Last time the Reds and Dodgers met, LA won three out of four games at home. Now, the two teams face off for a big three-game series in Cincinnati. Here is a Q&A I conducted with Wick Terrell, also known as "Kevin Mitchell is Batman", of Red Reporter.
DAVID: Last time we spoke, you said Mike Leake was the Reds' Cy Young. Would you change that statement? If not, why not? If you want to, who do you think deserves it now?
KEVIN MITCHELL IS BATMAN: Well, when we last spoke, I said the surface stats would indicate Leake should be, but that I'd go with Mat Latos if I had a choice for a Game 1 starter in the playoffs. I think I'll stick with Latos, too, since most of the "luck" that had been going Leake's way at that point (abnormally high strand rate, low BABIP, FIP/ERA disparity) has largely regressed. Though that alien robot demigod LHP of yours is ridiculously unfair, incomparable, and undoubtedly going to win the NL Cy Young, there are a lot of reasonable arguments that would suggest Latos could finish as high as 2nd in the voting this year with his current 14-5, 2.98 ERA, 8.41 K/9 season placing him 4th in the NL in fWAR behind Matt Harvey (injured), Kershaw (Zeus/Thor hybrid), and Adam Wainwright (Cardinal...ewww). So I'll say Latos and be happy with my answer, though there's still time for a 5 start finish from Homer Bailey (currently 7th in the NL in fWAR by pitchers) to make it close.
DAVID: For MVP, you went with Shin-Soo Choo. Still agree with that? Same goes for this one. If it's someone else now, who?
KM IS BATMAN: Y'know, sure, I'll stick with Choo. Why not? The Reds offense this year has been weirder than weird, and I'm not sure exactly how to think about it. Just a few years ago, Joey Votto and his saber-friendly merry minstrels seemingly stormed the Bastille full of cake-eating old-school types (see: Reds radio and media), overthrowing their archaic beliefs regarding hits and RBI and bringing in a reign of appreciation of walks, OBP, and wearing down opposing pitchers; however, the dichotomy has been exposed again this season with Votto walking "too often" instead of "driving in runs," and the near inverse season from Brandon Phillips (RISPy excellence, 100 RBI, bad OBP) has only served to highlight it. Now, Joey Votto is being demonized by a large portion of the Reds' broadcast team despite his near 6 WAR season, and I find it all to be rather sad. There's a Joey Votto-is-Robespierre parallel here that almost-kinda-doesn't completely fit, too, but whatever. I'm picking Choo because he's been consistently brilliant (.285/.417/.463), well worthy of the award, and devoid of any of the polarizing arguments created from Phillips and Votto being yin and yang.
DAVID: New awards question, who is the Reds' Rookie of the Year?
KM IS BATMAN: The Reds' Rookie of the Year is, at the time of this post, unanimously Tony Cingrani. Cingrani, who was called up to fill in for the oft-injured Johnny Cueto, has been a revelation, and his 10.32 K/9 would lead the National League if his 97.2 IP had him qualified. Cingrani, who was a consensus Top-100 prospect (but not a consensus Top-50 prospect), has been good enough to make Reds fans forget that Johnny Cueto, who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting last season, has been gone for most of the year, and that's rather remarkable. Billy Hamilton, though, may very well steal a vote with every stolen base he collects down the stretch, which may well be a billion at this rate.
DAVID: Last time we spoke, the Cincinnati was in third place behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis. As of now, they still are. Why do you think that's the case?
KM IS BATMAN: The Reds are a couple of games under .500 on the road, and they're nine games under .500 against teams with winning records, and while there are numerous reasons as to why that's the case, it's those scenarios that have kept them behind the Pirates and Cardinals in the race. The Cardinals, specifically, have beaten up the Reds for most of the season (recent 3 game winning streak included), and that's been absurdly frustrating. Not having Ryan Ludwick for most of the season has hurt a lot, too, as have the injuries to Cueto, Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall, and, recently, Tony Cingrani. Dodgers fans don't need to be told the "every team has injuries" spiel, of course, since they've seen Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, etc, etc, etc, go down; the difference with the Reds, though, is the lack of depth in the upper minors to support those problems. Whereas the Crawford/Kemp injuries paved a path for Yasiel Puig to emerge, the Ludwick injury begat Derrick Robinson (.251/.321/.326 in .197 PA), and the Broxton/Marshall injuries have thrust guys like Curtis Partch and Logan Ondrusek into bigger roles. With teams as good as St. Louis and Pittsburgh playing well in front of them, it's made it difficult to make up the 3 games between the Reds and first place.
DAVID: The last time we spoke was also before the trade deadline and September 1st playoff roster waiver deadline. Do you think the Reds should've done more then they did?
KM IS BATMAN: Yes, they should have, but they certainly should not have tried to pull off some sort of blockbuster. That wasn't needed. The Reds have, when healthy, a pretty complete and balanced roster both offensively and from a pitching standpoint, and Ryan Ludwick has essentially served as the trade deadline upgrade they needed in their everyday lineup. However, the bench is borderline pathetic, and there certainly could've been a Michael Young/Mark DeRosa type acquisition to push Jack Hannahan or Cesar Izturis out the door. Xavier Paul, somewhat of a scrap-heap revelation at the end of last year and beginning of this year, is well into his stroke-of-midnight transition back to a pumpkin, and there's just not a bench option available for a September call up that brings much pop to the equation (Billy Hamilton, while amazing on the basepaths, is not yet a threat at the plate). That could, and should have been rectified by Walt Jocketty before the stretch run, but was not.
DAVID: Todd Frazier hasn't played too well since he last faced the Dodgers. Why do you think that's the case?
KM IS BATMAN: It's becoming pretty apparent that Frazier's 2012 was the aberration, and while I don't think he's as bad as he's been lately, he's closer to what he's done in 2013 than what he did last year. His rather surprising defense this season has him on a 3 WAR pace, and he's a decent "warm" stretch from finishing the season at about .245/.330/.400 offensively, which isn't all that terrible provided it's not in the heart of the order. Frazier was a .261/.335/.453 hitter in over 1000 AAA PAs, so it's not like he was expected to be a world-beater, but somewhere around a .750 OPS was hoped for. He's been streaky, no doubt, but he's still been a pretty valuable roster guy who, when hot, can hit balls farther than any Reds' RH hitter since Wily Mo Pena. Also, his home OPS: .812; his road OPS: .606. Oof.
DAVID: When we spoke in late July, Johnny Cueto looked like he was close to coming back. Sadly for Reds fans, he is still not back. Could he miss the rest of the season?
KM IS BATMAN: Cueto's close to coming back; unfortunately, the minor league seasons are over, so he can't get game action on a rehab stint right now to build up a starter's stamina. He's worked on slightly modifying his "Tiant-turn" windup (that was party attributed to his lat/oblique/whatever strains), and there's talk of him potentially being available out of the bullpen soon. I'm not sure that's what I want, though. Cueto's the rare combination of being accomplished, dominant, young, and signed cheaper than market value, and I'd rather have that healthy and unaltered going into 2014 than duct-taped and modified for a bullpen spot in the 2013 playoffs. We'll see.
DAVID: What do you think the Reds need to do down the stretch to pass the Pirates and Cardinals?
KM IS BATMAN: If you look up any team stat pitching category, you'll find the Reds near the top in almost all of them. The Reds have ridden their starters all year (and most of last year, too) despite playing most of their games in historically the most homer-friendly ballpark in the NL; the offense, though, has been troubling. The Reds sit just 9th in the NL in SLG and have seen several of their go-to players struggle of late (Joey Votto specifically). However, the Reds, who are 18 games over .500 at home this season, get 13 of their last 22 games at home (including their final six), so there's some hope for a home-field induced hot streak that will help the offense get rolling. Also, the Reds get the Pirates 6 times in their last 9 games of the season, so there's a Disney-esque script waiting for them.
DAVID: I'm going to bring back a quote from our last Q&A here shortly before the Dodgers took two of three from the Reds in LA... "Reds in a sweep, because I won't be able to sleep with the idea that the Dodgers and their quadrillions of dollars are just a game or two behind the Reds in the Wild Card race." Why do you think your prediction was wrong?
KM IS BATMAN: Because it was stupid and I was a scared, frightened Reds fan looking at a scary, frightening Dodgers team. This brain of mine is not always awash with realism.
DAVID: Here's your chance for redemption... series prediction for this weekend?
KM IS BATMAN: Reds in a sweep, because I won't be able to sleep with the idea that the Dodgers and their quadrillions of dollars are going to keep the Reds a game or two behind the Cardinals in the Wild Card home field advantage race. Also, these games are in Great American Ball Park...and that makes things juuuust a bit different.