Brewers and Reds Square off for Second Place in Division

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There really is no place like home…

The Reds return to GABP for a three game series against the second place Milwaukee Brewers for what should be viewed as an important series in the 2011 season. With a sweep, the Reds would once again hold second place within the NL Central. The 2-8 road trip was wearisome for the good guys (a trip that could have been no worse than 5-5) and the return to friendly fans may be just the medicine they need.

Here’s a look at the pitching matchups for the series.

Game 1 – Tonight at 7:10 PM ET
MIL: Chris Narveson (season: 2-3, 4.60 ERA; v. CIN: 0-2, 6.11 ERA)
CIN: Travis Wood (season: 3-3, 5.11 ERA; v. MIL: 2-0, 2.95)

In the only time Narveson has faced Cincinnati this season (April 25), the Reds were none too kind to the lefty. This game was the last game in which Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo gained a win. Hmm…

Narveson only went 2.1 innings, allowed 7 runs on 8 hits and allowed a homer to Jay Bruce. That game would be the first of three consecutive losses for Narveson. In his last three outings, Narveson is 1-0 with 2 no-decisions. But let’s look at his last outing: 3.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO. A little similar to the line from Narveson’s start against the Reds back on 4/25.

Here’s how Narveson stacks up against the Reds roster…

The other homer Narveson has allowed to Reds hitters is Joey Votto which comes as no surprise to Reds fans. This could be a game where the Reds bats return to a form we’re used to seeing.

Narveson has five pitches at his disposal: four-seam fastball (36.8% at an average of 88 mph), change-up (33.8% at 80.5 mph), curve (14% at 73.5 mph), cutter (5% at 83 mph), and a two-seamer (10% at 88 mph). As you can see at looking at the percentages, the four-seamer and change-up account for 70% of his pitches.

Travis Wood has appeared to have changed his 2011 direction a little. After going through April with a 1-3 record, he’s 2-0 for May. He’s pitched a bit better in May with only his outing in Cleveland (remember how that one started?) as one where he did not go at least 6 innings and allow no more than 3 runs. Yes, of his 5 outings this month, that’s the only one where Wood did not provide the Reds with a quality start. He has 7 in his 11 starts thus far in 2011.

Another thing to point at is how Wood has managed to knock his ERA from 6.82 at the beginning of May to its current number of 5.11. And how is he doing that? Not hard to see once a couple of numbers are brought forward: BAA and WHIP.

BAA – April: .325, May: .243
WHIP – April: 1.547, May: 1.267

It’s a good thing, too, as Wood’s SO/BB ration has actually dropped from April (3.00) to May (1.91). And Wood has ever so slightly increased his innings per outing as well. He barely went over 5 innings in April (31.2 in 6 outings) and is right at 6 innings for May (30 IP in 5 games). With the state of the pitching staff, another long start would serve wonders for the team. Despite last night’s loss, Johnny Cueto provided the Reds with 8 wonderful innings and the pen got a full day’s rest.

So which Brewers like seeing Travis Wood on the mound? See for yourself…

Um, not many as you can see.

Game 2 – Tuesday, May 31 at 7:10 PM ET
MIL: Zack Greinke (season: 3-1, 5.79 ERA; v. CIN: 1-0, 3.00 ERA)
CIN: TBA (conjecture…Chad Reineke)

Remember the last time Greinke was in GABP? Last season he twirled an absolute gem with a complete game and striking out 12 Reds. His former team, the Kansas City Royals, won that game, 7-3. What really made that game a little hard to take was the Greinke was 1-8 at that point in the season despite winning the 2009 AL Cy Young. Add the fact that the Reds scored two in the first inning and Greinke silenced the bats until the 9th. Two of the three runs scored that day were on Joey Votto solo shots.

There’s always the potential for him to spin one of those games and the Brewers are banking on just that come Tuesday night. They would relish a repeat of Greinke’s visit to GABP last season. It is the only time the righty has faced the Reds. Here’s hoping for a better outcome this time around.

Greinke relies on his fastball (50.1% at 92 mph). He also owns a slider (16.9% at 85 mph), a curve (19.1% at 76 mph), a 2-seam fastball (7.4% at 92 mph), and a change (6.5% at 86.5 mph).

While the Reds website shows this as a “TBA”, there are some that say is could be Chad Reineke’s game. Two thing would have to be done: first, a spot on the Reds 40-man roster and second, a spot would need to be made on the 25-man roster. There are a couple potential routes to go concerning giving Reineke a spot on the 40-man. Both involve moving a player to the 60-day DL and the “candidates” I’m seeing via Twitter have been either Philippe Valiquette or Matt Maloney. This will be an interesting decision…

If it is indeed the former Miami University product (yes, the good Miami University in Oxford), Reineke is 5-2 on the season for Louisville and he sports a 2.52 EA, 1.23 WHIP and a BAA of .245. Not too shabby at all…

Editor’s Note: It appears that it will be Reineke to get the start. Mark Sheldon even tweeted what number will be assigned to him, 52.

Game 3 – Wednesday, June 1 at 7:10 PM ET
MIL: Shaun Marcum (season: 6-2, 2.80 ERA; v. CIN: 0-1, 5.79 ERA)
CIN: Mike Leake (season: 4-2, 5.10 ERA; v. MIL: 0-0, 2.57 ERA)

This will be Marcum’s second shot at the Reds this season. His first one was not a success by any means. He only went 4.2 innings and surrendered 4 runs. The most stunning stat from that game is that Marcum walked 5. Well, he’s turned his season around a little since that game on April 2, his first as a Brewer. In fact, that outing is still his shortest of the season.

However, in Marcum’s last time on the hill, the San Francisco Giants got to him for 5 runs in 6 innings, thus handing Marcum his second loss on the season. In between his losses, Marcum had tossed 7 quality starts with the Brewers going 6-1 in those games.

As far as Marcum’s assortment of pitches go, he features mostly his change-up which he throws 34.3% of the time. He also possesses a four-seamer (14.7% at 86 mph) and a two-seamer (14.6% at 86 mph), a cutter (18.3% at 83 mph), and a curve (14.9% at 73 mph). Murcum can also throw in a rare slider (3% at 80 mph).

Like most of the Reds starting staff, Leake has experienced an “up-and-down” season. Leake’s has more of that variety than others as his inconsistency led to a trip to Louisville. While he struggled as a Bat, he had a well needed quality start last Friday night. Well needed both for the Reds as a whole and for his confidence. His start propelled the Reds to a much needed win as he went 6 innings and allowed only 1 run.

The question will be if Leake can put together back-to-back quality starts. It’s not beyond a possibility as Leake had three QS in a row and one of those three came against this Brewers team (4/26). In that appearance, Leake went 7 innings, allowing 7 hits and 2 runs while striking out 6. He received a no-decision that game, a game where the Reds lost 3-2 on a Rickie Weeks homer off Logan Ondrusek in the bottom of the 8th.

This will be Leake’s 8th start this season, and it will be only the second time Leake faces Milwaukee.

A couple of notes here…

Hard to imagine there’s a hotter hitter in the bigs than Jay Bruce. Yes, it’s him again, and Bruce deserves the accolades. As Joel Luckhaupt tweeted this morning, only Bruce (1.222) and Joey Votto (.885) had an OPS over .800 on the recent road trip. Third highest (and I’m already braced) is Chris Heisey (.679).

If things shake out the way they did for former Red Arthur Rhodes last season, we could conceivably see Bill Bray attending the All-Star Game as a player. I say that due to the numbers Bray has built up this season. Compare the stats Rhodes had over the first half of last season to those of Bray so far in 2011.

– Rhodes: 3-3, 1.54 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, .171 BAA, 2.46 SO/BB, .214 BAbip
– Bray: 1-1, 1.35 ERA, 0.850 WHIP, .149 BAA, 2.29 SO/BB, .196 BAbip

Yes, he’s on a even better pace than Sir Arthur…and Rhodes was fighting a foot issue for most of the second half of 2010. If Bray stays healthy….I’m stopping there as I don’t want to jinx him. And how about those socks…