Nick Senzel looks to take a bite out of the Big Apple as the Reds battle the Yankees

New York Mets v Cincinnati Reds
New York Mets v Cincinnati Reds / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
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I still can't believe it happened. Despite dropping five of their first seven games to open an 11-game homestand, the Cincinnati Reds (32-54) rallied to win their last four at Great American Ball Park, including a series sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, to finish with a 6-5 record in front of the home fans.

The Redlegs not only concluded a successful homestand, but they completed the unlikely feat playing nine of those games against quality opponents in the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and the aforementioned Rays. For a ball club that has struggled winning close games, Cincinnati is suddenly thriving in clutch situations.

Entering play on Sunday, July 3rd, the Reds didn't have a walk-off to celebrate in the 2022 campaign. Fast forward a week and the Reds have miraculously walked it off victoriously four times in an eight-game span.

The Reds head to the Bronx to battle the Yankees.

Cincinnati will need to pull out every trick possible as they visit Yankee Stadium. The Bronx Bombers are the proud owners of the best record in baseball by a wide margin. Entering play today, the New York Yankees (61-25) have an incredible 14.5 game lead in an ultra-competitive American League East and are virtually guaranteed to win the division crown.

Needless to say, the Yankees excel in every aspect of the game. Their vaunted offensive unit leads the AL in OBP (.327), slugging (.444), and home runs (146). If that's not impressive enough, they're tied for second with 58 stolen bases.

All-Star right-fielder Aaron Judge has already compiled nearly a season's worth of amazing numbers. The free-agent-to-be is slashing .283/.361/.610 with a staggering 30 round-trippers and 65 RBIs. However, he's not the only one playing long ball.

First baseman, and longtime Reds' nemesis, Anthony Rizzo and DH Giancarlo Stanton have each gone deep 22 times as well. Whatever the Yankees are drinking must be contagious because 36-year-old former St. Louis Cardinal Matt Carpenter has launched 10 bombs in only 64 at-bats since donning the pinstripes on May 26th following his release a week earlier from the Texas Rangers.

New York hurlers sport the second-best team ERA in the junior circuit with an impressive 3.04 mark. In addition, they're second in strikeouts (782), and only the Houston Astros have surrendered fewer gopher balls (80) than the Yanks' pitching staff.

Since interleague play was introduced in the 1997 season, the Yankees own an 11-8 advantage over the Reds, including a current five-game winning streak in the Bronx. However, the two clubs have split their six season series meetings over that time.

Previewing the matchups: Reds vs. Yankees

Cincinnati Reds starter Graham Ashcraft vs. New York Yankees starter Gerrit Cole

Graham Ashcraft (4-2 4.35 ERA) gets the call in tonight's opener while New York counters with Gerrit Cole (8-2 3.26 ERA). If there's one word that defines the Cincinnati rookie throughout his first two months in the major leagues, it's tenacity.

Employing the classic bend but don't break method, the 24-year-old right-hander allowed 10 hits in six innings against the Mets in his last outing but miraculously allowed only two runners to dent the plate. Even though Ashcraft doesn't miss many bats, just 29 Ks in 49.2 frames, he also doesn't beat himself. The Alabama native has issued just nine free passes in his nine starts.

Let's be honest. The Cincinnati Reds own Gerrit Cole. In 13 career starts versus the Reds, the former Pittsburgh Pirate is 1-8 with a 4.68 ERA. Don't be surprised to see Tommy Pham do some damage tonight. Cincinnati's left fielder is 10-for-24 with two doubles and a homer versus the Yankee right-hander.

Cincinnati Reds starter Mike Minor vs. New York Yankees starter Luis Severino

Southpaw Mike Minor (1-6 6.63 ERA) toes the rubber Wednesday night as Luis Severino (5-3 3.11 ERA) receives the nod for Aaron Boone's club. Are you looking for some optimism Reds Country? I have you covered.

In four outings lifetime versus the Yankees, the Cincinnati left-hander is 2-1 with a sparkling 3.12 ERA. Additionally, Mike Minor appears to be DJ LeMahieu's greatest nightmare. New York's two-time batting champion has collected just two hits in 17 at-bats against the veteran Reds hurler.

Cincinnati will have their hands full with Luis Severino. Over his last seven outings, the 27-year-old right-hander has fanned at least eight in four of those appearances. In addition, Severino keeps the ball in the yard. He's allowed just one homer in his last 18 frames.

Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo vs. New York Yankees starter Nestor Cortes

Wednesday night's series finale will feature two-time All-Star Luis Castillo (3-4 2.92 ERA) opposing Nestor Cortes (7-3 2.74 ERA) of the Yankees. Even though he missed the first month of the season, La Piedra has been everything the Reds hoped for and more.

Tossing 71 innings, the Dominican right-hander has fanned 74 and only yielded five gopher balls. How good has Castillo been in his last three appearances? How about 20 frames of two-run baseball with 24 punch outs good. An All-Star performance indeed.

While the numbers overall are impressive, there's reason to believe the Reds are catching southpaw Nestor Cortes at the right time. Over his last 19 innings, the 27-year-old has surrendered seven round-trippers. Look for Cincinnati manager David Bell to load his lineup card with right-handed bats. A dozen of the 13 home runs Cortes has allowed have come against righties.

Nick Senzel has been the Reds hottest hitter over the past month.

Luis Castillo may be the Reds All-Star representative and Brandon Drury deservedly belongs in the Midsummer Classic in LA next week, no Cincinnati Reds player has been better over the last month than centerfielder Nick Senzel.

in his last 30 games, the former Tennessee Volunteer is slashing .317/.375/.406 with two homers, 12 RBIs, and five stolen bases. Additionally, since being dropped to the bottom third of the batting order, Senzel is hitting a blistering .393 in 66 at-bats.

Another element the former second overall pick of the 2016 draft brings to the ballclub is speed. Senzel's five stolen bases place second on the team, but his speed is not limited to the basepaths. According to Baseball Savant, his sprint speed ranks in the 83rd percentile when patrolling the outfield.

What does it all mean? Your guess is as good as mine. Keep in mind, Senzel has never played more than 104 games or accumulated as many as 400 at-bats in a season since making his big league debut during the 2019 season. However, if he's able to duplicate his recent success in the second half of the season, the Redlegs will have one less question mark as they prepare for the 2023 campaign.

Prediction: Reds vs. Yankees

Nobody is going to confuse this Reds-Yankees matchup with the 1976 Fall Classic, but the Redlegs will enter the Bronx on a season-high four-game winning streak. Will their winning ways continue?

Not a chance. Look for the Yankees to take two of three before the Cincinnati Reds travel to St. Louis to close out the first half of the 2022 season with a weekend showdown with the division-rival Cardinals.

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