Thursday, July 30, 2015

Next Up: The Cincinnati Reds

No team's given the Pirates more trouble this year than the Reds. The Reds are 44-54, in fourth place in the National League Central, but they've racked up a 7-2 record to date against the Bucs. The Pirates were 1-5 in their first six games after the All-Star break and have gone 5-1 in the six games since. They will try to push their overall post-break record above .500 over four games in Cincinnati starting tonight.

How Are They Doing Lately? They've thrown in the towel on 2015, trading their ace starter and pending free agent Johnny Cueto to Kansas City. By the time Sunday's game rolls around, the Reds' scheduled starting pitcher, Mike Leake, could be gone as well. Right fielder Jay Bruce has been discussed as a potential trade chip too. The Reds haven't played well, with ten wins over the last 30 days, tied with the Braves and Rockies for the fewest in the league, though the Braves have one more loss (15) than the Reds (14). They've scored 3.5 runs per game, tied for the sixth fewest in the league, while allowing 5.00, the second most. As such, they've been a little lucky to have gone 10-14; a team with that sort of run differential is more likely to go 8-16 or so.

What's Going Right? The offense has been...well, not particularly good, but not really bad, either. Over the last 30 days, they're eighth in batting average and slugging percentage and ninth in on base percentage in the 15-team National League. They've been the second toughest team in the league to strike out and they're sixth in home runs. While they've swung at an above-average percentage of pitches outside the strike zone, their low strikeout rate is illustrative of their ability to make contact, as they have the third-highest contact rate on swings in the league.

What's Going Wrong? The starting pitchers have a 4.19 ERA over the past 30 days, third worst in the league, as a way-too-high 28% of baserunners allowed have scored, also third worst. The relievers have been worse, with a cover-your-eyes 5.88 ERA, second worst in the league, and they've earned it more than the starters, with the lowest strikeout rate AND the highest walk rate in the league over the past 30 days. 

Who's Hot? First baseman Joey Votto has been on fire: .386/.514/.639 slash line over the last 30 days, .523/.644/.886 since the All-Star break. I typed all of that correctly: He's gotten on base more than half the time over the last 30 days, and he's gotten hits in over half of his at bats since the break. Bruce has been sensational, too, .303/.347/.596 over the last 30 days. Closer Aroldis Chapman has been his usual dominating self: six saves in ten games over the last 30 days, 18 strikeouts in 10.1 innings, batters whiffing on 39% of their swings against him. (League average is 23%.) Cueto had a 1.59 ERA over five starts in the past 30 days, but he's gone. Leake' ERA over the same period is better, 1.25, but he might get traded too. In fact, the only person in this paragraph who's not been mentioned in trade rumors is Votto, and that's because he's owed $192 million over the next eight years.

Who's Not? I mentioned Cueto, Leake, and Chapman above. Over the last 30 days, the rest of the Reds' pitching staff has a combined ERA of 6.80. On offense, second baseman Brandon Phillips is hitting .223/.270/.266 over the past 30 days, catcher Brayan Pena .185/.228/.185. They have a total of four extra-base hits (all doubles by Phillips) over 148 at-bats between them. All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier's hit .215/.248/.376 over the period, though the Pirates have been his personal slump-buster this season, as he's hitting .359/.419/.846 with five homers, ten RBI, and ten runs scored in nine games against Pittsburgh this year. 

What's the Outlook? Their 2-7 record against Cincinnati so far this year notwithstanding, the Pirates are facing a diminished Reds team from the one they faced earlier in the season, and they could become more diminished by tomorrow's trade deadline. The Pirates' rejuvinated offense (38 runs in the past six games) will face rookie David Holmberg (making his 2015 debut; he had a 4.50 ERA over four starts in 2014), rookie Michael Lorenzen (8.83 ERA over his last four starts), rookie Raisel Iglesias (6.19) and, if he's still with the club, Leake over the four game series. That makes for good prospects for improving on 2-7.

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