It doesn’t seem like all that long ago when the Reds and Pirates series were consistent struggles against two of the top teams in not just the NL Central, but the National League. And really, it wasn’t that long ago, but in baseball years it was ages and ages.
No longer are these two of the top teams in the league. Instead, many prognostications have them fighting for position in the opposite direction; who will finish last in the division?
Two of the best players in the organization were shipped away this off-season in Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, which means a little less now than it would’ve back when both teams were sitting atop the division, but still, those aren’t moves you make if you’re going for it.
These games are going to look differently this season.
Schedule and Probable Pitchers
Thursday, April 5th, 2018; 7:05 EDT
Homer Bailey vs. LHP Steven Brault
Steven Brault is making this start because Joe Musgrove, coming to the Pirates as part of the Garrit Cole trade to Houston this off-season, was recently put on the disabled list due to a muscle strain, which has plagued him all Spring Training. So Brault will get the nod here after coming out of the bullpen in the Pirates crazy opener against Detroit. Brault pitched three innings of two hit, one walk, three K ball, and ended up with the win in that crazy 13-10, 13 inning game to open the season after the postponement on Thursday.
It’s not worth noting, but I’ll do it anyway; Brault has pitched five innings against the Redlegs, allowing two earned and a 1.400 WHIP in the smallest of small samples.
Brault hasn’t been highly touted, but he has game. He’s somewhat of a soft tossing lefty, sitting in the high 80s-low 90s, with the ability to touch 93 MPH or so. But he’s got three other pitches that play, too, and was named an International League All Star just last season. The Reds have plenty of players that struggle against left-handed pitching, so it won’t be an easy task on Thursday evening.
Friday, April 6th, 2018; 7:05 EDT
Luis Castillo vs. RHP Trevor Williams
The 25 year-old right hander was actually pulled from a no-hit bid his last time out, after only six innings. He walked five with only one strikeout and his pitch count was in the mid-80s, so that explains a little bit. But still, getting yanked from a no-hitter in six innings probably isn’t the greatest feeling in the world.
Williams induced ten groundball outs in the game, which helped him strand everyone that did reach base. Indeed, his 48% GB% ranked 25th in the league, minimum 150 IP last season, and his 9.9% HR/FB% was sixth lowest in baseball. The groundball stuff comes in lieu of strikeout pitches, however, as he had just 7 K/9 last season, with 3.1 BB/9. If the Reds can manage good contact, Williams can be gotten to. John Sickels had a nice write-up on Williams before last season, which of course is worth a read.
Saturday, April 7th, 2018; 7:05 EDT
Sal Romano vs. RHP Chad Kuhl
Kuhl allowed four runs in 5.2 innings pitched his first time out for the Pirates this season, striking out four along the way. Over the last two seasons, Kuhl has made 45 starts for the Pirates, pitching 228 innings of 99 ERA+ ball, so you might think you know what you’re getting with the 25 year-old.
However, it’s worth pointing out that that Kuhl did something interesting last season: after throwing only one curveball in his first 10 starts of 2017, he started to mix the pitch in more consistently, and his number improved quite dramatically.
We talk a lot around here about Brandon Finnegan’s 2016 and the pitch he added over his last ten starts that put his season-long numbers into a different category. It’s exactly what young pitchers have to do as they adjust to the Major Leagues. Maybe that’s what Kuhl did last season, in which case, as the linked to article suggests, the Reds could be facing a breakout candidate.
Sunday, April 8th, 2018; 1:35 EDT
Tyler Mahle vs. RHP Jameson Taillon
Taillon notched a career high nine whiffs in the Pirates home opener on Monday. Taillon is the most familiar name on this list by a long shot. Jameson Taillon was always a very well regarded prospect, but injuries setback his professional career. After being selected #2 overall in the 2010 draft, Taillon ended up losing all of the 2014 season to Tommy John surgery and then all of 2015 to a sports hernia injury.
Taillon was great when finally reaching the Major Leagues in 2016, but he was befell by something even more horrifying in 2017; on May 2nd (the night before a start against the Cincinnati Reds) Taillon discovered a lump on one of his testicles. He was subsequently diagnosed with testicular cancer and had surgery to remove the mass the next week.
All of that makes Tommy John surgery, sports hernias, and, well, baseball, feel a lot less important in comparison.
But Taillon made his return later in the 2017 season. He struggled mightily in the second half, but, whatever. He’s cancer free. And this is a new year.
The Reds have hit Taillon well over his career, but I have a feeling this is all together a different season for the Pirates young right hander.
Pirates Starting Lineup (Projected)*
2018 Philadelphia Phillies
Other Players of Note
Corey Dickerson was obtained by the Pirates this off-season, after a somewhat unceremonious sending off from the Rays. He’s... not been great thus far for Pirates and Frazier has been worked into LF just as often.
Frazier will work in anywhere, basically. He works mostly in LF and 2B, but will play RF a bit as well, along with, well, wherever else the team wants to play him. He’s got on-base prowess, notching a .350 OBP in 630 or so plate appearances. He’s put up a perfectly cromulent 100 OPS+ over that time, despite not hitting for much power at all.
He’s essentially all you could ask for as far as utility players go.
For what it’s worth (and it’s not much), the Reds have held Fraizer to a .619 OPS in 59 PAs, with 13 strikeouts to 11 hits.
You might feel like Glasnow’s name is missing from the list of starters above and assume he’s injured or back down in AAA Indianapolis, but that’s not the case. The Pirates have stuck Glasnow in the pen, at least for now, which is a situation that Reds fans can certainly appreciate.
Right now, at least, the Pirates are hoping Glasnow can be a multi-inning hammer out of the bullpen. Indeed, he’s thrown a total of five innings this season (three against the Twins just yesterday), and has allowed one earned run to seven strikeouts. He’s also walked four, so that’s something I’m sure the Pirates want him to be working on.
So, a former top prospect that’s been inserted into the bullpen that has nasty stuff but could stand to locate better? Nah, never heard of it.
Reds vs. Phillies (April 7)
* Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com, effective April 3 (prior to Pirates game on April 4 vs. Twins, so take with grains of salt this early in the season)
I think it’s very obvious that the Reds will sweep this series, 4-0. Simply because the Reds are my favorite team, and my favorite team should win every baseball game. You see, baseball predicting is easy and this will be very right. I make the best predictions.