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

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

Yankees fans have always had players they irrationally disliked. Any acquisition is supposed to be THE ONE that returns the Yanks to their rightful place atop the MLB forever, or so they would have you believe. And if they don’t become that, they are forever discarded as trash, with “Yeah well he didn’t do it in the Bronx so it doesn’t count.”

Gray had a rough September upon his arrival in New York in 2017, with a 4.58 ERA and even worse peripherals as he came to terms with the far different environs of Yankee Stadium than from the Coliseum in Oakland. In the East Bay you can actually give up a fly ball without it sending off sirens, but as we know that’s not the case in New York.

Gray wasn’t much better last year in pinstripes, as he was definitely spooked by the previous experience, as his walks tickled four per nine innings, by far the highest of his career. He still wasn’t that bad, worth 1.6 fWAR last year for a playoff team with a 4.17 FIP. But that wasn’t good enough for the Yanks front office, which was eyeing upgrades in the rotation to run with Sale, Eovaldi, and Price in Boston (which has worked out, you’d have to say). So Gray was moved to Cincinnati, which isn’t exactly a more forgiving park for pitchers.

Hasn’t mattered to Gray this year, who was an All-Star, has lowered his ERA by a run and a half, his FIP by a full run, and upped his strikeouts by nearly two per nine innings/seven percent. Gray has only given up nine homers, including only four at his home park where hitters can generally sneeze and get one over the fence (or is that just Cubs pitchers?). So how has he done it?

Gray has eschewed a sinker/cutter he was using in New York, and has opted for more four-seam fastballs. He has not approached the levels of fastballs he threw in his prime years in Oakland yet, but he’s back over 50%. He has rediscovered some velocity though, throwing it harder than he ever has at 93.9 MPH.

And like a lot of other pitchers, Gray has tried to live higher in the zone than before, trying to get past hitters and their new and fancy uppercut swings. Visual evidence you require? We got it:

That has seen a slight uptick in whiffs on his fastball, and gotten more pop-ups and fly balls, at least of the weak variety in the latter.

But still, giving up fly balls in Cincy can be a death wish, so Gray had to find a way to get more grounders for what’s a pretty good infield defense, especially now that Scooter Gennett is back. Gray is getting a career-high ground-ball rate this year, up five percent from last year as a Yankee.

Gray has gotten that through his curve and slider, which are just two versions of the same pitch depending on how much he takes off and puts on it. Both have seen a 10% increase or so in grounders, playing off the focus on being high in the zone or above it with the fastball.

After his travails in New York, eyebrows were moving upward when the Reds signed Gray to a three-year extension immediately upon getting him. However, now the $10M per season he’ll be earning after this one seems a bargain, taking him until he’s 32. With Gray and Castillo locked in for the next few years, the Reds might actually have the base for a good rotation for the next little while. When have we ever said that?

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.