April isn't even over yet, but it feels like we've been to mountain peaks and deep valleys with this Mets team already. After struggling to score in series losses to Philadelphia and Miami, the club is currently sitting pretty with a splendid road trip that saw New York hit a bunch of home runs and get quality pitching on the way to winning seven out of nine games. That pushes the Mets' record to 10-7 overall, but it's not going to hold up if all that wonderful slugging doesn't show up at Citi Field.
Expectations will be high once again this week as orange and blue crew faces another rebuilding National League squad in the Cincinnati Reds, who won 64 games last year and traded away beloved third baseman and New Jersey native Todd Frazier during the offseason. Cincinnati may be in a similar state as Philly and Atlanta with its unproven pitching staff and big mess of a bullpen, but its lineup has been boosted by some old faces from the last Reds postseason team as well as some more unexpected contributors.
Just look at what Eugenio Suarez has done so far this year. The Venezuelan third baseman is doing a great job filling in for Frazier by hitting .300/.355/.529 with six walks, 11 strikeouts, and five home runs. That's a great output for a player who was acquired in exchange for Alfredo Simon following the 2014 season. Suarez already proved he belonged in the big leagues by hitting for a 105 wRC+ in 97 games last season as a 23-year-old. If he can continue to improve his strikeout and walk rates from that 2015 performance, the youngster has a chance to be an All-Star.
Suarez's production helps make up for what Joey Votto has done in 2016. The veteran powerhouse has hit just .206/.295/.309 this April. That isolated power of .103 is down over 100 points from last year's .228 mark, and his walk rate has dipped 10 percent as well. However, that still leaves a solid walk rate of 10 percent for Votto as well as a strikeout rate of 21 percent that isn't that high above his career average. The biggest issues for the franchise player appear to be his lack of power as well as a .235 BABIP that is holding down his batting average and on-base percentage.
While Votto might be a member of the Reds for life thanks to a contract that extends well into the next decade, a pair of veterans who could be moved by this year's trade deadline are Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, the latter of whom appeared to be headed to the Mets on the morning of last year's deadline. Bruce has dealt with high strikeout rates for his whole career, but in 2014 and 2015 he saw his BABIP drop well below .300, which led to him becoming a below-average hitter despite his 26 home runs from last season. In 2016, Bruce appears to have his game under control with four home runs and a .320 OBP so far, and if can keep that up, he'll probably score the Reds something decent if they're able to move him.
At 34 years old, Phillips is five years older than Bruce, but he'll also be a target in the trade market if he can get his power numbers back up to snuff. After hitting exactly 18 home runs an astounding four years in a row from 2010 to 2013, Phillips's output shrunk to eight in 2014 and then 12 in 2015. So far this year, he's hit just one home run, but the ISO is closer to where it was during his prime. If Phillips can continue hitting .297/.324/.453 while playing sold defense at second base, he could be worth shopping for.
How will the Cincinnati offense perform once the vets are gone? That depends on the continued performance of Suarez, as well as Adam Duvall and Zack Cozart. Duvall was shipped to the Reds in exchange for Mike Leake at the 2015 trade deadline by San Francisco, for whom he was a beast at Triple-A in 2014. While Duvall has put up enticing numbers for Cincinnati so far while playing mostly left field, he strikes out more than 30 percent of the time as a big leaguer and could be in for some serious regression.
Cozart, meanwhile, was considered an all-glove player for a while before hitting nine home runs and slugging .459 during the first third of 2015. That potential career-changing campaign was cut short by a knee injury, however (Cozart played in just 53 games), so the shortstop is out to prove himself all over again this year. He's off to a good start with a 140 wRC+ despite an OBP that his lower than his batting average. With just one year left of arbitration after this one, Cozart's another Reds player who might get shipped out, especially if he improves his walk rate.
While there are some issues on Cincinnati's offense, the real weakness of the team is the pitching staff, which has allowed more than six runs per game over the first 19 games of the season. Despite being inexperienced, 26-year-old Cuban import Raisel Iglesias is the unquestioned ace of the rotation after an impressive rookie campaign in 2015 that saw him strike out 104 batters and walk 28 for a 1.14 WHIP in 95.1 innings. So far this season, Iglesias's WHIP is up to 1.33 and he's struggling to work deep into games, but he's still doing a great job striking out batters and limiting walks.
The other two Reds starters versus the Mets are Brandon Finnegan and Jon Moscot, who will both be a bit of a mystery for different reasons. Finnegan got his Reds career off to a decent start last year with four decent outings after being sent over in the Johnny Cueto trade, and the trend looked to be continuing in 2016 before he was shelled for five runs in four innings versus the Cubs in his latest start. The southpaw has walked 12 batters in 21.2 innings so far for a 3.74 ERA, but you can almost throw the stats out the window because the Mets have faced just one left-handed starter this season. Will Michael Conforto be dropped in the lineup or even removed entirely? How will Lucas Duda and his three-percent walk rate respond? Will Neil Walker be able to hit home runs off of lefties who aren't bad Philadelphia relief pitchers? There are a lot of question marks in this matchup.
|Date||Time||Television||Reds Probable Starter||Mets Probable Starter|
|April 25, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Raisel Iglesias||Noah Syndergaard|
|April 26, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY, MLBN||Brandon Finnegan||Bartolo Colon|
|April 27, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Jon Moscot||Matt Harvey|
Moscot will toe the rubber opposite Matt Harvey in the series finale, and he's also a bit of a question mark despite being right-handed. The 23-year-old made just two major league starts last June before missing the rest the year with a separated shoulder. An intercostal muscle injury in spring training further limited Moscot's development, but he made it off the disabled list in time for an April 17 season debut at St. Louis. With seven runs allowed in 10.2 innings, Moscot has been pretty lousy so far in 2016, but then again his only two outings were against the Cubs and Cardinals. Maybe the Mets will treat him better, but he's got to find a way to pick up his strikeout rate if he's going to make it as a big league pitcher.
Just like the divisional foes the Mets just got through with, the Reds will be at a big disadvantage not only in the starting rotation, but in the bullpen as well. J.J. Hoover was supposed to be the closer this year, but he has allowed a stunning 13 earned runs in seven-and-two-thirds innings already. Likewise, set-up man Jumbo Diaz has a 5.40 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in his six-and-two-thirds innings. Look for guys like former starter Tony Cingrani and the unproven Caleb Cotham to get some higher-leverage work going forward.
Compared to the ongoing project that is the Reds, the Mets appear to be in a nice place. The offense is humming along with a .765 team OPS thanks to a recent glut of power that will hopefully not go away completely even if it does subside due to the team not playing its home games in Philadelphia. Harvey wasn't terrific in his last start against Atlanta, but he at least struck out one batter for each inning pitched. Bartolo Colon is still a magical being who doesn't give away walks and has kept the Mets competitive in all his games so far. Monday's starter Noah Syndergaard has somehow become more like Thor by pitching at an otherworldly level so far. The way he mixes his too-hot-to-handle fastball with the movement on his curve and new slider is something to behold for not only Mets fans, but baseball fans all over the globe.
Back to the offense, it seems any spot of the order is capable of hitting the ball out of the park, especially when you consider Asdrubal Cabrera's recent surge of four hits in two games. That included his first home run of the year in garbage time on Saturday night. Just think of how scary this offense will be if Travis d'Arnaud begins to hit a little bit.
Prediction: Mets win two of three.
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