May 3, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake (44) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

Reds Potential Playoff Rotation: The Cueto Factor

It’s mid-August, not a day too early to start peeking at October. The Reds have rattled off five straight wins and are closing in on what ESPN considered just a two-team race in the National League Central. And while the Reds will have ample opportunity to catch both the Pirates and the Cardinals, it’s important to remember that a huge demographic, quite possibly the largest demographic of Reds fans, will consider nothing but postseason success the only measure of success for the season. And how well the Reds do in the playoff(s) will be entirely dependent on its pitching.

The Reds currently boast the 2nd best rotation in all of baseball. Unfortunately, they won’t be competing against the likes of Chicago and Milwaukee in October. I consider pitching to be the single most important facet of any team going into October. It just is. If you’re strung up on offense, just consider the 2010 World Series Giants, who finished 17th in runs scored. Fast forward to 2012, when the same Giants won it all again, at the initial expense of the Reds. Those Giants finished twelfth.

Giants had the seventh best ERA in 2012. Number one in 2010.

Some fans may recall last year’s NLDS when the Reds held a 2-0 lead coming back to Cincinnati needing to just win one of three. And while the final at-bats of Bruce and Rolen are forever engraved in our brains, consider the runs allowed by Reds pitching in the last two games of 2012 – eight, then six.

So if the Reds were to indeed take either of the two wild card slots, or even the NL Central, how does the pitching measure up, especially without the team’s bona fide ace? If Baker had to assemble his top three pitchers for a series of 5, right now, you have to include Tony Cingrani. Absolutely must, he’s not giving the team any other choice. Baker more than likely goes:

Latos 3.04, Cingrani 2.78, Leake 2.86. Those have to be the obvious three, right now, right?

Looks like a respectable three-man rotation that can hold a lot of offenses in place – but as stated before, it’s not like the Reds are looking across the field at Chicago or Milwaukee. If you take a look at Latos‘ and Cingrani’s records against the likes of STL, LAD, ATL and Pitt, you’ll probably feel pretty good about their chances in October against the same competition.

Mike Leake is a different story. Against the Cardinals this year, Leake is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. Against the Braves, 0-1 with a 5.14 ERA.  He does boast a 3-0 record against Pittsburgh at 3-0, 3.28. He hasn’t faced the Dodgers. And while there is little doubt Leake has matured immensely from last season, it’s hard to forget about Leake’s lone playoff experience when he surrendered eight runs en route to a Reds route.

That was supposed to be Cueto’s spot.   And now, in 2013, with the playoffs just less than two months away, the Reds find themselves in a very familiar yet uncomfortable position – Johnny Cueto is hurt. Leake looks to be the favorite to take his spot. The more things change…

Johnny Cueto, baseball’s fifth best ERA in 2012, will absolutely need to rejoin this team if it hopes to finally advance in October. The power and competence of every offense in the playoff field, minus Pittsburgh, is not a good match-up for the soft-tossing Mike Leake, ditto Arroyo. Homer Bailey your guy, to the point where he’s too much of a . The Reds will absolutely need their ace if they hope to avoid another early exit.

Last year, the difference between a possible World Series run in Cincinnati was the difference between Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Maybe that gap has narrowed. Maybe Leake has honestly come of age. But for once, wouldn’t it be nice for the Reds to send a bona fide Cy Young-vote getting ace to face the best competition in the National League instead of a guy just shredding his training wheels?

Lance McAlister was on the radio last evening talking about his surprise that Cueto isn’t being discussed more.  And while he clearly hasn’t been to, where I can seldom do anything else but talk about the forgotten ace, he makes a point. Cingrani has made it easy to forget about Cueto. The return to winning helps, too. But when Jeff Brantley says he’s expecting the emphasis to shift to having Cueto ready for 2014 instead of this October, the World Series expectations have to shift with it.

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Tags: Cincinnati Reds MLB Playoffs

  • RobinGood

    How you dismissed Homer Bailey and given Cingrani the edge is beyond my understanding. He pitches like an ace and has proven last year to be capable of shutting down offenses like in the NLDS

    • itswhatever

      Where do I start? ERA? WHIP? WAR? Record against potential playoff opponents? Shouldn’t be that far beyond.

    • beeker

      At this point I am assuming that the Reds will have to play in the 1-game playoff game. I’d love for them to surprise me, but so far they just can’t seem to seize the opportunities to move up when they come.

      If they have to play the Cards in that 1-game, I start Cingrani because they have struggled against LHP. Then he becomes another lefty to go to out of the bullpen — even if it means leaving off a guy like Simon — and my rotation probably becomes Latos, Arroyo and Bailey (unless Ceuto is not truly shut down for 2013).

      If they have to face the Pirates for one game, I do the same thing but with Leake instead of Cingrani.

      Either scenario gives me a pitcher that has had success against the play-in opponent but leaves the regular rotation in tact for NLDS. It is totally unfair to someone in the pen, but there’s no crying in baseball.

  • Jonathan L. Schroeds

    Great piece. But I think it’s a little ridiculous to consider a starting playoff rotation without Bronson Arroyo. He’s been there and you know he will not shy away from the moment. He has 2 layoff starts with the Reds, both great starts and would both be wins if Bruce doesn’t lose a ball in a crowd of white towels in Philly.

    If it were up to me, I would certainly try and do everything possible to get Cueto back into the discussion for the rotation but I don’t think Dusty, Walt or Bryan Price think that way. They are doing a strength test this weekend to see about Marshall and Cueto’s availability to start a rehab process. I’m not optimistic. If Cueto can start a rehab, it will take a long time to build his arm stregnth up to that of a starter. Him out f the pen would certainly be very intersting. In terms of the entire staff, I think with the lack of left-handers in the bullpen, the best thing to do would probably bring Cingrani out of the Pen for situations to pair with a reinvigorated Manny Parra.

    That would leave your Rotation looking like the following for 3 spots.
    1. Latos
    2. Bronson
    3. Bailey
    4. Leake

    I think I would wait and see the rest of the season but if it were up to me today, I still don;t think I could go with leake if the reds are paired up with STL, LA or ATL. Bailey has the stuff (obviously) and gave a great effort last year against SF in game 3.

    • itswhatever

      Love Bronson. Just need to see opponent first. Hate to see him against STL or LAD again.

  • Steve Douglas

    You’re high if you think Leake will pitch if we’re in the playoffs, NO WAY, TYLER, NONE AT ALL!!!

    • itswhatever

      and that’s the bottom line, cause’ steve doug SAID SO

      • Steve Douglas

        If you want to put a bet that I’m wrong, just let me know!! Anytime.

        • Tyler Grote

          bet? more interested in reasons why Mike Leake won’t pitch.

    • Steve Douglas

      Dusty always goes with his vets. Latos or Bailey will pitch a one game playoff and the other would start the next series (if the Reds win that game). Bronson will pitch the second game because Dusty loves to go hard thrower, soft then hard. The third game will go back to the playoff game pitcher, then the series starter. Leake will be in the pen.

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