Cincinnati Reds Preview - Big Red Machine is back?

Talk about a difference. The last time the Dodgers visited the Reds,  the Reds were coming off a four game losing streak,  and the Dodger offense was being fueled by visions of Kemp grandeur.

Joe Posnanski recently penned a book called "The Machine" about the 1975 Reds. Back then the Dodger/Red rivalry was the best in baseball but since the Reds have moved to the NL Central that rivalry is a distant memory for many of the new generation Dodger / Red fans.

I only mention this because right now because the Reds are hitting like the old Big Red Machine. Cincinnati fans should  be excited about their team,  as they sit in first place on June 14th. All this success comes while they have two parts of their rotation sitting on the DL and maybe the best part learning his craft in the minors.

The offensive excellence of Votto was expected but no one expected Scott Rolen to roll back the clock to become the best 3rd baseman in the NL.  The Reds have two of the hottest hitters in the NL in Philips and Rolen.  Add in Votto and Gomes,  and the Reds have FOUR players with an wOBA over .400 so far in June. Buckle up, this could get ugly.

On the DL:Edinson Volquez, Homer Bailey, Ryan Hanigan

Position Breakdown

1st Base As I said in the previous Red preview,  I think part of the unhappiness with James Loney is that he's not Joey Votto. They were both drafted in 2002. The Dodgers got Loney with the 19th pick of the 1st round; the Reds nabbed Votto with the 2nd pick in the second round. Votto has outperformed Loney by leaps and bounds over the last two years and is quietly turning into the best first baseman in the NL.  At the moment Votto is an extra base hit machine as Brandon Washburn who sponsors his page at baseball - reference points out:

2009 Final NL Rankings: BA .322 (5th) OBP .414 (4th) SLG .567 (5th) OPS .981 (3rd) His at-bats/home run and at-bats/double ratios rate him as one of Major League Baseball's elite hitters. Better things to come in 2010!

Joey Votto is hot, but not hot enough to be the hottest Red even with his .412 wOBA in June. Votto is currently the NL 1st base leader with a .414 wOBA but if you want to see something interesting check out the bottom three.

2nd Base- Brandon Philips was struggling when we last saw the Reds in April, that is no longer the case.  Brandon Philips might be the hottest infielder in baseball except for Scott Rolen.  So far in June he's got a TSL of .438/.460/.583 and has quickly moved up the 2nd base rankings, to sit right behind Kelly Johnson.

Update: Per Baseball HQ

Brandon Phillips underwent a MRI and later received treatment on his strained right hamstring Monday. Phillips has been plagued by periodic hamstring cramps in recent days and the injury kept him out of Sunday's game. While MRI results were not reported, Cincinnati General Manager Walt Jocketty indicated in a published report that the injury was believed to be minor and that Phillips was not expected to miss much action, so should be regarded as day-to-day. Phillips is carrying a 15-game hitting streak in which he has batted a torrid .492 (31-for-63).

As PT Analyst Scott Gellman noted here yesterday, Paul Janish (SS, CIN), who started Sunday's game, is the most likely recipient of PT in Phillips' absence, though Miguel Cairo (IF, CIN) is also a 2B candidate. Cairo filled in effectively during the earlier absence of Joey Votto (1B, CIN) in late May, and has a .282 BA that is well-supported by his .293 xBA, 87% ct%, and 26% LD%.

SS - Orlando Cabrera came over as a FA after spending 2009 playing for the Twins. This old SS is consistent putting up an xBA of .259 - .268 over the last five years. Not a particularly effective offensive player his defense according to UZR also took a large dip in 2009 (-15).  Luckily for the rest of the NL, Orlando has not joined in the June hit parade and allows the pitcher some breathing room when he's not facing the rest of the lineup.

3rd Base -At one time Scott Rolen was one of the best 3rd baseman in the NL.  Snap, he is once again one of the best 3rd baseman in baseball. Shaking off all the shoulder woes of the last six years, Rolen is putting up a season much like he used to from 1997 - 2004 when he was the best 3rd baseman in the NL. He's not slowing down, his June is Glaus like scary. For the month of June, Rolen has a 1.265 OPS and a .518 wOBA. It is not just June, overall Rolen is carrying a .974 OPS just a tad behind Zimmerman.

CRyan Hanigan fractured his left thumb on May 30th. Until that point he had been splitting time with Ramon Hernandez and they were a killer combo. We won't face Hanigan but his excellent start to the year needs to be mentioned. If you look at the wOBA leaderboard for catchers, you will see Ryan Hanigan at the top. Ramon Hernandez was thriving in the platoon role having his best year in four years but since getting the full time gig back, he's one of the few Red hitters struggling with a June TSL of .273/.314/.273. Yup nine singles so far in June. So that gives our pitchers two breathing spots.

CF - Drew Stubbs as noted before has some speed and power but little contact ability. The K rate is still over 30% but we in LA are familiar with a CF not making contact.  In only his 2nd year, Stubbs has plenty of time to improve, and when you have an offensive team like the Reds, they might be able to carry Stubbs hoping repetition is the key to his improvement.

RF - Last time we saw Jay Bruce he was having a dismal April, carrying an .598 OPS into our series. Bad luck had plagued him, with a .19% hit rate, so things were expected to turn around for him. Bruce started hitting with our series in April, and has continued to provide solid numbers. His TSL is sitting at .272/.354/.474, and is slowly developing into the weapon everyone expected him to become. Baseball is a funny game, in April Kemp was on the trajectory to stardom, and Bruce was struggling, two months later, Kemp is flailing, and Bruce is solid.

LF - Johnny Gomes had just taken over the full time gig the last time we were here, and boy has he made the most of it. When you wonder who is going to replace Manny, just remember players like Gomes are always available for the keen general manager. He always had a problem hitting right hand pitching, and while he not struggling as usual against them he is still doing most of his damage against LHP. He kills LHP to the tune of a 1.074 OPS.

What was once a weak outfield in April has solidified,  and along with the best hitting infield in baseball, the Reds can score some runs. 

Bench -Lance Nix (OF), Paul Janish (MI), Juan Francisco (3rd/OF), Miguel Cairo (Infield), Chris Heisy (outfield) and Corky Miller make up the bench.

Starting Pitching for our Series:

Game One -Aaron Harang  was having some bad luck in April and the residue is still hanging onto him. He has a TSL  ERA/FIP/xFIP  of 5.17/4.46/4.00

Game Two -.Mike Leake had only made two major league starts when we faced him in April. At that point he was getting the job done but was walking everyone. Since then he has cut his walks down to a very manageable 3.38 overall from an April level of 4.88. With a TSL of 2.68/3.94/4.20 Leake is having an impressive season for having skipped the minor leagues. 

Game Three - We missed Bronson Arroyo in the last series, but we get the guitar playing pitcher this time. Arroyo has a minuscule K/9 rate of 4.93 which is not helped by his lack of command this year (3.23 BB/9) which is the highest of his career since he became a full time pitcher. The net result is a TSL of 4.80/4.52/5.07

Bullpen:Francisco Cordero is still the closer and still doing the job. Arthur Rhodes is drinking what Scott Rolen is drinking,  and has been virtually un-hittable this year. Hitting stud Micah Owings is walking almost seven hitters per nine innings and is walking a tight rope.  Others we will see are Nick Massett, Daniel Herrera, Rosario,   and Logan Ondrusek

The last time we faced this team I predicted a sweep because our offense was hitting on all cylinders. That didn't happen as our offense did the job but our pitching gave up 25 runs in the three games. That should give us pause, because that was when they were not hitting. Now they are hitting and we are not.Just like the last time we are here I expect this to be an offensive series, but I'm hoping our bullpen will provide some relief. I'm out of the prediction business but I will say, I'm very worried about this series.

For the future the Reds have Homer Bailey, Chapman, and Edinson Volquez, plus a kid named Maloney. The Cardinals should be worried if Scott Rolen can stay healthy. I'd love to see this team dethrone the Cardinals.

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