Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds (37-26) at Chicago Cubs (25-35)

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The NL Central's been pretty good this year. That is, the upper 60% of the division. The Cubs have been demolished by division opponents, going 7-18 against their divisional foes. The fun week that was the two teams, one cup series already feels like it was a month ago after three offensively futile games against the Pirates, 

Team Overviews

  Reds Cubs
wRC+ 98 (6th) 92 (11th)
BSR 2.1 (6th) 0.3 (8th)
UZR 6.1 (7th) 6.3 (6th)
DRS 22 (3rd) -2 (11th)
SP FIP- 90 (3rd) 90(2nd)
RP FIP- 102 (10th) 112 (13th)

Two of the Reds biggest assets last year – their defense and their bullpen, have regressed a bit this season. Chapman has regressed from being utterly dominant to simply great (1.55 FIP last year, 2.42 this year). He's still striking out the planet, but his control has slipped a bit and he's giving up a few more HRs. Sean Marshall has been injured on and off all year, and several arms (notably, Broxton and Hoover) took a big step back from last year. I still think they're a top defensive team, even with Choo in CF instead of the speedy (and free swinging) Drew Stubbs. The Cubs and Reds both have top pitching staffs, but they have a long way to go to catch the Cardinals, who are posting a ridiculous 74 FIP-. It's like they have an entire rotation of Bob Gibsons (career FIP- 81, lower if you discount his last two years when he clearly didn't have it anymore).

Injuries of note

As alluded to above, former Cub Sean Marshall is on the DL for the second time this year with a shoulder injury. He's supposed to begin rehabbing today. OF Ryan Ludwick tore a labrum on the first series of the season, and is out at least another month following the resulting surgery. Most notably, Reds ace Johnny Cueto is on the DL with a lat injury. Cueto already missed a month earlier this season with an oblique injury. If the Reds are going to catch the Cardinals, they'll need him healthy. 

For the Cubs, Shawn Camp has been throwing bullpen sessions but the Cubs have managed to avoid setting an official rehab date for him yet. Take your time, Cubs. Somehow I missed that Rafael Dolis hit the DL nearly two weeks ago. Steve Clevenger has been rehabbing in Iowa and doing Steve Clevenger things (taking walks, not much else). I don't expect a callup anytime soon, with everyone on the infield whose name does not rhyme with Smashtro playing relatively well. 

News, storylines, blood oaths, etc.

If Cueto weren't hurt, the big story would probably be what happened in the last Cubs-Reds game. Cueto threw a pitch over David DeJesus's head in annoyance of his slow at bat preparation earlier in the game. DeJesus kind of laughed it off, but Matt Garza and Dusty Baker got into a war of words in the media after the game. I love how Dusty called out Garza to tell it to Cueto's face when Cueto dodged the media for the next few days following the start. It was also hilarious to see Cueto at the plate in the inning after the DeJesus incident, bailing from just about every pitch that Carlos Marmol threw him (laughing). He's the ultimate weapon in that situation. Sveum said after the series that he has no plans to retaliate, and not in the wink-y way that managers tend to say these things. If anything happens, it might just be Garza on his own. I don't see anything happening though.

Starlin Castro has been awful for a while, and was recently dropped to seventh in the order. There's been talk of giving him a scheduled day off soon, and at least it sounds like they're spinning it as just a day off instead of sending him to his room without dinner to think about what he's done, which has been the strategy the last few seasons.

Pitching Probables

Monday: Homer Bailey, RHP (3.84, 67, 3.10, 3.58) vs Scott Feldman, RHP (2.84, 97, 3.82, 3.88), 7:05 PM CT

Paul Maholm 2.0 is still having a solid year for the Cubs. Like Maholm, he was awful to start the season then put together a huge run of great starts. Since those first three starts, Feldman has a 42:10 strikeout to walk ratio. He's also pitched into the 6th inning in every one of those starts.

Bailey's numbers are a bit deflated due to a 6.6% HR/FB ratio, well below his previous numbers. However, he is striking out a lot more batters this year. Perhaps the biggest difference is a greater reliance on his sinker, which he's thrown 10% more often compared to last year. He's also picked up a mph on his heater. He struck out eight and walked three in six innings in his last start against the Cubs. 

Tuesday: Tony Cingrani, LHP (3.27, 110, 3.09, 4.40) vs Matt Garza, RHP (4.03, 89, 3.79, 3.70), 7:05 PM CT

Cingrani has been amazing this year, striking out 31.1% of batters. Unfortunately, when batters do make contact a lot of balls are headed out of the yard. I'm still kind of puzzled at how a lefty who throws 83% fastballs at around 92 mph blows so many batters away. It will be interesting to see how the league adjusts to him as the season goes forward. 

Garza looked great against Arizona two starts ago, but was much shakier against the Angels the last time out. He went 6.1 innings with four runs, five strikeouts, and only one walk. IIRC he got most of those K's late in his outing, I remember checking the box score mid game and being surprised that he only had a single strikeout. Still, the most important stat for Garza is that he only has a single walk in his last two starts. His control looked quite erratic in his first two starts, so this is a great sign.

Wednesday: Mike Leake, RHP (2.93, 90, 3.75, 4.24) vs Travis Wood, LHP (2.65, 88, 4.43, 4.23), 1:20 PM CT

Leake is having a much better season than I remembered. He's getting more grounders and has had some good luck with his strand rate, but there's nothing particularly glaring saying that his numbers aren't for real. He's having a lot of success with his cutter this year, which could be the difference.

Wood's ERA is driven by his .220 BABIP and 5.2% HR/FB rate, but he's still having a solid season even if you discount those. I wouldn't be surprised to see him sneak onto some all-star ballots if he keeps this up. He's had only one bad non-quality start all year, and it was in his last meeting with the Reds. Wood gave up five runs in 5.2 innings in that start. 

Thursday: Mat Latos, RHP (2.87, 83, 3.53, 3.48) vs Jeff Samardzija, RHP (3.18, 77, 3.02, 3.41), 1:20 PM CT

The Reds haven't made the Latos start officially official on their site yet, but he's in line for this start. Latos is almost boringly good. I can't think of anything to say. Good work by the Reds for picking him up for Edinson Volquez (who has been awful) and Yonder Alonso (who has been meh, and has been busted for PEDs). I'm still scratching my head at that trade from the Padres perspective, as they already had Anthony Rizzo and were pretty much forced to trade him at that point. 

Shark is likely going to be the Cubs only ASG participant, but at least he'll have earned it. He's 8th among qualified players in the NL in fWAR, 8th in FIP, 20th in ERA, and first in K/9 by a nontrivial margin at 10.38. Following his complete game against the White Sox he has struck out 18 with 5 walks in 12.1 innings. 

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About berselius

How appropriate. You fight like a cow.

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