season, and things haven’t been much better in May. The Reds shortstop is hovering right below the Mendoza line, which isn’t good at all. It might be time for Dusty Baker to start looking for another top-of-the-lineup bat. There’s not much to say about Cozart, other than he’s stinking it up right now.

Devin Mesoraco

For as much offense as some fans think Devin Mesoraco brings to this Reds lineup, he sure hasn’t been showing much of it lately. He did manage to drive in two runs in the Cubs series, but RBIs were pretty common place in Wrigley. Mesoraco is 3 for his last 19 ABs, which just isn’t getting the job done. Hopefully Hanigan is ready to contribute when he gets back from the DL, because Mesoraco and Corky Miller aren’t competing up to big league standards.

 

What to Expect Against the Atlanta Braves

The Braves were one of the hottest teams in baseball through April, and for many good reasons. For one, their pitching is phenomenal. As is always the case with teams from Atlanta, the pitching staff and bullpen have been key to their overall success. Their staff ERA of 3.25 is second in the National League only to the Cardinals’ 3.13, and we’ve seen twice just how good their pitching has been this year.

Also crucial to the Braves’ success has been the offseason acquisition of the Upton Brothers, especially Justin Upton. The youngest brother is leading the world in Home Runs, already with 12 on the season. Although his older brother BJ has been struggling mightily this season, Justin has been picking up his slack as far as offense goes.

Game one of this series is tonight, featuring Bronson Arroyo vs Paul Maholm. Maholm is coming off three straight losses, having given up 13 runs in that three game span. On the season he’s sporting a 3.08 ERA through 38 innings pitched. This game should be a matchup of two very technically sound pitchers. But if Maholm struggles again, and if Arroyo is on his game, should result in a win for the Reds.

Game two will not be so easy, as Homer Bailey takes on converted reliever Kris Medlen. Medlen is also coming off three straight losing decisions, having given up a whopping 24 runs in his last three starts. Medlen has a 3.38 ERA in 37.1 innings this season, with 12 walks and 26 strikeouts. Medlen has good stuff, as he showed last season. However, he’s really been struggling as of late. Like the first game, I believe this one should belong to the Reds.

Game three will be a battle of Mikes, as Mike Leake takes on Mike Minor. Minor has won one, lost one and received a no decision in his last three starts, having given up 12 earned runs over that span. Overall he’s 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA, with a spectacular K/BB ratio of  5 walks vs 31 strikouts.

I think the Reds take two of three from this series. All three pitching matchups should be good, but if we follow the trends it says the Reds are favored slightly due to the struggles of Maholm and Medlen as of late. However, it’s really anyone’s series. This should be a well-fought matchup, and should produce some great baseball.

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