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Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds vs. New York Mets

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The Mets can win a game? Now that they're back home, maybe they can win several.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I don't remember a lot of buzz surrounding the Reds this season. Their aging roster was supposed to be a mess rivaled only by that of Philadelphia's coming into the season, but Cincinnati has managed to get enough good performances out of the lineup and starting rotation to hang around .500 and the Wild Card race, even as St. Louis continues to pull away from everyone in the National League Central.

And the Reds have had injuries to deal with, as well. Shortstop Zack Cozart was having a surprisingly robust offensive campaign before he went down with a season-ending knee injury, and catcher/outfielder Devin Mesoraco has seen disaster follow his 2014 breakout season. He's having hip surgery and won't see the field until next year.

The pitching staff has been similarly affected by Tommy John surgery for Homer Bailey and a strained shoulder for Tony Cingrani (he's the one guy who still has a chance to contribute this season). All that considered, it's taken some impressive performances to get the Reds into the postseason conversation.

Don't mess with the Toddfather

Any conversation about Cincinnati's offense has to start with Todd Frazier, the late-blooming Jersey boy who went from cute role player in 2013 to fringe star third baseman in 2014 to an absolute monster in 2015. The former Rutgers star has cut his strikeouts this year by around four percent and his hitting .294/.359/.634 with 24 home runs. That 50-homer pace is not slowing down if last night's game-tying blast against Pittsburgh is any indication.

Frazier also plays plus defense and will make just $7.5 million next year before hitting free agency. He's not the only Reds slugger surpassing expectations, though. Joey Votto, who was criticized by some fans during his injury-shortened 2014 campaign for walking too much, has found his power stroke again and is hitting like the All-Star he is paid to be through 2023.

It's going to be tough for Votto to get into the MVP conversation this year thanks to the way his teammate Frazier and Washington's Bryce Harper are playing, but it's nice to see that his isolated power is up 75 points for a 30-home run pace. Plus, Votto is still walking 15 percent of the time while keeping his strikeout under 20 percent.

The legend of fast kid Billy

This Reds lineup isn't just about power, though. There's speed to spare thanks to the presence of Billy Hamilton, who is already playing in his second full big league season. It seems like just yesterday that Juan Centeno was handing Hamilton his first ever caught stealing during his cameo appearance at the end of the 2013.

That moment turned into less of a novelty when Hamilton went on to get caught 23 times (with 56 stolen bases) during his official rookie season of 2014. This year, however, Hamilton has refined his craft and added smarts to speed. He's stolen 36 bags in 42 tries to become a much more efficient player on the basepaths. If only we could say the same for Hamilton's game at the plate.

Even though he's cut his strikeout rate by more than two percent, Hamilton is hitting just .225/.270.299 in 270 plate appearances in 2015. You'd think it would be easy for a player with Hamilton's speed to hit for a BABIP higher than .261, but that hasn't been the case thus far. I don't know too much about ground ball and fly ball rates, but a ratio of 1.07 ground balls per fly ball can't be too promising when Votto is hitting 1.40 ground balls per fly ball. Considering how limited his power is, Hamilton has to starting whacking more worm-burners in order to get his BABIP and OBP up.

What to expect from Matz

We found out on Thursday that the Mets are set to promote top pitching prospect Steven Matz to the big leagues, and today we've learned that the highly-anticipated debut will come on Sunday opposite Cincinnati's Josh Smith. This is an exciting time for Mets fans who have already seen positive returns from the promotion of Noah Syndergaard. Now it's time to see the guy who some project to be even more effective in the majors.

When you look at Matz's minor league figures, that's not too much of a shock. His 26-percent strikeout rate at Las Vegas this year is higher than the ones he posted at St. Lucie or Binghamton. And although Matz's walks have jumped in Triple-A to around three per nine innings, he's kept his ERA down to 2.19 with a 3.42 FIP. Of course, it hasn't always been sunshine and daisies for Matz. Despite being the 72nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, he's had a long road to the big leagues, battling through Tommy John surgery and shoulder tendinitis. For more on Matz's meteoric rise through New York's farm system, check out this piece written by our own Steve Sypa last summer.

Date Time Television Reds Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
June 26, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Johnny Cueto Noah Syndergaard
June 27, 2015 4:10 PM PIX 11 Michael Lorenzen Matt Harvey
June 28, 2015 1:10 PM SNY Josh Smith Steven Matz

The exciting Matz news forces poor Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard to take a back seat this weekend. Hopefully they deal with it well, because Cincinnati ace Johnny Cueto has been in the zone this year. Specifically, he's been in the strike zone, where most of his pitches wind up. That's how you average fewer than two walks per nine innings with a 2.98 ERA and 3.28 FIP. Although Cueto just had a start skipped due to elbow stiffness, he should be psyched to face a Mets lineup that we all know has struggled lately.

Michael Lorenzen and Josh Smith aren't nearly as intimidating as Cueto, but the Mets haven't been able to take advantage of fringe starters recently. Although Lorenzen is coming off of a couple of strong starts against Detroit and Miami, his strikeout rates at Double-A and in the majors this year suggests there will be plenty of opportunities for runs.

Smith has even less experience than Lorenzen even though he's four years older. After walking six batters and allowing four runs in his major league debut at Pittsburgh, Smith will look to get back his strong control that made him a successful pitcher in the minors.

Prediction: Mets take two of three.

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