Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds (54-57) at Chicago Cubs (47-65)

BREAKING NEWS: I heard the 49ers are shopping Taylor Mays

Just 18 more wins in a row until the Cubs are back at .500! It’s Gonna Happen.

Where have things gone wrong with the Reds? It seemed like just about everyone (smugly: not me) was picking them to win the division in the preseason. Let’s look at their team stats and get an idea of where things have gone wrong.

Team Overviews

As always, these are team stats and NL ranks

Reds Cubs
wOBA .323 (4th) .315 (8th)
UBR 11.6 (1st) -14.1 (16th)
UZR 40.2 (2nd) -20.1 (13th)
SP FIP 4.43 (16th) 4.09 (10th)
RP FIP 3.85 (10th) 4.10 (15th)

I started looking up these numbers and through the first three I was amazed that the Reds aren’t running away with the division. That UZR number is no fluke – they also lead the NL in DRS. Then I got to the starting pitchers. (Side note: the Cubs have by far the largest ERA-FIP split in MLB. There’s over a run in difference. The next team is the Royals, whose split is 0.5.).

Johnny Cueto has put up incredible numbers this year, posting a 1.74 ERA on the back of a .219 BABIP and 5.1% HR/FB. His xFIP of 3.83 is much more in line with the kind of pitcher that I expected him to be – good but not great. Aside from Cueto things aren’t quite as pretty. The Reds have had ten different pitchers start games, including five by Dontrelle Willis, who is currently in the rotation and actually putting up decent numbers (!). Former staff leader Edinson Volquez was demoted in July after putting up a 5+ FIP through 85 innings on the season and still hasn’t found his groove in AAA. Another up and comer in the Reds rotation, Travis Wood, was also sent to the minors in late June for pitching poorly. Homer Bailey, predicted by many to have a breakout year, started the season with an shoulder injury, which he reinjured in May. Not surprisingly his performance has regressed from last year’s step forward but the talent should still be there. Now that he’s healthy they could have enough to make a run at the Cardinals, but they might be in too deep a hole at this point.

Pitching matchups

Friday Friday: Mike Leake, RHP (3.89, 3.82, 3.61, 4.04) vs Ryan Dempster, RHP (4.96, 3.61, 3.32, 3.56), 1:20 PM CT

Leake had a much worse year last season than I remembered (4.68 FIP). Maybe it’s just that he dominated the Cubs whenever we faced them (dying laughing). He went straight to the majors from the draft, making his MLB debut against the Cubs. He didn’t record a loss in his first ten starts. He started running out of gas later in the year and the Reds shut him down to limit his innings. This year he’s cut down his walks to an excellent 2.22 BB/9, and is averaging 6+ innings a start. He’s also a decent hitter for a pitcher, posting a .304 wOBA in his career so far.

Dempster put up another solid start against the Cardinals last week, and is slowly dragging his ERA numbers down. Since his disatrous 6.55 FIP April, Demp has produced month by month FIPs of 2.74, 3.16, and 2.11. He should put up great numbers for the Cubs next year on their way to winning 72 games.

Saturday: Johnny Cueto, RHP (1.72, 3.36, 3.83, 3.84) vs Carlos Zambrano, RHP (4.46, 4.13, 4.25, 3.69), 12:05 PM CT

As mentioned above, Cueto has posted an insane BABIP this season. It’s even more flukey when you consider the fact that Cueto is a ground ball pitcher (53.4% this year), who tend to have even higher BABIPs than most. Part of it can be attributed to his low line drive rate (15.9%) but there’s a lot of luck going on there. Of course, it certainly helps his cause that he has the best defense in the National League behind him.

As is usual these days Z threw a ton of pitches in his last start (114 in six innings), but aside from that it was a start that looked a lot more like vintage post-2006 Z. He struck out five batters and got a decent number of grounders, which have been the main sources of Z-related concern this season. Of course, that was against the Pirates so things will probably still continute to look decliney against the much better Reds offense.

Sunday: Bronson Arroyo, RHP (5.45, 5.54, 4.28, 4.67) vs Randy Wells, RHP (5.89, 5.11, 4.24, 4.05), 1:20 PM CT

Unfortunately for the Reds, Arroyo has been their only opening day rotation member to stick in the rotation this year. I say unfortunately because he probably should have been demoted along with Volquez and Wood. But they don’t have any options on him, so he’s been left in to eat innings for them. As you can see from his xFIP he’s had a lot of bad luck with HRs, but in general it’s tough to compete when you have a strikout rate hovering around 5 K/9. As I complain about every time he turns up in one of these previews, I always think of Arroyo as a LHP because he’s a junkballing starter. He’s the anti Ted Lilly in the sense that he’s consistently lousy. He rarely gets blown out, just goes deep into games and gives up 3-5 runs.

Wells had a decent outing against the Pirates, striking out seven in six innings. He hasn’t gone more than six innings in any start this year.


Cubs extend their winning streak to six, then start a new losing streak.


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