Know Your Enemy: Cincinnati Reds
With 10 games to go in the regular season, the White Sox head to Cincinnati to tangle with the Reds. That used to be a knee-quivering assignment, but the 2020 Reds are no longer the Big Red Machine — more like the Little Red Wind-up Toy.
Still, they top all baseball in stadium name, with Great American Ballpark, a name which predates use of two of those words for political manipulation. Pretty place to play, too.
The Reds were a popular choice amongst the cognoscenti to win the NL East, ending six straight losing seasons in the process. Instead they've underachieved their way through a month and a half, but managed to put together a five-game winning streak (OK, four against the Pirates, so they weren't really major league games, but they still count for some reason) that has them in serious contention for a playoff spot.
It's not like they have anything as inspiring as a winning record — even with the streak, they're 25-26 — but the division is so horrible that Cincinnati sits in second place. That's by percentage points over the Cardinals, but with all their coronaviral postponements, St. Louis has to play roughly 58 games in the next 10 days, so they may get a wee bit tired.
So the Reds still have a reason to try to win. The question is whether they have the ability.
The problem is hitting. Essentially, they have none.
Oh, they can crank the long ball — 75 homers to date, seventh place in the majors — and they've shown some patience, with 200 walks, which makes them fourth in MLB. But getting regular hits? Fuggedaboutit.
The once mighty machine is scoring 3.92 runs per game, 28th in baseball. Their batting average is dead last, at .212. On base percentage is 25th, slugging is 23rd, despite all the dingers.
With the exception of DH Jesse Winker, who's hitting a reasonable .264, it's a systemic collapse. Even perennial All-Star Joey Votto has crashed, with a .217 average, quite the dip for someone with a career average of better than .300. Offseason acquisitions Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos come in at .208 and .234.
The Reds do have one hot hitter, third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who has 15 RBIs since August 31, but he's just come off of paternity leave.
It's pretty much like the whole team has had a spell cast over it by Mario Mendoza and is afraid to beat his line. Historical note: Mr. Mendoza was a .215 lifetime hitter, better than the Reds team average, so having the line lowered these days to .200 by writers and announcers is slanderous. They're all fortunate he's not litigious.
So how are the Reds almost .500? A division loaded with problems helps, but the rest has been pitching. They've given up 4.12 runs per game, slightly better than average. That's with a team ERA of 4.04 and FIP of 4.05, so luck has not been a factor.
What has been a factor is whiffs — 514 K's, to lead the majors. A whole bunch of the staff misses bats.
Overall performance would presumably be better were Sonny Gray not on the IL with back problems. One of the bright spots is Luis Castillo, with a 3.05 ERA and 76 Ks in 59 innings, but he shut out Pittsburgh on Thursday and won't face the Sox.
Which brings us to:
Both teams have played these really close to the vest, but it looks like it will be:
Friday: Jonathan Stiever vs. Tejay Antone in a rookie righthander faceoff ... maybe
Stiever will be making his second start, after a performance against the Pirates that featured a shaky first inning but strong recovery. Antone has been a swingman, with four starts in his 10 appearances, most of them quite brief so it has been an extended opener situation for the most part. He sports a nifty 2.76 ERA but less nifty 4.18 FIP. But whether it will be Antone isn't a sure thing.
Saturday: Dallas Keuchel vs. TBD (or TBA or Undecided, your choice)
The scheduling for Keuchel, coming off an IL stint with a back problem, is to set him up for the playoffs. We hope — otherwise it could be he's still hurt. Keuchel did face the Reds once during his stint with the Braves last year, but had no decision.
TBD could be old enemy Trevor Bauer, who is having an incredible year, with a 1.71 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 58 innings. He last pitched against the Pirates on Monday, striking out a dozen in 6 ⅓ innings of one-run ball.
If Bauer doesn't go Saturday, he may do it Sunday, or maybe they'll hold him back for division rival Milwaukee on Monday. That would be nice, because the Sox faced Bauer 20 times while he was with the Indians, hitting a measly .221 and striking out 136 times in 113 innings.
Sunday: Dylan Cease vs. TBD, or Cease vs. TBA, or Cease vs. Undecided, you pick
Cease's almost ridiculous luck (3.20 ERA, 5.81 FIP) has continued, despite a FanGraphs article pointing it out, with five walks and five hits in 4 ⅔ innings against the Twins leading to only one run.
Or Cease could go Saturday. Or neither.
The Reds might possibly throw Michael Lorenzen, who's 2-1 with a 4.56 ERA, and who beat the Pirates on Tuesday, giving up one run in five innings.
Or they may decide to let Votto pitch and DH for him. Hard to say.