Three Up, Three Down — 4/22/13 (Reds vs Cubs)


The Cincinnati Reds have won yet another series, bringing their season series record to 4-2, which translates into an 11-8 record, and with the Cardinals loss last night, the sole possession of first place in the National League Central Division (for now).

I continue to laugh at the mass amount of people who were done with the Reds just a short week ago. The game of baseball is beautiful for many reasons, and during the last week Reds fans have been witness to one of them: the ability to lose 5 games in a row, and then take 6 of the next 7. As I said last week, the fact that the good guys lost 5 games in a row doesn’t make the Reds a bad team, it just means that the Cardinals and Pirates are good.

This is the last I’ll talk about that 5 game slide for a while. Take this as a lesson, people: Don’t get panicked in April.

The Reds offense has been working like the fine tuned machine we thought it might be with the acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason, and indeed Choo has been a huge reason for the Reds’ success. Tyler mentioned the success of Choo in his latest post, and indeed, he’ll be seeing his stock rise this week.

As Tyler pointed out, the Reds would have been on a 7 game winning streak had it not been for that one Aroldis Chapman fastball that was a little too slow and missed a little too far up to Justin Ruggiano. No offense to Ruggiano, as he played a fantastic series, but if that guy had been 98 or 99, the Marlin would have been swinging at air.

Now we have the Cubs, our third NL Central matchup of the young season. Here are the Reds story lines we should be keeping an eye on for this next series:

Three Up

Shin-Soo Choo

Choo has continued to be everything the Reds need at the top of the lineup. Not only is his .382 average one of the best in baseball, but his .523 OBP is the best in baseball. The Anti-Stubbs terrorized the Miami Marlins, getting on base 5 of 5 times in yesterday’s game, and 6 of 7 times on Saturday. He is providing the lineup with the one thing they were lacking in 2012, and he’s providing it better than anyone in the game. He also seems to be acclimating to Center Field much better than anyone was predicting he would. It’s too early to tell how DiDi Gregorious will pan out in Arizona, but right now this is looking like a damn good trade on Walt Jocketty’s behalf.

Apr 18, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) is congratulated by first base coach Billy Hatcher (22) after Votto hit a single off Miami Marlins relief pitcher A.J. Ramos during the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 11-1. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Joey Votto

Good thing Twitter doesn’t act as General Manager of the Reds, or we’d have been rid of Joey Votto a handful of games into the season. Votto’s power stroke seems to have come back, which only means bad things for opposing teams. He’s being more selective at the plate than he has ever been (his 25 walks continue to dominate the entire league), and now he seems to be getting more confident. When he does swing, the ball goes far. He has two home runs in his last two games, and his batting average is building back up to Votto standards. He’s .001 behind aforementioned Shin-Soo Choo in on base percentage, and has been playing a pretty solid first base defensively. Good thing we didn’t trade him, eh?

Brandon Phillips

DatDudeBP has been the definition of clutch in the past few weeks. The efforts of Choo and Votto getting on base are all for none if they don’t have anyone to drive them in, and Brandon Phillips has been answering the call. He’s been producing so well in the cleanup role that Reds fans are quickly forgetting Ryan Ludwick even exists. It’ll be interesting to see how Phillips is handled when Ludwick returns from injury. He is currently battling with Mets catcher John Buck for the league lead in RBIs (Phillips’ 21 is currently bested by Buck’s 22), and he’s hitting a blistering .458/.516/.667 with runners in scoring position. As long as Choo and Votto continue to get on base, and as long as Phillips keeps hitting them in, this Reds team will be hard to beat.

Three Down

Ryan Hanigan

Even before Hanigan “officially” went on the DL, he was a citizen of ThreeDownsville. Hanigan has had a very down season, and it’s come out that he’s been injured the entire time. Hopefully his lack of production (and slight defensive dip) can be solely blamed on the thumb and oblique injuries. In the mean time, those of you calling for Devin Mesoraco will get to see him play every day for a short span of time. I was planning on posting an article about why Hanigan was getting the regular call over Mesoraco, but now I think I’ll let the younger catcher’s play talk for itself, and back up my stance with statistics when Hanigan is off the DL for a while.

April 14, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Manny Parra (43) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 10-7. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Manny Parra

I’m thinking Parra is probably every Reds fan’s choice for sending down to Louisville when Sean Marshall is eligible to come off the DL at some point this week. However, with the inconsistent and not-necessarily-popular moves the front office have made over the past couple of seasons, it’s really a toss up. Parra showed why he’s generally disliked across Reds Nation yesterday when he almost gave up the Reds’ commanding lead in the 9th. The only thing saving this guy is the fact that he throws with his left arm — and that might be enough to save him from this roster cut as well.

Chris Heisey

It looks like Heisey has officially lost his shot at playing every day once again. The left fielder consistently shows that he can’t play at an elevated level on an every day basis. I’m a bit disappointed, to say the least, as I really wanted to see Heisey succeed and take over the every day spot until Ryan Ludwick came back from injury. For now it looks like Dusty is using a platoon of Heisey and Xavier Paul (who has been playing some very good baseball as of late) and Derrick Robinson, who has been impressive in his major league debut. Heisey may get another shot if Paul or Robinson start slipping, but as of now it looks like he’ll get every other start.

What to expect from the Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are living up to their names as the new bottom dwellers of the NL Central. But, as was shown in the series’ vs the Cardinals and Pirates, it’s very important to win divisional match-ups. The Cubs come into Great American Ballpark with a 5-12 record against some pretty solid teams (they’ve faced the Pirates, Braves, Brewers, Giants, Rangers, and the Brewers again. That’s a pretty rough schedule to open up the season. You’ve got to think they’re looking to take one or two from the Reds to build some momentum, as they face the Marlins and then the Padres after they’re finished in Cincinnati.

Apr 19, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) hits a solo home run in the 8th inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. At left is Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

By far the greatest contributor to the Cubs offense is youngster Anthony Rizzo, who I gloated over in the NL Central First Basemen Preview article. Although his slash line isn’t where he’d like it (.210/.310/.532), he’s already hit 6 HRs and has accumulated 14 RBIs. This kid is something special, and will have a very productive season if he can get that average up.

Game One will pit former Reds rotation competitors Mike Leake and Travis Wood. Leake eventually won out over the lefty, who was sent to Chicago as part of the trade for Sean Marshall. Wood is having a pretty good season in Chicago, sitting at 1-1 with a 1.83 ERA through 19.2 innings giving up only 4 earned runs with 8 walks and 13 Ks.

The second game in the series will be the second appearance by rookie Tony Cingrani as he takes on Carlos Villanueva. Villanueva should be familiar to Reds fans from his time spent with the Brewers. He’s also been having himself a pretty good season with a 1.29 ERA through 21 innings, with 3 earned runs, 4 walks and 15 strikeouts.

The wrap-up game in the series will be a matchup of aces, as Mat Latos will take on Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija has come a long way in the last couple of years, and should put up a pretty good fight against the Reds. He’s currently sporting a 3.38 ERA, having suffered 10 earned runs in 26.2 innings, having accumulated 7 walks against a whopping 31 strikeouts.

Overall, the Reds should see their hot streak continue. They need to capitalize on the last three home games of this home stand, as they’ll be thrown into road match-ups against the Nationals, Cardinals and Cubs. The Good Guys haven’t fared well on the road this season, and the upcoming road trip won’t be an easy one. Sweeping or even getting two of three from the Cubs should put them in good shape should they falter on the road.