I don't like to be overly dramatic, but this upcoming road trip represents an absolutely crucial part of the Reds' schedule. They are launching on an 11-game road trip, to the west coast, without a day off, and will be facing the two best teams in the NL West for seven of those games. That takes them through the All-Star break, after which point they kick off the second half by facing the Cardinals for the first time since April 19th. Fortunately, the Cardinals lost yesterday, but they've been surging of late. The Reds take just a 2-game lead over the Redbirds with them to San Francisco. You never know, but we might look back on this stretch as the make-or-break point for the Reds' season...especially if it turns out to be the breaking point.
Now, for the Giants. Thanks to a recent 6-4 surge, and a 2-8 falloff by the Dodgers, the Giants have pulled into a tie atop the AL West. Still, this team isn't overwhelming, to my eye. Their offense has been poor this season, though as we'll see their current lineup configuration is quite a bit more threatening than their overall numbers would indicate. With the exception of Tim Lincecum, they've gotten good performances from their rotation (as usual), but the peripherals don't back up those performances. And their bullpen has been little more than solid.
Not much to say on the Reds that I haven't already, except that their fielding numbers continue to improve, and look as good now as they have all year long. And you guys were so worried!
Park Factors: AT&T Park
Home Runs: 0.89 LHB / 0.96 RHB
Right-center field is not a good place to hit a baseball. If you get it down the line, though, you can hit it into the water! That one waaay out in the bay was hit by Mitch Moreland on June 9th.
Overall, this park plays as a pitcher park, and is particularly good at suppressing left-handed power. Fortunately, at least Joey Votto has great opposite-field power, so he'll be less affected than a normal lefty. Jay Bruce on the other hand...
I left Brandon in the lineup because I'm trying to send him positive vibes. As of now (writing Wednesday night), it sounds like he'll miss a game or two. Drew Stubbs had a nice return, and got his wRC+ almost all the way up to average in his first two games back.
With the exception of their middle infield, this is a pretty good hitting club. Melky Cabrera has been the big story this year; he's been hitting out of his mind. His .389 BABIP is well over his career mark (0.307), but that doesn't diminish the fact that he's posted 7.2 WAR over the past one and a half seasons. It seems like he's been around forever, but he's only 27! The Yankees brought him to the major leagues at age 20, and it seems like he's finally making good on his promise. He's not an MVP candidate (or, at least, won't be by season's end), but he's a very capable hitter in the 3-slot for this Giants team.
Finally, Brandon Belt finally seems to have some job security, thanks in part to an injury to Aubrey Huff and demotion of Brett Pill. He may not be a Joey Votto imitation, but he's having a really nice season. I think there's a good chance that his second half will be better than his first.
Madison Bumgarner started the season with pretty severely depressed strikeout rates, but they have been steadily rising since the end of April or so. He's having another really fine season, and would be the #1 starter on a lot of teams. On the Giants, though, that title has transferred to Matt Cain, who has been ridiculous this year. At Great American Ballpark, you can hurt him because he gives up so many fly balls (yes, he somehow seems to suppress home runs on fly balls...but still). But in San Francisco, the guy is really, really tough. But hey, Cain is who we hope that this Nick Travieso kid turns out to be, right?
The second two games are a lot easier. Barry Zito stinks. And Ryan Vogelsong, despite that ERA, is finally starting to look like the pumpkin I thought he was when he broke in. He's had a heck of a run, but I just can't see it continuing. Of course, I said that last year.
For the Reds, I wanted to mention that Johnny Cueto's strikeout rate has been steadily rising. I still don't think his current ERA is sustainable, but I'm starting to catch up to the bandwagon a bit. Also, the disparity between Mat Latos's SIERA and xFIP is pretty striking. The data aren't great on this, but I lean toward SIERA if I have to choose one. I hope he can build on that last start, because that was fun stuff.
The Giants have weathered the loss of Brian Wilson (lost for the season with TJ surgery) pretty well, installing Santiago Casilla in that spot. I continue, however, to be mystified by how they use Sergio Romo. He's a right-hander, but every year he appears in more games than his innings pitched total. They certainly don't hesitate to use him in tough spots against right-handers, but he doesn't pitch full innings very often. Romo always puts up elite-elite-elite numbers, and there's no question that he's a fantastic reliever. But I wonder if he was used for full innings more often if we'd see his effectiveness decline? Probably, but enough to justify using him so much less than the other relievers? I'm skeptical.
Former Red Jeremy Affeldt is still with the Giants, and continues to be a fine left-hander out of their bullpen.
Going on Vacation
And with that, the Red Reporter Series Preview is going on vacation. My wife and I are taking the girls to Sesame Place and the American Girl shop in New York City (among other things) in the coming week, so I won't be able to post previews for the Giants for the next two series. I will say a couple of things about each team, however:
The Dodgers are a pretty similar team to the Giants in terms of their overall numbers. Maybe their fielding has been better, I dunno. It makes sense that the two teams are tied for first. This is a good time for the Reds to be facing Los Angeles, however, as they've been hit hard by injuries: Matt Kemp, Ted Lily, and (just yesterday) Andre Ethier are all out with injuries, along with a big chunk of their bullpen. I'm hoping the Reds get to face Aaron Harang (of course) and Nathan Eovaldi, the latter being a hotshot prospect who recently was called up to replace Ted Lily and has stayed longer than expected.
A four game set against the Padres to close out the first half is a gift, because this could well be the worst team in baseball. Well, it's either them or the Rockies. They don't hit, they don't pitch, and their fielding may even be suspect. Hopefully the Reds can take advantage.
There are some interesting names on San Diego's team, though, not the least of which are former Reds Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, and Chris Denorfia. Yasmani Grandal was called up earlier this year, but sent down after only a day or two.