Series Preview #40: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Cincinnati Reds

Mike McGinnis

Tonight, on a very special episode of Series Previews...

The general sentiment on this site seems to be that people are using the Reds series as a bellwether for the rest of the season. Well, it's here. It's a must-win series. Gut check time. Gotta give 110%. Win or go home. Kill or be killed. Other sports cliches.

I'm not mocking the notion that the Diamondbacks need to do well in this series, because they almost certainly do. The Reds currently own the Wild Card spot that the D-Backs will likely need to secure if they want to make the playoffs, and there are five games between the two teams. It's possible that the Reds will lose five more of the forty or so games left for both teams than the D-Backs on their own, but I'm not betting on it. A split is essential. Three of four would be very helpful.

But let's not conflate success in this series with a probable playoff berth. Even the best possible scenario, which consists of the Diamondbacks going on the road and beating a team that's probably better than them four games in a row, doesn't make the team the favorites for the Wild Card.

The best possible scenario for this series leaves the team with a slightly higher but still less than likely chance at getting their prize. And in this case, that prize is a single game that will probably come against Adam Wainwright and the best offense in the NL. But other than that, get excited!

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):


Arizona
(64-58)
Cincinnati
(70-55)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 93 94 Cincinnati
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
97/102 88/94 Cincinnati
Fielding (UZR):
40.2 8.6

Arizona


The problem is that the Reds are pretty good.

The last time I wrote one of these for the Reds, those pitching numbers were 85/93. Given that Johnny Cueto, who was expected to be their ace, hasn't really pitched since then, that's pretty impressive. And since their bullpen has been surprisingly middle-of-the-pack this year, it speaks to impressive rotational depth.

The offense has been disappointing; when you consider how much they've invested in making it elite, it's not a good sign that it's been roughly as good as the Diamondbacks' this year. The Reds' offense does one thing well, and that's taking walks, where they lead the NL. Dusty Baker must be so proud.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Adam Eaton, LF
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Aaron Hill, 2B
5. Gerardo Parra, RF
6. A.J. Pollock, CF
7. Wil Nieves, C
8. Didi Gregorius, SS

Cincinnati Reds

1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF
2. Todd Frazier, 3B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Brandon Phillips, 2B
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. Ryan Ludwick, LF
7. Devin Mesoraco, C
8. Zack Cozart, SS

It's a good lineup on paper, which makes it even more surprising that only three members of the Cincinnati Reds have an OPS above .730. Choo, Votto and Bruce have carried the Reds' offense this year, which was supposed to be sorta true this year, but has been way more true than Reds fans were hoping.

Bruce has been impeccably consistent for the last four years or so, to the point that you can almost pencil him in for an OPS in the low to mid .800s, tolerable range, and some borderline All Star Game consideration. Which is a pretty cool thing to have lying around, honestly.

Choo built up some major "best player no one's paying attention to" cred in Cleveland. Apparently he put up nearly 11 fWAR from 2009 to 2010, which I must have slept through or something. He has no business playing center field, but his stellar offense, which centers around the second-highest walk rate in the majors, more than makes up for it.

Choo only has the second-highest walk rate because Joey Votto exists, and is spectacular. He walks 16.9% of the time, which is head and shoulders above anyone else in baseball. But he's also out-slugging every first baseman in the NL not named Paul Goldschmidt, so it's not as though he's completely one-dimensional.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Goldy has taken the fWAR lead among NL first basemen from Votto, because I'm a homer like that. But at the same time, a lot of that has to do with defense, and Votto's defensive reputation is a bit higher than Goldy's. They're both awesome.

The rest of the lineup is impressively unremarkable. After a peak of being perhaps the best offensive second baseman in the game, Brandon Phillips has seem his average and power drop for two straight years now. Fraizer has seen his OPS drop by almost 100 points since making an improbable run at Rookie of the Year in 2012. Not only has Cozart been roundly out-hit by Gregorius this year, but he's only slightly out-hit Didi since the start of June, which is way worse.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Randall Delgado (4-3, 3.52) vs. Bronson Arroyo (11-9, 3.32)

Insightful Commentary: Look, I like Randall Delgado, and I'm happy that he's generally succeeded this year. But I think I'm going to be worrying about him in situations with high home run potential for a long time to come. Delgado has a HR/9 that looks way too much like Yusmeiro Petit's for me to be comfortable with him pitching in Great American Ballpark.

But pitchers can make high HR rates work, because if they couldn't, Bronson Arroyo wouldn't have a job. Arroyo hasn't been below league-average in HR/9 since 2006, which would seem like a problem. However, he doesn't walk guys, and he maintains a consistently low BABIP against. Home runs don't hurt as much when they're aren't many runners on base.

Tuesday: Patrick Corbin (12-3, 2.48) vs. Tony Cingrini (6-2, 2.78)

Insightful Commentary: There are two ways to view Corbin's last start. You can either focus on the fact that Corbin allowed four runs in an inning for the first time this season. Or, you can focus how Corbin allowed four runs in an inning for the first time this season. He had a rough inning, and was solid for the rest of the start, and for the rest of the season. God, you people are demanding.

Cingrini is back in the rotation because of Cueto's injury after spending about a month in the bullpen. He has a good fastball from the left side, and a pretty venomous slider, but his changeup remains a work in progress. Say, sounds a lot like the guy he's pitching against.

Wednesday: Brandon McCarthy (2-7, 4.84) vs. Mike Leake (10-5, 3.01)

Inisightful Commentary: Since coming back from the shoulder injury, McCarthy has been pretty much the same pitcher he was before that. Which means balls in play. When they get hit to guys, hooray! When they don't, less hooray.

The good news is that Mike Leake had a kinda bad start last time out against the Brewers. The bad news is that Leake hasn't had two bad starts in a row all year, for people that like stats like that. If you're wondering how Leake shaved a run and a half off his career ERA this year, a fair amount of it is BABIP and Strand Rate, but cutting your home run rate as much as Leake has this year never hurts either.

Thursday: Trevor Cahill (4-10, 4.78) vs. Mat Latos (12-4, 3.02)

Insightful Commentary: I was too busy yelling "DAMMIT TREVOR YOU HAD ONE JOB" at my television to notice whether his mechanics were better than they were before his DL stint, so I'll defer to you all on that. I will say that Cahill doesn't give up home runs when he's right, given that he's a sinkerballer and all. So the fact that he gave up two in five innings probably warrants keeping an eye on.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Latos' impressive season is his home run rate. Last year, despite pitching well overall, his HR/9 spiked in his first year with Cincy. If he missed Petco Park any more, he'd get drunk and sing "Kiss by a Rose" to a picture of it. But this year, his HR/9 is even better than it was in San Diego. Love the park you're with.

Three Pressing Questions:

Why don't the Reds get more credit as a "long-suffering" team? I honestly don't know. The Reds from 1990 to 2010 were about as mediocre as a franchise can be. And their "revival" has so far consisted of the most "thanks for coming" playoff appearance imaginable in 2010, and the five-game gut punch that doubles as the 2012 NLDS. And unlike a certain other NL Central team I could mention that plays in a city that has won championships in other sports, Cincy just gets the Bengals and a mediocre Big Ten program.

Who are the Dodgers playing? Four games against the Marlins? You've got to be...Ugh, fine. At least they face Fernandez.

I have a stomach ache after stealing pizza from Clefo last time. Can you help? No, you're on the other side of the internet from me. Ask your uncle or roommate or something. And even if I could help, I probably wouldn't. It serves you right for begging the writers for food.

Reds Blog: Red Reporter

(All numbers from Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs unless otherwise indicated)

Big ups (as the cool kids say) to Clefo for filling in last time.

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