Jun. 23, 2013 (Phoenix) Diamondbacks baserunner Didi Gregorius (left) is forced out at second base by Cincinnati Reds SS Zach Cozart in 5th inning at Chase Field. (Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Defanging the Snake? - A Reds / Dbacks Series Preview

The Cincinnati Reds get to experience their second “homecoming” for the month of August as they play host to the last true threat for a playoff spot NOT in the National League Central division: the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Ah, yes, the Dbacks, a team, much like the Reds, forgotten to exist due to their distance from first place (a sizable 7.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers) in the NL West.  Unlike Cincinnati, however, Arizona trails our hometown club by a lesser margin (a mere 5 games) in the Wild Card race than from its divisional leader.  The Dbacks could be fading from contention before September arrives IF they cannot dispatch of the pursued Reds in this critical four-game set starting tonight.

The statistics bear witness to the simple truth that the home team Reds (70-54, 124 games played and 38 games remaining) have played better on the season than the visiting Diamondbacks (64-58, 122 games played, 40 games left) so far.  What is less obvious, however, is that the Reds’ offense is more sporadic by comparison.  The Reds have 533 runs scored in 4199 AB on the season in their 124 games; meanwhile, the Dbacks have 521 runs scored in 4273 AB in their 122 games and have outhit the Reds with two fewer games by a 1,106 to 1,036 margin.  Interestingly, due to higher walks (the Reds LEAD THE NL in walks with 446, with the Braves next-closest at 425, compared to a fourth-best 384 for Arizona), the Reds have a slightly better OBP despite a more dismal AVG (.325 to .322 for OBP vs .247 to .259 for AVG).

What can you conclude from the Reds? Well, I’ve only scratched the surface from the known offensive inconsistency for which we’ve all witnessed (last year’s San Francisco Giants were accused of the same problem) … but the pitching tells another tale. Reds’ pitching in 2013 has been downright dominant at times for the season, and their owning a 3.34 ERA (fourth-best behind the Braves at 3.19, Pirates at 3.20, and Dodgers at 3.25) is evidence of that.  The Dbacks, while no slouch with a 3.75 ERA, are far distant to their intra-division rival Dodgers as well as the Reds.

The REAL conclusion in a hitter-friendly ballpark like GABP is that PITCHING could weighvery, very heavilyon the final outcome of this series … and that notion favors the Reds.  Opponents of Reds’ pitching a batting a measly .235 against (bested by only a .233 mark set by the Pirates), and the same Reds staff owns a league-best (tied with Atlanta) at 1.18 for WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched).  For comparison, Arizona has a .254 BAA and a 1.28 WHIP, both marks only “average” within the NL (9th and 7th, respectively).

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tony Cingrani pitches in the 7th inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. (Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

What are the match-ups for this series?  The probables show the task at hand:

Game 1 (8/19): Randall Delgado (4-3, 3.52) vs Bronson Arroyo (11-9, 3.35)

Game 2 (8/20): Patrick Corbin (12-3, 2.48) vs Tony Cingrani (6-2, 2.78)

Game 3 (8/21): Brandon McCarthy (2-7, 4.84) vs Mike Leake (10-5, 3.01)

Game 4 (8/22 matinee): Trevor Cahill (4-10, 4.78) vs Mat Latos (12-4, 3.02)

At quick glance, the matchups on paper favor the home team in at least 3 of the 4 games (slight edge to Arroyo in Game 1, strongly favorable to both Leake and Latos in Games 3 & 4), while Game 2 is a fantastic matchup of young fastballers where the expectation is “too close to call” if not a “push” for an odds-maker.

What do I expect in this series?  If the Arizona team is *really* going to challenge for a playoff spot (i.e. a Wild Card OR their own NL West division), they must do no worse than a four-game split (2-2) IF NOT take at least 3 of 4 games.  On the flip-side, the Cincinnati squad, to stay in the hunt in the NL Central AND possibly knock the Diamondbacks out *for good* from being a serious contender, MUST strongly take 3 of 4.  While a 2-2 split wouldn’t be serious, it would represent an opportunity lost (much like what happened in Milwaukee via the Chapman blown save this past weekend).

The “Fearless Prediction”for yours truly is that the Reds’ “swagger” is growing, watching the Pirates and Cardinals falter (to some extent) ahead of them, and they are truly ready to pounce on this division heading into September.  While there is no guarantee of anything, I see the Reds taking THREE OF FOUR in the series (like they also should have done against the Brewers on the road) with more timely hitting, stellar pitching, and, all in all, the moxie of a championship-caliber team.

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Will my predictions hold true? Sound off in the comments below and/or continue the conversation with me on Twitter @JDRentz

Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks Cincinnati Reds

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