Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds vs. New York Mets

Andy Lyons

Cincinnati follows the rain clouds east for a three-game set in New York.

What's going on with the Reds?

Considering that they failed to score a run in their first 17 innings of the 2014 season, a 1-1 split in their first two games against the rival Cardinals was the best the Reds could hope for. On Opening Day, Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis bullpen shutout Cincinnati for all nine innings, while Yadier Molina provided the winning run for the Cardinals with a solo home run in the top of the ninth.

Two days later, the Reds pulled away with a 1-0 win of their own. Tony Cingrani and Michael Wacha dueled to a scoreless draw for seven innings before Chris Heisey finally broke through with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth for the Reds.

The runs that Great American Ballpark is famous for started showing up in the rubber game on Thursday. Unfortunately, so did a lot of rain. That game was delayed more than three hours due to weather before the start, but at least the fans that stayed got some offense to warm them up. Todd Frazier homered twice, and Jay Bruce added a two-run blast of his own, but the Reds fell to the Cardinals 7-6. With the team's flight to New York delayed until the evening, let's hope the Reds aren't too cranky when they meet our Mets on Friday night.

Who are these guys?

What? You haven't heard of Billy Hamilton? He's the fastest baseball player since... Billy Hamilton! The speedy center fielder has the legs to break Rickey Henderson's all-time stolen base record, but does he have the bat? He hit just .256/.308/.343 in 547 triple-A plate appearances last season, but stole 75 bases while doing so. During a major league cameo last September, Hamilton impressed with 13 stolen bases in 13 games while going 7-for-19 at the plate. Reds manager Bryan Price is batting Hamilton in the leadoff spot to start the season, but so far he's 0-for-12 with six strikeouts.

Tucker Barnhart is Cincinnati's backup catcher and No. 10 prospect according to Baseball America. He's considered a terrific defensive player with the ability to throw out potential basestealers (being on the same team as Hamilton should help with this tremendously) and manage a pitching staff. His offensive game, however, leaves something to be desired. Barnhart will probably never hit for power, as he slugged just .348 as a 22-year-old in double-A last season, but he may have the skills necessary to hit enough line drives and draw enough walks to stick as a major league regular in the future. Barnhart will probably be sent to the minor leagues for more seasoning when Devin Mesoraco comes back from his oblique injury.

Who's on the mound?

Friday: Mike Leake vs. Jenrry Mejia

Leake's claim to fame is going straight from Arizona State to the major leagues in 2010, but that doesn't mean he's a superstar pitcher in the mold of Stephen Strasburg. Rather, Leake is a steady technician who throws five pitches and gets ground balls around 49 percent of the time, but he strikes out under six batters per nine innings. Last season, Leake posted a career-best 3.37 ERA and 1.6 fWAR by cutting his home runs allowed rate to just 0.98 per nine. Opposing Leake, and also making his first start of 2014 will be Jenrry Mejia. After being jerked around by management for much of his career, Meija was nothing short of brilliant in a small sample last season. He struck out 27 batters and walked just four in 27.1 innings spread over five starts.

Saturday: Johnny Cueto vs. Dillon Gee

Known around these parts as the guy whom R.A. Dickey beat out for the 2012 Cy Young Award, Cueto is looking for a repeat of that season after spending much of 2013 on the disabled list. When he was on the field last season, he was pretty good, posting a 2.82 ERA in 60.2 innings with 51 strikeouts and 18 walks. In 2014, Cueto is off to a great start with seven solid innings pitched on Opening Day against the Cardinals, but he ended up "losing" that game because of a lack of run support. Gee is also scheduled to make his second start of the season on Saturday after he allowed four runs in 6.2 innings versus the Nationals in the Mets' own Opening Day defeat.

Sunday: Alfredo Simon vs. Jon Niese

With Mat Latos nearly fully recovered from a knee injury and set to come back to the rotation in a week or so, Simon might only have to make one or two starts before heading back to the bullpen. He hasn't started a major league game since 2011 when he was a swingman for the Orioles, but Simon was quite effective out of Cincinnati's bullpen last season. With 63 strikeouts and 26 walks in 87.2 innings, Simon posted a career-best 1.07 WHIP that was greatly aided by a .236 BABIP. Opposing Simon will be Niese, whose arm is healthy enough to pitch again after some elbow trouble during spring training. In two start against the Reds in 2013, Niese struck out 13 batters and walked four in 13 innings while allowing just two earned runs.

What about some GIFs?

The last time the Mets played the Reds, the Amazins won 1-0 on the strength of seven-and-two-thirds innings of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Earlier in that series, Juan Lagares made a great throw to nail Shin-Soo Choo at the plate, but Travis d'Arnaud got kicked in the junk.

Hamilton got d'Arnaud and Frank Francisco so spooked that they completely flopped this pitch-out attempt.

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