Hard to avoid water-treading, tire-spinning and car transmission metaphors these days. The Reds are two games away from the midway point of the season and while they haven't stripped the gears and are not yet running on empty, they're certainly running behind. If you're looking for explanations, bad pitching fit during the Baltimore series, as the team gave up 22 runs and 9 homers. So did lack of situational hitting, with 31 runners stranded.
But despite being below league average in getting runners all the way around to score, the Reds are actually pretty good at hitting with the bases occupied. Presently, the team is getting on base exactly once every three plate appearances (.333, 2nd in the NL) and slashing .269/.354/.419 with men on base. They're even slightly better with runners in scoring position: .269/.364/.418. Where they seem to falter is in high-leverage situations and/or when the score is close. The team hits markedly worse when the most tantalizing run-scoring opportunity presents itself, going .240/.333/.373 with the bases loaded and underperforming their cumulative slash line when the game is "late and close" (7th inning or later when the Reds are tied, ahead by one, or their tying run at least on deck) or within 2 runs or less.
A sign of their close-game struggles, Reds also have a losing record in every situation in which they start an inning tied - from the 6th frame onward - including a 3-9 record if the game is tied to start the 8th. But it's not the bullpen. Reds pitching posts its best ERA in the ninth and its best third of the game for pitching is innings 7-9. The Reds are doing some choking, but their failure to execute high-pressure hitting could be largely a fluke. The starting pitching still might need the Heimlich.
Mike Leake has a tough draw in Jeremy Hellickson and, indeed, the Reds get the horns in this series with Price and Shields to follow. Do not lose heart: In the over-140 year history of professional baseball in the United States, the Tampa Bay Rays have never beaten the Cincinnati Reds. I only wish this series was being played at Champion Stadium/Cracker Jack Stadium/The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports, where Gomes OPS'd .833 instead of his more humble .785 at Tropicana. That would probably fix everything.
Lineup after the jump.
|2011 - Mike Leake
|2011 - Jeremy Hellickson