April 20, 2009

Series Preview: Cubs vs Reds (4/21-4/23) (and bonus Reds preview)

Dusty Baker returns to Wrigley field this week for a 3-game set against the Cubs. A lot of people picked the Reds to be frisky this year based on their pitching staff, but I'm not sure what to make of them. Dusty Baker's management of pitchers aside (poor Aaron Harang), the Reds' ballpark has to somewhat mitigate any positives that their starting pitching gives them. Another major problem is their lineup. Dusty Baker continues his crusade to put impatient but fast players at the top of his lineup, and Willy Taveras (of the career .333 OBP) is just Juan Pierre 2.0. Losing Adam Dunn fron last season is going to be a big problem for them too - he was by far the best hitter on their team.

The offense is now centered around a core of Votto, Bruce, Encarnacion, and Phillips. Phillips is a great asset for the team, but everyone seems to remember his career year in 2007 instead of the rest of his work (including the 2 years bracketing it). He's a good player, but he's not a guy you can center your offense around. His projected wOBA is just about average. Votto is going to be quite good (and one of the most underrated players in the NL), Bruce projects well but is still young, and Encarnacion has been the Javier Vazquez of hitters, always underperforming his peripherals. Those 4 are solid players, and any of the young guys could have truly breakout seasons this year. However, the rest of their lineup is quite putrid.

Most of the buzz surrounding the Reds is their pitching staff, which is a little overrated. Harang might be breaking down under Dusty's usage (that 4 inning relief appearance on two day's rest last year was criminal). He's a good-to-great pitcher when he's healthy. Cueto is overrated due to his fast start last year, and is projected to be a league average pitcher. Volquez is probably a little better than Harang, but his peripherals aren't as good as that sparkling ERA that he put up last year. Arroyo is slightly better than league average, and Owings is pretty mediocre. That bandbox of a ballpark that they play in certainly isn't helping them either. They have a lot of strikeout pitchers, but Volquez is the only one with any groundball tendencies, which is trouble in that park.

Even with one or two breakout seasons, they're probably still behind the Cubs and Cardinals. They have a decent hitting core, but I don't think that the rest of their lineup is good enough to make up for the handicap that the ballpark gives to their pitching.

Who's hot
Derrek Lee
Aramis Ramirez
Aaron Harang

Who's not
Brandon Phillips
Edinson Volquez
Geovany Soto

Pitching Matchups
Tuesday: Micah Owings v Rich Harden (7:05 pm)
Owings has barely pitched this season, and was roughed up by the Brewers in his first outing. Harden had quite a but of trouble in his last start as well, but is a much much better pitcher than Owings. It sure seems like he was tipping his changeup in his last start, but Harden said that he just screwed started throwing instead of pitching because his shoulder felt so good. It's going to be a cool night and the Reds remain base-clogging averse, so I'm betting he has whatever was going on his last start figured out and we get a nice start from Harden.

Wednesday: Johnny Cueto v Ted Lilly (7:05 pm)
Cueto's going to be a good pitcher someday, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen yet. He had lots of problems finding the plate in his last start (6 BB in 4.2 IP), so hopefully the patient Cubs feast on him. Uncle Ted threw an incredible game in his last start, and should continue to do well in the cool weather on Wed night. I'll be at this game (yay) with bleacher tickets, following my afternoon seminar talk at UIC.

Thursday: Carlos Zambrano v Aaron Harang (1:20 pm)
Harang had a tough luck loss in his last start - he gave up 5 runs and 10 hits but most of them were balls that found their way through the infield. He threw a complete game shutout in his previous start, so it looks like he's got good stuff at this point in the season. I think Harang pitches a good game the Reds end up winning this game. I *might* (edit: I will) end up sticking around Chicago for this game as well, depending on whether I get enough work done this week to get me over the grad school Guilt Hump.

Random Predictions
Last week:
Last week's predictions went okay - I was correct in that the Cubs won the series and that Sunday's game would be rained out. Was quite wrong about the HRs hit in this series (thank goodness we kept Pujols silent).

This week:
Cubs win the series 2-1 (lose on Thursday)
Milton Bradley goes on a tear
Soto continues to slump