After recently creeping up behind them in the race for a second place finish behind the surging Brewers, the Reds and Cardinals have had their poles reversed. Just 5 days a go, the Cards were 10.5 back of Milwaukee and the Reds were 13.5. St. Louis went ahead and swept the Brewers, while the Reds lets the Phillies win 4 games in some as-yet-undecipherable performance art statement. So our team remains an impossible 13.5 back and the Cards have staggered to the outermost reaches of having their season back: 7.5 games back with 25 to play. Tony LaRussa has shuffled his rotation - at first glance because he thinks it's still 2010 - but actually I guess to try some new blood at Miller Park and to get Carpenter and Garcia some rest. That first gambit worked, so we'll have to hope the second one blows up.
Carpenter has faced the Reds 4 times this season. Not surprisingly, he's pitched well (3.18 ERA, 1.165 WHIP), though not quite as dominant as he's been historically. Any carryover from last year's brawl - to which tonight's starting pitchers were both major players - seems pretty stale. The two teams have met 13 times this season, 17 times since the fight and Cueto and Carpenter have already shared a mound on the same night this season. There's nothing new here, other than a chance - with a second sweep of St. Louis on the season - to get back to .500 (that isn't new either) and possibly sink the Cardinals' season for good. I'm infinitely more interested in the Reds' success than the Cardinals' failure, but in this case they're one in the same.
Cueto chucked a career-high 11 strikeouts (7 IP) last time out, but he also put 10 ground balls into play. He's putting the highest rate of balls into play of his career, with the lowest K-rate (6.2-per-9) and nearly his lowest walk rate (2.8 BB-per-9) of his career. Meanwhile, he has the lowest hit-rate in the National League. A certain share of the credit necessarily goes to having an efficient defense behind him. But tonight, he gets probably the shakiest defensive backing he's had all season - certainly on the left side with Francisco, Renteria and Alonso.
I'm not about to complain that Alonso is getting a start. And the alternative to Renteria is Janish - nice to have behind Cueto, but also in an 0-26 pit. Juan Francisco, on the other hand, is getting his second straight start. Not only does it not make sense to have him flanking Edgar Renteria on the right-handed pull side tonight, but it may also soon be clear that El Niño Destructor is the heir apparent to Scott Rolen. Interestingly enough, Juan Francisco currently sports a .286/.352/.388 MLB line in 108 PAs and an 8.3% walk rate. Pretty odd for a guy whose reputation is big time power hitter who never walks. It's a small sample spread over cups of coffee in three seasons. The question the Reds should be asking themselves is whether E.N.D. is really a better option at third next year than Todd Frazier. Or Yonder Alonso. Or even Miguel Cairo. And how much more information that really need to make that determination. ANSWERS: "No," "Not enough information has been given," "Scantron feed error" and "Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin."
Lineup after the jump.
|2011 - Johnny Cueto||9-5||20||21||3||1||0||0||140.1||105||43||32||7||44||97||2.05||1.06|
|2011 - Chris Carpenter||8-9||28||28||2||0||0||0||191.1||206||87||80||13||47||154||3.76||1.32|