The Mets head back to New York where they'll meet up with the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field for a three game set that begins this evening. Coming off of a division title in 2012, the Reds have a 26-18 record and they find themselves tied with the Pirates for the second best record in the NL Central, 2.5 games behind the Cardinals. Brandon Kraeling writes about the Reds for SB Nation's Red Reporter and he answered a few questions about the team to help us preview the series.
Amazin' Avenue: What were your expectations for the Reds coming into the season and how has the team done so far in meeting those expectations?
Red Reporter: I think on paper, the Reds were a division winner that had one glaring flaw in 2012 that they effectively addressed in the offseason (leadoff spot). That said, the Reds had a lot of luck with their injury record, so going into the year, we expected the improvement of the lineup and a little less generosity from the injury bug, so about the same.
So far, they're right where they need to be, in my opinion. They did upgrade the leadoff spot with Shin-Shoo Choo, who has been fantastic. The injury bug hasn't been kind, with Ryan Ludwick, Sean Marshall, Ryan Hanigan, and Johnny Cueto missing significant time on the DL. They've handled everything in stride, and after a nice little winning streak, they're right where they need to be right now.
AA: Homer Bailey has been outstanding through his first 9 starts this year, with a 2.86 FIP and a much improved strikeout rate. Has Bailey made any noticeable changes and do you think he can keep pitching at this level?
RR: I think Homer Bailey has really made some strides over the past few years, and has turned from a proverbial "thrower" to a "pitcher". He got to the big leagues on stuff alone, and when he got there, had a pretty rude awakening. The biggest change we've seen from him has been between the ears, as he's staying more focused and not allowing his emotions to get the best of him. He's been meltdown prone the past few years, but this year, the biggest change is his ability to focus after he gives up a run and not getting knocked out early.
AA: The Reds had talked of moving Aroldis Chapman into their rotation prior to the start of the year before sticking him back in the closer's role. Should Chapman be starting or are Reds fans okay with him dominating out of the bullpen?
RR: I think he should be starting, but he doesn't really fit into the Reds' current roster that way. With Tony Cingrani in AAA, the Reds have 7 guys who can be league average starters, and before Chapman was named closer, Jonathan Broxton was penciled in there, which is pretty scary. You're catching Chapman at a good time, as he's blown his last two saves, but I think I'd still rather have him in that role over Broxton. When he's on, he's untouchable.
AA: Offseason acquisition Shin-Soo Choo has been one of the Reds' best hitters so far but the defensive metrics don't seem to like him out in center field. How has he looked out there? Also, do you think Great American Ballpark has helped with his early power surge?
RR: He's been alright. Not spectacular, but he gets the job done. There's been a few instances where he's taken weird routes to fly balls and doesn't get good jumps, but we can manage.
His power has been an unexpected surprise, but 4 of his 9 homers have come on the road. Of the 5 that he's hit at GABP, 2 have been opposite field shots, so I really don't think he's taking advantage of the short porch in RF.
AA: Zack Cozart has struggled at the plate early on this season with a .245 wOBA after putting up just a .298 mark a year ago. What do you see as a realistic offensive ceiling for Cozart and will he reach it?
RR: I'm afraid that we may have already seen Cozart's offensive ceiling last year. So far, he's J.J. Hardy with better defense. Doesn't get on base a ton, has a little pop, and does nothing to justify the fact that Dusty Baker insists on batting him second in the Reds' lineup.
Thanks again to Brandon Kraeling for giving us a preview of the Reds! Here are the pitching matchups for this series: