Coming into the season, the Reds were a potentially dangerous bad team. That sounds like an oxymoron, but the basic premise of a dangerously bad team is that some of element of their game could be so dominant that for that particular game or series, they aren’t a bad team. Hunter Greene, with a career 30.6 K%, has ace potential. The same applies to Nick Lodolo, with a career 29.3 K%. Groundball machine Graham Ashcraft gave them a third effective starter. And in the minors is top 100 prospect Andrew Abbott, striking out 35.2% of hitters in AAA. Hit them at the right part of the season with the right pitchers and you’d have no idea they were a bad team.
This is not the right part of the season. Or rather, it is the right part of the season if you’re the Cardinals. Hunter Greene pitched on Sunday, which means the Cardinals completely miss him. Nick Lodolo was recently placed on the IL and Abbott isn’t in the majors yet. We just get Ashcraft and a group of starters who likely won’t be on the next winning Reds’ team, at least not in the rotation. And Ashcraft could be mistaken for a Cardinals’ starter, so he’s not going to scare you, maybe groundball you to death.
You will see a few familiar faces in their lineup. Nick Senzel is still a Cincinnati Red for what seems like the 10th straight year, and this time.... he’s fine. More importantly maybe, he’s healthy. He has a 90 wRC+ as the everyday 3B. Tyler Stephenson is still their catcher, although I’m not entirely sure what happened to his offense. As their catcher/part-time DH, he has almost no power to speak of, especially given half his games are at Great American Ballpark, and has a 79 wRC+ with a .353 BABIP. I would be concerned if I were a Reds fan about him. Jonathan India is still the starting 2B and seems to be back to his rookie self.
Then there are the newbies. Top 50 prospect Matt McClain had a 193 wRC+ in AAA, so the Reds recently promoted him., We may be a little lucky to see him in his adjusting to the MLB phase. He has 10 strikeouts in his first 22 plate appearances. We technically saw Jake Fraley last year, but he feels like a more vital part of the team this year. That said, he has a .321 xwOBA compared to a .357 actual wOBA. Jose Barrero recently moved to CF to make room for McClain (who is a shortstop), but he still can’t hit at all. He has a 69 wRC+ which is a massive improvement over his 5 wRC+ in 174 PAs last year. Yes, 5.
Spencer Streer has been an average hitter who has been a replacement level player due to his defense. With Senzel at 3B and Joey Votto hurt, he’s been the 1B. And Luke Maile is...technically the starting catcher I guess at this point. He has a 140 wRC+ in 43 PAs. They also have a third catcher in Curt Casali. I think they are trying to keep Stephenson healthy, but his bat really isn’t good enough anywhere else and that was before his bat collapsed.
If you get to the 9th inning and the Reds have a lead, Alexis Diaz has been taken over by his brother, Edwin, because he has been ridiculously dominant. Diaz has a 48.4 K% and 1.06 FIP. He has 10 saves and no blown saves so far. Left-hander Alex Young has a 28.9 K% and 3.6 BB%, with the 29-year-old’s performance coming out of nowhere frankly. Kevin Herget has a 1.84 ERA but a 5.04 xFIP, so he seems due to get blown up. Buck Farmer has a similar situation with a good ERA (3.22), bad advanced stats (4.70 xFIP).
Basically, it’s the Diaz and Young show, though we don’t know if Young is for real after doing this for the first time at 29 in 20 innings. Also, because it’s the Reds, their injured list is quite large. I’ve already mentioned Votto and Lodolo, but TJ Friedl (116 wRC+) is a starting outfielder who was placed on the IL a short time ago. They also have six relievers on the shelf, four of whom have gotten injured since April 28th. So if their bullpen has a whiff of random roulette, that’s why.
Monday - 5:40 PM
Jordan Montgomery (4.21 ERA/3.83 FIP/3.98 xFIP) vs. Brandon Williamson (5.2 IP, 6 Ks, 2 BBs, 1 ER)
Williamson had his MLB debut and first ever MLB start at Coors Field, with the line above, striking out 30% of hitters and while he didn’t get the win, the Reds did. A fairly dominant start at Coors Field as your first start suggests Williamson is better than he is, however. Williamson is left-handed, which is good for the Cardinals and very bad for the Rockies. The Rockies are dead last in baseball against LHP with a 71 wRC+ this season.
Then there’s the other thing. He has been downright awful in AAA. He has a 6.62 ERA, 6.48 FIP, and 6.14 xFIP in 8 starts before his debut. He was also bad in AAA last year. He is 25-years-old. The Cardinals should really not struggle against this guy. I even looked at his recent AAA starts to see if he had a bad start, but I’m not seeing anything that suggests he turned a corner. He has a 5.12 FIP projection from ZiPS and they’re the optimistic one on him.
Speaking of offenses who are bad against lefties, the Reds are 26th in baseball against LHP in wRC+. So Montgomery should also not have any issues. This is about as lopsided a matchup as the Cards will ever get this year. Which is right about the time baseball steps up to the podium and says “So you think we’re predictable, do you? Well I’ll show you.”
Tuesday - 5:40 PM
Adam Wainwright (5.74 ERA/4.90 FIP/5.58 xFIP) vs. Graham Ashcraft (4.84 ERA/4.25 FIP/4.56 xFIP)
Ashcraft had a promising debut, but he’s hitting the sophomore slump thus far. He didn’t strike out many hitters last year (15.3%) and he’s improved upon that barely (17%), but it’s come at the expense of a lot more walks (9.9% compared to 6.5%). If it’s a tradeoff he made, it’s a poor one. He is also getting less groundballs this year (49% compared to 54.5%). He made two starts against STL last season and lasted 4.2 IP and gave up 4 runs both times. He actually struck out 8 hitters and got 61% of hitters to ground out in one of them, but a .500 BABIP was his undoing.
As the resident Wainwright defender, I maintain he looked better than his line in his first two starts and ironically, looked his worst against the Dodgers when the bottom line didn’t end up that bad. It turns out Cincy just has a bad offense with an 87 wRC+ against RHP, though Wainwright will probably have to throw strikes because they also have the third highest BB% against RHP. That said, Waino has never been good at Great American Ballpark - he has a career 5.73 ERA there. Too bad he can’t pitch at Coors (where he has a 2.22 ERA - not joking)
Wednesday - 5:40 PM
Steven Matz (5.05 ERA/4.64 FIP/4.08 xFIP) vs. Ben Lively (2.45 ERA/2.94 FIP/3.20 xFIP)
Another heavy disclaimer needs to be put to those stats. One, it’s 11 innings. Two, it’s basically one great start - against the Yankees to be fair - but one start nonetheless where he struck out 8. In his other two outings, he pitched in relief and threw 2.1 and 3 innings and only got 2 strikeouts combined in those outings. Though he did get mostly groundballs. Lastly, he wasn’t that good in AAA.
Lively is a former failed prospect who went over to the KBO and was able to get a minor league deal with the Reds last year. He pitched decently but never made the majors. The 31-year-old had a 2.33 ERA through his first 27 innings - albeit with a 15.2 K%, 4.45 FIP, and 5.61 xFIP - and more importantly perhaps, injuries to the rotation allowed him a shot to start at the big leagues.
I will again refer you to the fact that the Reds are bad against LHP, though as previously mentioned they are just bad on offense in general. Matz has had a run of decent to good starts and I think that should continue. Though it must be said that a homer-prone pitcher at a homer-happy park is not really a good mix.
Thursday - 11:35 AM
Miles Mikolas (4.77 ERA/4.56 FIP/4.47 xFIP) vs. Luke Weaver (6.54 ERA/5.89 FIP/4.41 xFIP)
Yes, Luke Weaver, the former Cardinal in the Paul Goldschmidt trade who could not stay healthy. After a season in the bullpen, the Reds gave him a shot at starting again. And just about every stat suggests his ERA should be better. As you can see by the FIP-xFIP disparity, a lot of flyballs are homers for Weaver. 20.5% of them in fact. His career level is 13.4% although to be fair, he didn’t play most of his career at GABP. His xERA is 4.59 and his SIERA is 4.09.
Mikolas has had kind of a weird season, with his ERA trending downwards and his advanced stats kind of trending upwards at the same time. Cincy has the 6th highest K% in baseball, so after two starts with a combined two strikeouts in them, I do expect his K% to rise from this game.
So what could have been a series with a bad offense but a series of tough pitching matchups if their young guys happened to be on their game has turned into a series where the Cardinals have the better offense and the better starters. Mostly. The jury is still out on a couple of the Reds’ starters in this series and weird things happen at Great American Ballpark. But you have to like the Cardinals’ odds of continuing their good run.