Baseball

VS

Records: Sox 33-17/Reds 25-26

Start Times: Fri 6:10/Sun 12:10

TV: NBCSN/FOX/NBCSN

Redreporter.com

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Friday: Tyler Mahle (1-2, 4.31 ERA) vs. Jonathan Stiever (0-0, 2.45 ERA)

Saturday: Tejay Antone (0-2, 2.76 ERA)vs. Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 2.19 ERA)

Sunday: Trevor Bauer (4-3, 1.71 ERA) vs. Dylan Cease (5-2, 3.20 ERA)

PLAYOFFS, BABY!

The First Place White Sox travel to Cincinnati this weekend having clinched the first playoff berth the franchise has seen since 2008. TWELVE YEARS! Much has changed…

The team clinched an overuse of the term “Soxtober” by coming from behind to beat the hated MinneHOta Twins Thursday afternoon, securing postseason representation by taking three of four from their closest pursuant in the Division. Not much time for celebrations, though, as the team heads to the Queen city for three with the resurgent Reds, winners of five straight and thinking about a postseason trip of their own. The Reds have gone 7-3 in their last 10 to take over Second place in the NL Central and an automatic playoff berth – for now.

The exciting Sox bats weren’t exactly on full display against the Twins, but their 14 runs across the four game set were enough to buoy strong pitching performances from the pitching staff in the mid-week series. One would think they’d like to see more from the supporting cast around Jose Abreu and the timely Eloy Jimenez, and especially while visiting the notoriously hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Sox hitters will look to do so against a few RH SP, none of which instill much fear outside of the polarizing Trevor Bauer. Bauer is hated by many, and rightfully has earned much of that hate, but us haters have to acknowledge the stellar campaign he’s put together in this most odd of seasons – 9 GS, 4-3, 1.71 ERA, 12.88 K/9, 2 CG shutouts, 2.1 WAR. The douche is making himself some money for his mercenary FA plan on the horizon and you can bet some time in the MLB playoff limelight would only improve his position, as would a dominant performance against the potent Sox lineup.

The Sox will also look to the bats to ease what looks to be an all-hands-on-deck type of weekend for the pitching staff. Jonathan Stiever takes his second, and possibly final, turn in the rotation and will look to go a bit further than the 3.2 innings he gave his team on Sunday against Detroilet. Dallas Keuchel makes his return from an IL stint on Saturday and the series wraps with escape artist Dylan Cease, so the bullpen is going to need to be as good as ever to hold down a surging Reds offense. That task is made even harder by the announcement of Setup Man Evan Marshall hitting the IL, with recent draftee Garrett Crochet getting the call to take his spot on the roster. He’ll almost assuredly make his MLB debut in relief this weekend, possibly in a big spot against the likes of veteran Joey Votto or powerful Jesse Winker. Votto boasts three homers in his last seven games, a stretch that’s seen the Reds go 6-1 while claiming sole possession of second place in the pillow fight that is the NL Central. Cincinnati finds itself a half game ahead of St. Louis and one ahead of Milwaukee as all three are under .500 overall.

We as fans get a glimpse as one of the “what could’ve been” scenarios when Nick Castellanos steps in to face Sox pitchers and patrols RF. I guess one of the positives of this truncated schedule is we haven’t been subjected to too many of the ones that got away in the offseason RF search, but it’s going to be hard not to focus on the Mazara/Castellanos comparisons all weekend. The Sox won’t be paying that situation much mind, though, and will need to show they’re focused on more than just this playoff berth as they have a chance to solidify their lead in their own Division and set up to clinch the AL Central next week in Cleveland. It’s easy to look ahead to that four game series and see Lucas Giolito on Monday and get excited, but the Reds are in a fight of their own and cannot be overlooked. My feeling is we’re going to see some high scoring games, likely with a lot of bullpen usage from the White Sox regardless.

The magic number for the Central Division crown is officially 7; the Sox have 10 games to play. This is entirely in the team’s control and a strong showing in Cincinnati while the Twins deal with the Cubs at Wrigley will give this fanbase even more to celebrate. Maybe even a whole ass AL PENNANT.

Don’t Stop Now Boys!

Baseball

vs.

Records: Reds 70-80  Cubs 81-68

GAMETIMES: Monday-Wednesday 7:05

TV: NBCSN Monday, WCIU/ESPN Tuesday, WGN Wednesday

NOT READY FOR FULL-TIME DALTON YET: Blog Red Machine

DEPTH CHARTS & PITCHING STAFFS

Note: Due to scheduling and traveling, there isn’t a Reds Spotlight today. Picture one in your head if you must. Maybe Votto’s regression or Aquino’s 12 wRC+ in September. Choose your own adventure. 

After 47 runs in three games and thoroughly burning any sense of self-worth the Pirates might have thought about having, the Cubs will look to keep it going against the Reds. The challenge with the Reds is they have one real live pitcher starting a game this series, and a couple ones in the pen, neither of which the Pirates can claim right now. And the Cubs might be without their linchpin.

We all are holding our breath to hear news of Anthony Rizzo, which will come down after this goes to print. Everyone’s expecting the worst, because when a player is helped off the field that generally means a week or two, maybe more. The Cubs don’t have two weeks or more, and face the apocalyptic seven games with the Cardinals. As if the Reds haven’t been enough of a headache. The simplest solution is a lot of Victor Caratini at first, though you may see some of Happ and Bryant there too. The latter gets David Bote’s bat into the lineup, though Caratini and Contreras both being in the lineup doesn’t leave you offensively short either. It just leaves you short of what Rizzo would provide.

Of course, another wonderful aspect of a Rizzo absence is more debate about the leadoff spot,, which has become the Cubs’ TIF funding. Rizzo moved there for the Pirates series, suddenly they turned into Loyola-Marymount, but now they have to figure it out again. Mostly you can count on Zobrist being there, and he can at least be representative. It’s basically a “So What Don’t You Want?” situation. Heyward has proven he can’t do it and doesn’t like it. They won’t try Bryant there, especially as he’s rediscovered some of his power over the weekend (if results against the Pirates even count). Contreras is another candidate against lefties, as long as we never see Almora there again. Go down the list and you see there aren’t a lot of answers.

Still, time moves on, and the Cubs have games to win. And as you know, the Reds are a spikier outfit than the Bucs. They’re coming off taking two of three from Arizona, seriously denting their charge to the wildcard. And they’ll have no compunction about doing the same to the Cubs. At least the Cubs will duck Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo. But they’ll get Sonny Gray, who’s been one of the best starter in the NL and especially of late. Gray has quality starts in 11 of his last 13, and he had a 0.74 ERA in August. His two September starts have seen him give up four runs…so he’s slowing down? Maybe? We’re trying here. Needless to say it would behoove the Cubs to get Monday and Wednesday and consider anything off of Gray a bonus.

The rotation is another problem the Cubs have to solve. All of Quintana, Hamels, and Lester have been backing up for weeks now, and while they got to save the relievers who matter (such as they are) due to the offensive supernova against Pittsburgh, they don’t want to go to that well any more than anyone’s stomach can handle. Hamels doesn’t look healthy, and Lester might just be running out of racetrack in his career. They are wheezing to the finish line and have to find something this series and in the season’s last two weeks, even if it’s just a death rattle.

It’s only two games now. It’s one and a half behind DC while one ahead of Milwaukee. But if the Cubs can at least hold that two games behind St. Louis, that basically puts it all on the seven games they have left together. Let’s do that.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 62-52   Reds 54-58

GAMETIMES: Thursday-Saturday 6:10, Sunday 12:10

TV: NBCSN Thursday, Friday, Sunday, WGN Saturday

SCHOTZIE’S LEAVINGS: Blog Red Machine

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Reds Spotlight

Once again, the Cubs will try to take momentum gained from a standout homestand onto a 10-game road trip that could see them, if not put the division to bed, give themselves a healthy cushion. The last time they tried this they stained the floors of each destination to the tune of a 3-6 cough-up. This one sets up even easier as the Reds are still below .500, the Phillies can be anything on a given day, and the Pirates have straight up given up. But with the way things have gone for the Cubs on the road, there simply can’t be any sure things.

One change for the Cubs is that Jonathan Lucroy will meet them in Cincinnati, though as of now Taylor Davis is still listed as the backup. That will change in the next day or two, as the Cubs have seen quite enough of that. Lucroy can’t hit anymore, and his brain might be broken, but he is only a season removed from being a pretty good handler back there, and that itself would be an improvement on Davis. He doesn’t rate highly this year, but maybe the significantly better pitching of the Cubs than the Angels can square that around. Again, he’s not going to hit much, and he hasn’t in three seasons, but he might actually get a hit and the Cubs got Taylor Davis’s annual one in that game against the Cardinals in May.

Everything else stays the same. Cole Hamels should have the training wheels taken off in his second start off the DL. Jon Lester will try to come back down from the stratosphere where the A’s put him on Tuesday.

To the Reds, who remade their team a bit at the trade deadline. Gone is Yasiel Puig from the major league roster, and in his King Galaxy Brain Trevor Bauer, whom the Cubs will see Friday. Bauer is certainly a massive upgrade from Tanner Roark, including the headache department. He’s walking more guys than he has in four seasons, and has had home run problems (who hasn’t?) which won’t be helped by the move south in Ohio. The Cubs will also see Alex Wood for the first time, making his four start spurt before he goes back onto the IL with some sort of arm trouble, given that his left one is made of paper mache at this point. The Cubs have had their issues with him in the past, as he carries a lifetime 2.86 ERA against them.

While the Cubs have had no problem making this offense look like something out of a comic book all season, it’s only lately they’ve done that to other teams. They put up 15 runs in two wins over the Angels earlier in the week. Over the past month everyone in the lineup aside from Votto and Peraza (and Votto has been awful in that span) have put up a 100 wRC+ or better, with Suarez and Ervin particularly molten. The latter of which you already knew about because he murdered the Cubs last trip in there and threw the body into the river rolled up in a rug.

The strength of the Reds, if it’s not the rotation, remains the pen, with Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and his Farnsworth-pants, and Robert Stephenson currently on great runs. The Cubs haven’t been totally ruined when they’ve had to do work against this pen, but it’s not the optimal path when dealing with this crew.

The Cardinals will have the Pirates at home and the Brewers will be entertaining the Rangers in Milwaukee, so if the Cubs want to hold onto this lead it’s likely not going to be handed to them. The Reds have been cumbersome and a nuisance all goddamn season. If the Cubs have turned any corner, finally getting one over on this side would be prime evidence of that.

Baseball

At least the Reds weren’t boring at the trade deadline.

For a while we and others wondered what they would do about their Scooter Gennett and Derek Dietrich axis of confusion at second base. The answer was apparently to let one play like he was still hurt (Gennett) and the other to get hurt (Dietrich). So out went Gennett to the Giants, who always seem to be in the market for an underwhelming bat.

That wasn’t the headline though, and you’re not going to believe it wasn’t sending Tanner Roark to the A’s either. I know, right? This is Tanner Roark, people! The Reds gave up Yasiel Puig, Scott Moss, and much-touted prospect Tyler Trammell in a trade-a-trois to land themselves Trevor Bauer.

On the surface you get it. Puig was a free agent-to-be and unlikely to re-sign in Cincy, so cash in what you can during a season that isn’t going to go anywhere. Getting Bauer back gives the Reds a bonafide #2 starter to slot in between Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, even if everyone else in the clubhouse is going to want to throw Bauer through several walls before the end of the season. A front three in the rotation of Castillo-Bauer-Gray is pretty formidable, and can certainly be the basis for wildcard contention. It would appear that the Reds are gearing up for next year.

But are they? Bauer is only signed for one more season, so it certainly looks like the Reds want to run with the big dogs in 2020. And the pen should still have Raisel Iglesias and others to repeat being the weapon it’s been this year. But you can never really tell with bullpens, can you?

The biggest question is what the Reds are going to do, or are positioned to do, with the lineup to pair with that rotation. Because it’s hard to see what’s on the up-slope offensively for the Reds. It certainly isn’t Joey Votto. Eugenio Suarez is a fine player but not someone you’re building around, and with him having an off-year this season at 29 you wonder if this is the start of something smelly or just a blip. Certainly the hope is that Nick Senzel is that player. They would like to hope that Phillip Ervin might be, but he’s 27 already. Will be 28 next year. And he’s not even starting regularly. There’s probably still hope for Jesse Winker, who is only 25. But that’s two guys definitely yet to reach their prime, one who is definitely past it, and a bunch of questions marks.

On top of that, Trammell was their only prime prospect ready to step in next year and be something. And even next year would be a stretch, as he’s been ok in AA this year. The Padres don’t really care, they have two years to play with. The Reds? Maybe not.

They certainly have plenty of money to spend, should they choose. They have only $60M tied up next year, plus whatever Bauer gets in arbitration. But when do you remember the Reds being the settling place for a big free agent? They will clearly have needs in right, second, maybe short (though you can get away with Jose Iglesias‘s glove if you have offense everywhere else), maybe catcher. Sadly for the Reds, the free agent crop is pretty weak in the winter.

Are they destined to repeat this year, with a pretty good staff and an offense that just isn’t enough? It seems that way, unless they flip Bauer for something else in the offseason. But his value would be lower than it was at the deadline with only one year of control left. They could probably stand to get younger. Could they turn Suarez into something? Would that just be running in place?

It seems the Reds have paced their pitching faster or above their lineup, and it might keep them in the mud. Bauer could be gone in 2021, Gray to follow the year after so he could be trade bait by then, and Votto will only be older. No prospect they have looks to be making an impact before 2022. Those things can always change though, and maybe that’s what the Reds are hoping.

It’s an odd mix…which is generally considered a delicacy in Cincinnati.

Baseball

We’re going to try to add these to our baseball previews. At least as long as our sanity allows.

There are many signs of the apocalypse these days. Look around daily, and you’ll probably find one. Maybe it’s the imminent heat death of the planet. Or the fracturing of the political scene. Or increasing feudalist society across the world. Perhaps nuclear winter in the Middle East.

Joey Votto with a 74 wRC+ feels like it’s not too far down the list either.

To be fair to Votto, he did start like this once, just once, before. In April of 2016, he hit .226 with a wOBA of .276. He struck out nearly a quarter of the time, just as he did this season. That time he was hitting a ton of grounders, which he isn’t that time, and we’ll circle back to in a sec. And when all was said and done in 2016, Votto ended up slashing .326/.434/.550 with a 158 wRC+. And really, that’s what we should expect from Votto until he doesn’t do that, even if we get to September 20th and he’s still doing this. I’ll still believe he’ll end up with superior numbers. It’s one of those things where even seeing the body won’t prove to me he’s dead.

That doesn’t mean there doesn’t feel like something’s off with Votto. One, he’s swinging at way more pitches out of the zone, and the real jump is he’s not getting to any of it. The past three seasons, Votto has made contact at between 75%-78% of the pitches he swung outside of the zone. This year it’s 63.1%. He’s making less contact than he has in a long time, and his swinging strikes are as hight as they’ve been in a decade. What’s the deal here?

You heard Jim DeShaies mention when the Cubs were in Ohio that Votto’s fly balls are way up, and that’s true. 42.5% of his contact is in the air, up from 30% last year and a career rate of 33.3%. It’s come at the cost of his line-drives, which is what you think of when you think of Votto. Those are down to 20.8%, from last year’s 31.4%, and his usual rate of around 25%. His hard-contact is down a touch, but not to these kinds of margins.

Is Votto trying to go for a little more power? Well, one of the signs of age is a problem with the fastball, and Votto is certainly having that. For his career, Votto hit .324 on fastballs and slugged .593. This year those numbers are .191 and .338, which leaves your jaw shattered on the floor. And Votto can’t seem to get to it anywhere. Check out the location of his whiffs on fastballs for his career and then this year:

Votto’s struggles on off-speed pitches also suggests he’s leaning to get to the fastballs and is getting caught. He’s in-between. Votto simply doesn’t miss this much, so something seems to be up.

He is 35, which is when you’d think players would start to fade. But off a cliff like this? There is a comparison, and that’s Albert Pujols who is something of a contemporary of Votto’s. Pujols fell off the face of the Earth in his age 37 season, which may surprise you. At 36, while hardly the country-side wandering monster he was in St. Louis, Pujols had a 113 OPS+ in Anahiem. The next year it was 80, and he’s been a sinkhole ever since.

That can’t be happening to Votto, can it? The guy who looked like he could line a single to center whenever he wanted? This has happened once before, and then Votto tore a hole in the Earth. That turnaround in 2016 started in May. They’re still waiting on Votto this year.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 24-14   Reds 18-23

GAMETIMES: Tuesday-Thursday 5:40pm

TV: NBCSN Tuesday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

THEY ACTUALLY EAT THAT CHILI: Blog Red Machine

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Kyle Hendricks vs. Tanner Roark

Yu Darvish vs. Sonny Gray

Jose Quintana vs. Luis Castillo

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Jason Heyward – CF

Kris Bryant – RF

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Willson Contreras – C

Daniel Descalso – 2B

David Bote – 3B

PROBABLE REDS LINEUP

Nick Senzel – CF

Joey Votto – 1B

Eugenio Suarez – 3B

Jesse Winker – LF

Yasiel Puig – RF

Derek Dietrich – 2B

Jose Iglesias – SS

Pitcher

Tucker Barnhardt – C

 

After swatting away their closest competitor over the weekend, the Cubs head to the bouncy castle that The Great American Ballpark is to face the NL Central’s wooden-spooners. But this isn’t the normal Reds team you might be accustomed to, and you might not need to prep for the normal diet of 12-10 games that we got on the reg on the river in the past.

For one, the Reds can’t hit for shit, and the main story is that Joey Votto has been a baseball succubus. It’s almost inexplicable. Votto is hitting .206 with a .293 wOBA and a 79 wRC+. He’s walking less than he ever has and striking out more. More worryingly is his line-drive rates and hard-contact are down as well. He’s actually hitting infield pop-ups, which he literally never did before. Judging by his anemic numbers against change-ups and curves, one might get the impression he’s cheating more and more on fastballs at 35. But he’s not even doing that much with those. He could be carrying an injury, and Reds fans are going to have to hope so because he only has 74 more years left on his contract. Still, this is Joey Votto. He’s only a season removed from a 131 wRC+ and two from a 164. You’re going to have to show us more than just six weeks of bad Votto before we believe Votto is bad now.

It wouldn’t be so glaring if the Reds were getting any help from anywhere else, but only Derek Dietrich and Cubs-murderer Eugenio Suarez have bothered to remember to take a bat with them to the plate. Yasiel Puig, who we were all convinced would show up in the NL Central and torture us for a good few years because of course, has been eaten by the BABIP Dragon and is hitting .226. Jesse Winker has been ok, but only that. They were never getting much offense out of short or catcher, and it’s caught up to them. They’ve gotten prime prospect Nick Senzel into center for now, but he’s still got a huge learning curve to manage. They are decidedly pop-gun.

The Reds would be total shit (and then spread on spaghetti as is their way there) if they’re rotation hadn’t been glittering so far, but lucky for them that part of the machine has kept them within touching distance of .500. Luis Castillo, whom the Cubs get on Thursday, has been everything they could have hoped. When you’re striking out 31% of the hitters you see and getting nearly 60% grounders on the contact you do give up, you’re going to slap some motherfuckers upside the head. So has been the tale. Sonny Gray was perhaps just happy to get out of New York, as in terms of FIP he’s been just as good as Castillo. He’s getting far more grounders than he did in pinstripes, and hasn’t seen every fly ball he gives up land in Vinny from Queens’s beer hey yo. Gray has also gone to a cutter far more often this season with his top class curve. Tyler Mahle doesn’t walk anyone, Tanner Roark does but somehow dances around it, and Anthon DeSclafani is striking everyone out. This is not an easy negotiation.

In the pen, Raisel Iglesias hasn’t been terribly happy with his usage, but is still striking out a ton of hitters though been a bit homer-happy. You’re probably not maximizing Iglesias by not using him in something of a Hader-method as they have before, as he’s been a straight closer so far. Amir Garrett and David Hernandez have been heavy K/heavy walk style as well, but have barely given up anything. The uber-jacked Michael Lorenzen and his tight pants are still here as well. The pitching has saved the Reds and if they ever discover someone else who can actually not pass out at bat they could make a serious move in the division. They’re not ready to contend yet, but you can see where they will be one day soon.

For the Cubs, they’ll hope Anthony Rizzo‘s one-day backiotomy is just that. They’ll try and get Darvish to throw strikes against a team that can’t hit, but that didn’t work last time. Getting though on Gray and Castillo the last two games here is going to be a real trick, but that’s what’s ordered.