Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Cincinnati Reds

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Reds host the Mets while hoping to lock up a spot in the 2013 postseason.

What's going on with the Reds?

Thanks to the second Wild Card playoff spot that was added by MLB before last season, the Reds are doing just fine. With six games remaining in the regular season, the club is five games ahead of those poor disappointing Nationals in the race for the final National League playoff spot. It hardly matters that the Reds are in a tie with Pittsburgh for second place in the NL Central. In the years between 1994 and 2012, the two would be locked in a race for the one and only Wild Card spot, but as it is now, they are just battling for home field advantage in a one-game playoff while hoping that the Cardinals drop out of the division lead.

That takes some of the juice out of Cincinnati's recent series victory in Pittsburgh that they just capped off with an 11-3 thumping. The series got started with a bang on Friday night, as the Reds stunned a packed PNC Park by making a 5-2 deficit vanish in the ninth inning. Joey Votto made the comeback stand up in the 10th by lining the winning home run down the left field line for a 6-5 Cincinnati win.

Now it's out of the frying pan for the Reds and into the friendly confines of Great American Park. It will probably be strange for a team with a lot on the line to be playing a team that is just playing out the stretch, but that's how baseball works a lot of the time. Plus, it's not as though the Reds have that much on the line. Another win or two and they'll have a playoff berth wrapped up, and then they'll have to decide if that's a big deal or not because of the single game elimination deal.

Who are these guys?

Billy Hamilton is everything you want him to be, and then some. He's a 23-year-old infielder-turned-outfielder who has the kind of speed that can break Ricky Henderson's all-time stolen base record. The only question now is whether he will he hit enough to play every day. It seems once he does that, Ricky is going to have to watch Ricky be replaced in the history books. Seriously, though, the bat is a legitimate question. While Hamilton stole 75 bases in 123 games at Triple-A Louisville this season, he hit just .256/.308/.343 with a 6.9 percent walk rate. The good news is that Hamilton's walk rate was well above 12 percent across two levels of minor league ball in 2012, so an adjustment could be in order. More good news: Hamilton is lighting the world on fire in the majors since his call-up earlier this month. In his first MLB start, he recorded three hits and stole four bases against the Astros. In that comeback against the Pirates, he pinch ran in the ninth inning and stole a crucial base on the first pitch. He's going to cause opponents all sorts of trouble if Cincinnati can just get past that Wild Card playoff.

Who's on the mound?

Monday: Johnny Cueto vs. Aaron Harang

Tonight marks Cueto's second major league start since late June, as the 2012 Cy Young contender was on the disabled list with a lat sprain for quite some time. In his reintroduction to the Reds last week, Cueto looked just fine in five shutout innings against Houston. Now matched against another team with offensive struggles, Cueto will try to stretch himself out for a possible playoff appearance. If he's able to look good while throwing around 100 pitches (he reached just 82 in his last outing), Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker have to tell another pitcher that he's not in the playoff rotation. That's going to be awkward. Oh well, at least the Cueto drama is more interesting than "Aaron Harang used to play for the Reds" as a story line. Although, I have to admit that it is amazing that a fly ball pitcher like Harang was able to have such success at Great American Ballpark.

Tuesday: Mike Leake vs. Jon Niese

Leake might be a guy who is relegated to the bullpen in the postseason if Cueto proves himself healthy on Monday. That's a shame, because the 25-year-old Sun Devil is having his best season yet. Leake is doing a decent job keeping the ball in the park this season considering where he spends his home games, and he's ridden a .277 BABIP against mark (low for a ground ball guy) to a 3.21 ERA and 1.8 fWAR. With a strikeouts-per-nine rate of just 5.66, you'd like to see Leake walk a few less hitters or get a few more ground balls, but your team is doing well if he's your fourth or fifth best starter. And the Reds are doing well. Also doing well is Jon Niese, who had another nice start against San Francisco on Thursday that helped to drive down that ugly 1.45 WHIP.

Wednesday: Greg Reynolds vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

Reynolds was a struggling Quadruple-A pitcher for the Rockies from 2008 until 2011, but now he's humming along as Cincinnati's swingman and pitching in games like this when Tony Cingrani is either injured or out of innings and the team would rather have its best starters playing next week when the Reds host the Pirates. Reynolds actually had a pretty brilliant start against his former mates in Colorado earlier this season, but he's really a pretty boring right-handed pitcher who is having great success at Triple-A this season by limiting walks. In the majors, Reynolds doesn't miss enough bats to be a full-time starter. In fact, if the Mets steal the first two games of this series and Washington still hasn't dropped out of the race, you might not even see Reynolds in this spot on Wednesday.

What about some GIFs?

Duda goes over the rail for the catch... but the Phillies score on the play.

2013-09-22_lucas_duda_catch_over_railing

The last time the Mets played the Reds, New York lost 7-4 with much thanks to Ike Davis acting like a matador on a ground ball down the line.

2013-05-22_ike_davis_can_t_field_medium

Dubs homers in first at-bat off the DL!

2013-09-20_david_wright_homers_in_first_post-dl_at-bat_medium

Bonus GIF! Billy Hamilton steals a base in the ninth against Pittsburgh to set up a key rally. Watch how Russell Martin knows he is going to steal, but can't do anything about it.

2013-09-20_billy_hamilton_stolen_base_vs

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