The Yankees last faced the Reds in a 2008 set at Yankee Stadium, and the last time they were at Cincinnati was in 2003. Quite a bit has changed for the Reds, who spent every season over the last 10 years as a below-.500 team (though for the most part, one that could often rake) until winning the NL Central last year for the first time since 1995, largely on the strength of the best offense in the National League (.339 wOBA). For their troubles they were swept out of the NLDS by the Phillies.
The Reds are once again boasting a mighty offensive attack this year — a .325 team wOBA (4th in the NL) and 14.1 fWAR (tops in the NL) — though once again their pitching staff leaves a bit to be desired, with a staff ERA of 4.15 (4th-worst in the NL) and FIP of 4.22 (worst). They are currently 2nd in the NL Central and right in the thick of both the division and Wild Card hunt, and figure to be so for the remainder of the season.
The Reds’ offensive attack is of course paced by the two-headed beast known as reigning NL MVP Joey Votto (.415 wOBA) and Jay Bruce (.379 wOBA). Thankfully no one else in the lineup hits at quite the level of those two — though Ramon Hernandez is annoyingly wOBAing .372 for no apparent reason — but Drew Stubbs (.347), Chris Heisey (.338) and Brandon Phillips (.317) are varying degrees of dangerous. Hopefully the Yankees can keep the Reds’ big guns in check and force some of the lesser bats to try to carry the day.
Tonight’s game has Reds ace Johnny Cueto (1.68 ERA/3.29 FIP/3.52 xFIP), whose miniscule ERA would be leading the league if he had enough innings to qualify, facing Ivan Nova. Cueto’s K/9 is currently at a career-low, but he’s scorching the earth with a 55% GB% and his .234 BABIP has helped him strand over 80% of his runners. Add in a nice walk rate (2.5 BB/9) and small HR/9 (0.5), sprinkle in some luck, and you get a sub-2.00 ERA. At 10.1 runs above average, Cueto’s fastball (avg. spd. 93.2mph) would be the 4th-best in the NL. He has an above-average slider that he barely throws, and his other secondary offerings are below average.
For all the hand-wringing done regarding Nova, his inability to miss bats and general unevenness, I think we probably need to take a step back and acknowledge that he’s actually done a pretty decent job for a pitcher who is maybe a 5th starter-type at best. The numbers may not be ultra-pretty, but the Yankees are 8-6 in his starts, and I’d be interested to see how many teams are getting better than a 4.38 ERA/4.47 FIP/4.53 xFIP out of their 4th/5th starters.
In the Tuesday night game, Travis Wood (5.11/4.31/4.44) will face Brian Gordon (3.38/4.64/6.57), who did enough in holding the Rangers to two runs over 5.1 innings last time out to earn himself another start. Wood’s an extreme fly-ball guy (32.5% GB%) who doesn’t punch too many people out (6.15 K/9). Wood has the second-least effective cutter in the league (-5.8 runs above average) and doesn’t throw particularly hard, with an average fastball of 90mph. He’ll occasionally mix in a change (16.3% of the time) and curve (5.7%), but neither are terribly effective. Wood’s probably not as bad as his ERA indicates, but he’s also not very good, either, as xFIP sees him as a 4.44 ERA pitcher going forward.
And in the Wednesday finale, Mike Leake (4.04/3.76/3.65) takes on what I presume to be Freddy Garcia (3.60/4.48/4.12), although as of this writing it hadn’t yet been announced on Yankees.com. Garcia has continued to outpitch his peripherals, and an 80.3% strand rate (5th-best in the AL) certainly helps matters. Leake has the best K rate (6.43) and BB/9 (2.27) of the three hurlers the Yankees are facing in this set, and the rest of his peripherals are pretty sound. His best pitch is his cutter (thrown 33% of the time), though it’s not overwhelmingly good, at 1.2 runs above average. In addition to his fastball (36%), he’ll mix in a change and a slider, both of which are right around average. Nothing about Leake’s stat profile seems all that outstanding, but nothing is all that poor, either. I’d expect a fairly solid performance out of the righty.
This should be a very interesting set, given that these are both strong offenses. In fact, the Yankees’ and Reds’ lineups might actually be more evenly matched than the numbers would indicate, given that the Yankees’ standard attack will be slightly diminished due the automatic out they have to cede every nine hitters when the pitcher comes to bat. Ah, the NL and its absurd insistence on forcing non-hitters to hit. If MLB does actually implement my dream realignment proposal, it’d be stellar if they also forced the National League to end its antiquated clinging to an arcane rule and finally adopt the designated hitter once and for all.
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