What's gong on with the Reds?
Once considered to be contenders for the National League Central crown, the Reds have fallen on hard times recently. You can probably mark the start of the second half as the beginning of Cincinnati's downfall. The team came out of the All-Star break six games above .500, but then it lost six straight games on a road trip through the Bronx and Milwaukee.
The Reds, who used to rely on their offense to win games, have gotten great pitching performances this year from Johnny Cueto, Alfredo Simon, and the rest of the rotation, but it hasn't been enough to save the team from a Joey Votto injury as well as dreadful seasons from Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips.
The recent news that key rotation piece Homer Bailey is going to have surgery on his forearm is yet another tough pill to swallow in what has been a frustrating campaign for Reds fans. After being swept by the Orioles, the team appears destined to play spoiler the rest of the way.
Who are these guys?
While their bats have held the Reds back this season, there have at least been a couple of bright spots. Former top prospect Devin Mesoraco is finally living up to his potential in his age-26 season. The catcher out of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is living "proof" that backstops sometimes take a while to hit their stride at the plate. A .238/.287/.649 line in 2013 made it seem like Mesoraco would never fulfill his massive potential, but this season he's hit 21 home runs while raking to the tune of a .286/.365/.542 line. He just may have multiple All-Star appearances in his future.
Billy Hamilton is one of the chief competitors for the Rookie of the Year award that we want Jacob deGrom to win, so we might as well check this kid out as well. Despite a June OPS of .848 that turned Hamilton from light-hitting basestealer to multi-talented demon, the center fielder has mostly done two things well all year. He's stolen a lot of bases (although not very efficiently) and played great center field defense. With 55 swiped bags in 76 tries (72 percent), you can argue that Hamilton is not helping his club to much with his aggressiveness. He's more of a star fantasy player than a star real baseball player. The defense, on the other hand, is real, but still not close to what Juan Lagares gives Mets fans on a daily basis. So is a good defender with a .304 on-base percentage Rooke of the Year material? That's up for the voters to decide.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Bartolo Colon vs. Alfredo Simon
You can excuse baseball fans the world over for not seeing this successful season for Alfredo Simon coming. Out of the bullpen last season, he pitched to a 2.87 ERA in 87.2 innings, but his mediocre strikeout rate was helped along by a .236 BABIP. Now a starter in 2014, Simon saw his strikeout rate drop to under six whiffs per nine, but his ERA only went up to 3.28 with a 4.04 xFIP. Simon is still helped by a very low BABIP (.256), but with a low walk and decent ground ball numbers, it's hard to blame Simon for pitching to contact and relying on Cincinnati's strong defense.
For a moment there, it looked like Colon would definitely be traded, but now it appears that Mets fans may continue to enjoy his antics for another year or so. With an xFIP of 3.60 and a very strong strikeout-to-walk ratio, I can only imagine that Colon was attractive enough for playoff contenders to want to buy. Those figures also make Colon an attractive piece to retain for the Mets, who still don't know how effective Matt Harvey will be next season. With Dilllon Gee and Jon Niese fading a little in the second half, the 2015 rotation doesn't look as deep as it once did.
Saturday: Dillon Gee vs. Johnny Cueto
After losing out to R.A. Dickey for the 2012 Cy Young Award and missing much of 2013 due to injury, Cueto is back to pitching wonderfully in 2014. Yes, he's blocked again from Cy Young consideration -- this time by the beastly Clayton Kershaw -- but Cueto looks like spiffy runner-up with 205 strikeouts and 56 walks in 207 innings. Although his outstanding 0.97 WHIP is helped by a .236 BABIP, Cueto has made a habit of inducing poor contact over the course of his career. He's turning into one of the senior circuit's most consistent aces.
It was nice to see Gee allow just three runs in six innings last Sunday against a Phillies team that usually torments him, but Gee is still a guy who is tough to figure out what to do with. His strikeout rate is as low as it's been since he broke into the majors, and his walk rate is back above three per nine innings for the first time since 2011. Gee used to be a sneaky-valuable asset for the Mets, but he's headed closer to replacement level these days as his performance drops while pitching in the rest of the league gets better.
Sunday: Zack Wheeler vs. Mat Latos
After being a 200-inning horse during his first two seasons in Cincinnati, Latos battled injuries for the first half of 2014. Now he's back to being a solid member of the Reds' rotation despite a fastball that has lost two miles per hour of velocity since last year. As a result, he's striking out fewer opponents, but he's also been able to limit home runs without an outstanding ground ball rate. That started to fall apart during his last two starts, as Latos has allowed nine runs and three home runs in his latest 12 innings.
Wheeler's pitch count issues continued to be a problem during his last start. He couldn't even get out of the fifth inning while allowing five runs and throwing a whopping 114 pitches in Miami. We all know how impressive Wheeler's stuff can be, but lately he's pitched like he's afraid of opponents hitting the ball. Maybe Dan Warthen should work with Wheeler on pitching to more contact and letting Lagares do the heavy lifting instead of the right-hander's arm.
Prediction: Mets win two out of three because the Reds have been a bit more rotten than New York recently.
What about some highlights?
The last Mets vs. Reds game was so long ago that Ike Davis was still playing for New York. And he was hitting a walk-off grand slam!
Back on April 4, Lucas Duda hit a pair of two-run bombs to carry the Mets to their first win of the season.
Before Hamilton was getting thrown out on the basepaths all the time, this Anthony Recker throw seemed even more impressive.
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