Cardinals vs Reds home opening series preview April 7-9

Jamie Squire

Busch Stadium's gates open for 2014 as the Reds visit the Cardinals.

The Schedule

The series starts with two rematches from last week:

  • Michael Wacha gets the home opener honors against Tony Cingrani this afternoon at 3:15. Both pitchers were stellar last week.
  • Lance Lynn and Homer Bailey both struggled in their matchup last week. They face-off again tomorrow at at 7:15.
  • Shelby Miller and Mike Leake look to rebound from shaky performances on Wednesday at 12:45
  • El Birdos get a day off Thursday before a three game set with Cubs begins Friday at Busch.

Mise-en-scene

For the second year in a row, The Cardinals opened the season with a 3-3 road trip. The Reds, 2-4, salvaged the last game of a trio with the Mets. Alfredo Simon, the big righty reliever, made his first start since 2011 yesterday and went 7 strong innings in a 2-1 Reds victory. He had made 99 relief appearances before his start. Mat Latos is expected back shortly, and Simon will return to the pen.

What more is there to say? It's another April divisional series between competitive rivals. Enjoy.

Some things to watch for

Considering that deception is likely a significant part of what makes Tony Cingrani so tough, it's great that the Cardinals get a second look so quickly after the first. I'm hoping to see some better swings this time around.

Billy Hamilton's struggles continued against the Mets. He jammed his finger, but should be healthy enough to play this series. He's 0-12 on the year with a walk and a CS. We're talking about just 13 PA, but he looked generally overmatched against the Cardinals. It'll be interesting to see how long Reds manager Bryan Price sticks with Hamilton leading off.

Jonathan Broxton is expected to join the Reds bullpen Tuesday, which will shore up their relief corps while they wait for Aroldis Chapman.

Catcher Devin Mesoraco is expected to be activated Tuesday as well.

Who the hell is that?

Devin Mesoraco: Ok, you probably already know who Devin Mesoraco is. He received more PA's than Ryan Hanigan last season and was well-regarded as a prospect before that. Hanigan was sent packing last off-season, and Mesoraco is a player who suddenly is one of the most important members of the Reds. Recovered from a minor oblique injury, he is expected to get his first action of the season this series. Before we get to a brief refresher course on Mesoraco, let's look at a few numbers.

2013 wOBA* and 2014 Age:

.319, 28 Todd Frazier

.307, 33 Brandon Phillips

.303, 29 Chris Heisey

.289, 28 Zack Cozart

.282, 25 Devin Mesoraco

.277, 35 Ryan Ludwick

Add Billy Hamilton, who put up a .300 wOBA in AAA last season, and there's your offense other than stars Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.

*If you're not familiar with wOBA, it's simply a catch-all hitting statistic that combines on-base and slugging abilities weighted to their respective values. If you want to know the math, it's here. League average last year was .314

For context, David Freese's rough 2013, which he played with a back injury, left him with a .322 wOBA, the lowest among Cardinals starters except Pete Kozma. No current Red other than Jay Bruce and Joey Votto reached that number last season.

Todd Frazier is ok, and there's just not much else there. Phillips and Ludwick used to be good hitters. They're growing old and looking it. And neither does the Reds farm offer much hope offensively anytime soon:

Here is the first line of fangraphs' look at it: "The Reds system is thin on impact talent, as well as overall depth. "

Baseball America points out that the Reds farm clubs combined for the worst winning percentage in all of baseball, and calls their talent thin.

Bringing this back to Mesoraco, the point is that this team desperately needs to find another impact bat, and outside of a late-career renaissance by Phillips or Luddy, or an unexpectedly fruitful maturation of Frazier, the only place they might find that is Mesoraco.

As evidenced by his spot in the list above, Devin didn't exactly light the world on fire last year, but a closer look gives some reason for optimism, and he has pedigree on his side as well.

Picked #15 overall out of high school in 2007, he struggled early in his career, and dealt with injury and conditioning issues. But in 2010, he shot up from high A to AAA with a .302/.377/.587 line between all levels. He consolidated his gains in an excellent season at AAA in 2011.

Mesoraco and Hamilton's years in AAA:

Age PA K% BB% AVG OBP SLG
Devin Mesoraco, 2011 23 499 16.6 10.4 .289 .371 .484
Billy Hamilton, 2013 22 547 18.6 6.9 .256 .308 .343

Going into 2012, Mesoraco was a top-tier prospect poised to break into the big leagues:

Here is what some prospect analysts had to say:

Keith Law (who had him as the number 6 prospect in baseball mid-2011: "What is the value of a true catcher who can hit .270 or so with some walks and 25+ home runs? Given where replacement level is, isn't that an MVP candidate? Mesoraco can do all of those things - good swing, good eye, above-average arm, receiving much better this year now that the thumb is healed."

Jason Parks called him a "middle of the order bat"

Jason Grey liked him as well, placing him in his top 10.

A couple of factors limited him in the last two years.

First, he lacked opportunity. Former Red Ryan Hanigan was a defensive standout while Mesoraco is likely only average. Old-School manager Dusty Baker opted for the catcher he trusted, though he slowly began working Mesoraco in when Hanigan's batting line fell through the floor last year.

Second, he struggled with the opportunities he did receive. His 2013 .238/.287/.362 line is hardly encouraging, but looking a little deeper paints a slightly rosier picture. He posted solid line drive rates and doesn't appear to have particular problems with offspeed or out of the zone pitches. He posted just a .264 BABIP last season, but xBABIP likes him for a healthy .321. So while his results have been terrible, his process appears to be much better.

This isn't to say that Mesoraco's early struggles are unconcerning, but he's still young and has a lot of things working in his favor. The Reds really need Devin to finally cash in on them.

Keys to the series:

-Go for the ribs, Rock. Don't let those bastards breathe.

-The early bird is worth two in the bush

-There's no time like now. Tomorrow also looks nice.

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