Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(From Flickr user Sideonecincy via a Creative Commons license.)

While the Cubs are more renown for their long and rich history, the Cincinnati Reds have been around for just about as long. During that long span they have one fewer World Series appearance and three more World Series victories. But they have neither the ages-old ballpark nor the infamous curse, and so they’re not paid as much attention as their fellow National League founders. But they’ve had a good deal more success than the Cubs lately, which leaves the Yankees a tougher challenge in their second (third, if we count rivalry weekend) interleague series.

What Have the Reds Done Lately?

Just a week ago the Reds were busy trouncing the Dodgers in a three-game series, outscoring them 16-8. But once interleague started back up the run scoring halted. They scored only four runs this weekend against the Blue Jays, salvaging just one win in the series. They’re now 1-5 during interleague play, losing by a collective score of 27-13.

Reds on Offense

Like a Bruce. (From Flickr user Trev Stair via a Creative Commons license.)

Despite the poor scoring in interleague affairs, the Reds lead the NL in scoring, at 4.78 runs per game. That could make for a high-scoring series, since the Yankees have scored 5.31 runs per game. Despite their NL-leading run scoring, they have produced to the level of an average offense — 100 wRC+ and 100 OPS+. That might be one reason why they’ve struggled during interleague play: of the 10 teams with a wRC+ of 100 or greater, seven are in the AL.

Leading the way on offense is one of the best 3-4 combinations in the game, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Votto is having a spectacular season that seems a bit underreported. That’s probably because he won the MVP award, but it’s not as though his numbers this season are that far off. In fact, his OBP is even higher, though his power is a bit down. But, since power is down across the league it’s not that big a difference (173 wRC+ last year, 162 this year). He already has seven intentional walks this year, after receiving just eight last year. Yet this year they hurt a lot more, because Jay Bruce has broken out in a big way. After a slow April he has put a hurting on baseballs, producing a .379 wOBA (137 wRC+) on the season. The big difference for him has been power. After 21, 22, and 25 homers in his first three seasons, he’s at 17 already in 2011.

The Reds are even more dangerous on offense because of the producers they have elsewhere in the order. Drew Stubbs’s .335 OBP might not look pristine for a leadoff hitter, but he brings some pop (10 HR) and speed (20 SB, 2 CS). If he gets on, chances are he’s headed for second base. That could become a problem when Cervelli is behind the plate. Ramon Hernandez has also put up some quality numbers, a .372 wOBA in part-time duty.

Keeping the Reds afloat is a cadre of players who hit right around league average. Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, Jonny Gomes, Chris Heisey, Fred Lewis, Brandon Phillips, and Ryan Hanigan all have more than 120 PA and a wRC+ with 10 of the league average. That covers all but one starting position and some bench spots. Their only weakness comes at shortstop, though it is a glaring hole. Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria have spent time there, and have wRC+ numbers of 41 and 56. That does leave them with two black holes at the bottom of the order, but it also does give them averagish or better production everywhere else.

Reds on the Mound

(From Flickr user crymzn via a Creative Commons license.)

Monday: RHP Johnny Cueto. The Reds came into the season with more starters than rotation spots, but that strength quickly turned into a weakness after many of them pitched poorly. Cueto actually didn’t start the season in the rotation; he spent the first month on the DL. But since his return he’s been a bright spot for the Reds. In eight starts he’s produced a 1.68 ERA, though he’s not going to keep that up all year. In fact, his numbers closely resemble his career marks, with the exception of his home run rate. He’s getting more grounders, which might play into that. But as we know, when ground ball guys miss they often give up the long ball. His 6.7% home run to fly ball rate is due for a correction, and the Yankees are just the team to do that. Then again, it’s hard to bet against someone who is going so well. He’s gone at least seven innings in each of his last four starts, allowing two runs at most.

Tuesday: LHP Travis Wood. While Cueto has outperformed his peripherals this season, Wood has underperformed his. That’s not to say he’s pitched particularly well: he has a 4.30 FIP against a 3.84 league average, and has a 5.11 ERA overall. Above average walk and home run rates have hurt him, which seemingly plays into the Yankees hands. That goes even more so, because the start is at home. Of the 10 homers Wood has surrendered this year, eight have come at home. But it seems as though every time the Yankees come up against someone like that, he holds them homerless.

Wednesday: RHP Mike Leake. The year did not start off well for Leake, but after being sent down to the minors in May — which is odd, considering his two AAA starts this year are the only minor league innings he’s ever pitched — he’s been on something of a tear. In his five starts back he’s gone 35 IP, 33 H, 9 R, 5 BB, 19 K, including three straight starts in which he has pitched seven or more innings. He’s also allowed just two homers in that span, meaning he’s essentially the anti-Travis Wood.

Bullpen: The Reds bullpen has been pretty middle of the road, with a 3.46 ERA and 4.05 FIP. They do have a number of quality contributors, including lefty, and former first round pick Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek, and closer Francisco Cordero. Nick Masset can also be a weapon, though his propensity to walk batters has haunted him at times this season. But with those four they can handle most leads, so it would benefit the Yankees greatly to work up Cueto’s pitch count tonight and get into that bullpen early. A wild card here is Aroldis Chapman, whose rehab clock has expired. The Reds could bring him up, but will more likely let him work on his control issues in AAA for a bit.

Recommended Reds Reading: Redleg Nation and Red Reporter.

RAB Radio Show going to weekly format

Since December Mike and I have tried something new in podcasting. Instead of running the normal weekly segment, we went with a daily format. The thought was that there’s so much to talk about with the Yankees that we could easily record a 20-minute episode every day and still have plenty of leftover content. For six months we made that work. Unfortunately, the experiment ends here.

It takes time every morning to record and produce the show, and unfortunately we’ve gotten to the point where we can’t justify using that time on the podcast. We have plenty of other responsibilities, both to RAB and elsewhere, and the podcast cuts into those. It’s really a matter of prioritization, and we think that the podcast shouldn’t get the priority it has received in the last six months, given what we’ve been able to estimate from our listenership.

The podcast isn’t completely going in the toilet, though. We’re still going to produce a traditional podcast every Thursday. It will run a bit longer, but I’ll make sure to create an alternate version that will include a bookmarkable file (so that your iPod will remember where you left off). It also figures to be more organized and feature more guests.

We now send you back to your normal content. For Mike, I’m Joe, and we’ll talk to you on Thursday.

Mailbag: Cantu, Gordon, Gil, Wilson, Promotions

I skipped out on the mailbag last Friday because it was a day game, so let’s make up for it today. I’ve got a total of nine questions, so I tried to keep the answers brief. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar anytime you want to ask something.

(Photo Credit: LSUsports.net)

Tucker asks: Just curious, if the Yankees hadn’t signed Rafael Soriano, which pick would they hold and who was taken then?

The Yankees gave the Rays the 31st overall pick, which Tampa used to take LSU center fielder Mikie Mahtook. Keith Law and Baseball America ranked him as the 15th and 21st best prospect before the draft, and he figured to come off the board relatively early as one of the top college hitters available. Mahtook is likely to be a right fielder down the line, but he’s a righty hitter that offers good speed and should hit for averae and decent power. I’m not a huge Mahtook fan, but if the Yankees kept that pick and took him, I’d be thrilled. Huge value.

Bart asks: Do you think the Yankees take a chance on either Kazmir or Cantu now that they’re available?

Kazmir’s unquestionably a minor league contract only guy, no doubt about it, but I’m fairly certain Cantu is completely useless. He’s hit just .212/.287/.367 in his last 670 plate appearances, his defense at first and third is awful, and he’s swinging at more and more pitches out of the strike zone despite seeing fewer and fewer pitches in the zone. I’m surprised to see that he’s still 29, but I’d don’t see anyone on the bench I’d take Cantu over. I’d give anyone a minor league deal, and hey, Triple-A Scranton could use a backup first baseman/third baseman/designated hitter, so he makes sense in that regard. For the big league team though? Not right now.

Ben asks: I was wondering how the Yankees could have had a deal in place with Brian Gordon while he was still property of the Phillies organization. Is this not considered tampering? Is this type of thing okay with minor league free agents that have out-clauses? Just hoping for a clarification.

It’s a permission thing. The Phillies sent a memo to the other 29 teams last week indicating that Gordon had an opt-out and they were not planning to promote him to the bigs, which essentially gives teams permission to negotiate a deal with him and his agent.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user bridgetds via Creative Commons license)

Ryan asks: Would there be any merit to switching Granderson and Gardner in the OF? Other than having a “conventional” power hitting LF and a speedy, OBP oriented CF, would there be any defensive difference with Gardner in CF and Granderson in LF?

Certainly, I think there’s some merit to it. Brett Gardner appears to be the superior defender in terms of jumps and read and pure range based on the eye test, though Curtis Granderson is no slouch in that department. I like how the Yankees have brought Granderson in and have him playing a little shallower this year since his strength is going back on the ball. It’s impossible to trust Gardner’s defensive numbers in center only because his playing time has been sporadic out there, but I think the difference over the course of the season would be five or so runs saved by flip-flopping the two. Not negligible, but not a massive upgrade.

J.R. asks: Now that the season is more than 1/3 over, how would you rate Betances and Banuelos? Both seem to be doing well but walking a ton of guys.

They’ve both been fine, certainly not great but also far from terrible. We’ve know that Dellin Betances‘ control and command were question marks, they always has been, so his hit or miss starts (no walks in one, five in the next) were expected. Command was Manny Banuelos‘ calling card though, and he’s already walked ten more this year than last in 5.1 fewer innings pitched (five fewer batters faced). That’s fine though, remember he just turned 20 in Spring Training and is in Double-A. His age-appropriate level in Low-A right now. They both just need to keep working at it, but remember that Banuelos is still way ahead of the curve.

Conny asks: What’s the scouting report on Jose Gil? He’s having a fine season at Trenton as Romine’s caddy. He looks like he could be a good backup catcher. He seems to have a good throwing arm. He also looks like a capable offensive player, he has a little pop, can steal an occasional base. Is his hitting this season an aberration or has he turned a corner in his development?

It’s more small sample size than anything. He’s hitting .274/.368/.487 in 133 Double-A plate appearances, but it’s also his third straight year spending time at the level. Gil’s always done a good job of throwing attempted basestealers out (34% success rate in his career, which is fantastic), and that’s really I know about his defense right now. The Yankees clearly don’t think he’s going to become anything great because he’s just been a backup catcher that bounces between levels the last few years, filling in whereever a backstop was needed. I want to see more before saying his turned a corner, and a lot more at that.

Sam asks: If you need a stolen base, who would rather be on first? Nunez, Gardner, Martin, Granderson, or Cervelli (he’s veeeeery fast for a catcher, Suzyn)?

Eduardo Nunez and it’s not particularly close right now. For whatever reason Gardner just can’t steal bases anymore, at least not as well as someone with his skill set is supposed to. Granderson’s success rate isn’t all that great this year either, and I’m not going to ask a catcher to steal a base for me. Nunez has stolen eight bags in nine chances this year, and over the last two years his success rate in the minor is 78%. He’s the lesser of several evils right now.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user mjl816 via Creative Commons license)

Justin asks: I’ve heard rumors that C.J. Wilson is looking for A.J. Burnett money, obviously that’s a little steep but if he fell into the Jorge De La Rosa/Ted Lilly range do you think he fits this offseason since there is almost no other decent SP available?

If he falls into that range, which is three years and $35M or so, then I’d certainly want the Yankees to be all over him. I just can’t see it though. Wilson is a) the same age A.J. Burnett and John Lackey where when they hit the market, and b) he’s flat out better now than they were when they were free agents. There’s also the left-handedness to consider and the fact that he’s succeeded in a hitter friendly park. I won’t do it, but I think you can also make a case that Wilson will age better than those two since his arm doesn’t have nearly as many miles on it after spending all those years as a reliever. If he continues to pitch like he is now the rest of the season, I think that five-year, $82.5M contract is a starting point for he and his agent, not a settling point.

Zach asks: At what point in the season can we expect minor league promotions to begin? Who are likely candidates to move up for each level?

Very, very soon, as in this week. The High-A Florida State League played its All-Star Game over the weekend and the Low-A South Atlantic League will get its out of the way early this week, and that’s usually when these things start to happen. As for actual promotions, here’s what I’m guessing will happen…

  • 3B/OF Rob Segedin from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa
  • 3B Rob Lyerly from Tampa to Double-A Trenton
  • LHSP Josh Romanski from Tampa to Trenton
  • RHRP Chase Whitley from Tampa to Trenton

There will be several more promotions, but those are the only moves I see as absolute no-brainers. Calling up Jesus Montero and promoting Austin Romine from Trenton to Triple-A Scranton would make sense as well, but Romine’s injury threw a big wrench into that. Both J.R. Murphy and Slade Heathcott (currently on the DL) have cooled off after hot starts, but they’ve been in Low-A since for more than a full year now following last season’s early-June promotion. I say promote Murphy but not Heathcott. Slade has really, really cooled off (.209/.261/.287 since May 1st).

Banuelos and Betances are still walking guys and need to work on fastball command, and I don’t see any reason to rush them. Promoting them now just makes the command stuff more difficult since they’ll have to figure it out against tougher competition. And besides, the SWB rotation is pretty full at the moment. Shane Greene (currently at Charleston) and Kyle Roller (Charleston but currently injured) could be in line for promotions as well.

The Ramiro and Eduardo Show

This should keep everyone entertained for the next half hour or so. I hope they got that ball off the field after that play.

Fan Confidence Poll: June 20th, 2011

Record Last Week: 5-2 (42 RS, 21 RA)
Season Record: 41-29 (372 RS, 276 RA, 45-25 pythag. record), one back in loss column
Opponents This Week: @ Reds (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, vs. Rockies (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Swisher homer caps comeback, Yanks take series

It had a been a while since the Yankees visited the Cubs and it’ll be a while before they go back, but Sunday night’s game capped off an eventful but ultimately successful three game series in the Windy City, a series the Yankees won thanks to Sunday’s come-from-behind win.

Ballgame.

Nick Swisher, Rally Killer

I think it’s fair to call Swisher the most disappointing regular this season, particularly when you consider his performance from the left side of the plate. He came into this game hitting just .173/.321/.280 in 187 plate appearances against righties this year, a big problem when you consider that roughly seven out of ten pitchers in the big leagues are right-handed. With men on the corners and none out in the eighth inning, I would have been happy if Nick grounded into a double play against the righty Chris Carpenter (not this one, this one) as long as it got the run in. He did managed to kill the rally, but not by grounding into a double play.

Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano led off the inning with singles against Sean Marshall, then the Cubs went to the rookie Carpenter in the biggest spot of the game. We saw him be wild and walk a guy on Saturday, and he looked the same on Sunday. The first two pitches to Swisher were mid-90’s fastballs high and away, but the third was a cookie, a 93 mph heater down the middle and over the plate. A classic get-me-over fastball in a 2-0 count. A tee wouldn’t have been any better. Swish jumped all over the pitch and did what he was supposed to do with that, he crushed it deep to right for a three run homer. It was gone off the bat, everyone knew it. Rally killed, three runs scored.

Now that's how you start a game.

Brett Gardner, Leadoff Hitter

Gardner came into this game having gotten on base in 70 of his last 163 plate appearances (43.8%), premium production regardless of batting order position. Randy Wells got him in a quick 0-2 hole to start the game, but after fouling off two pitches, Gardner yanked a knee high sinker into the right field seats for his first career leadoff homerun and fourth of the season. He also hit a two strike single next time up and helped create an insurance run in the ninth with a leadoff hustle double, and his season batting average is up to .294. Remember where he was in April? Yeah. If someone, anyone had a legitimate reason why this man shouldn’t be the Yankees full-time leadoff hitter when Derek Jeter comes off the disabled list, I’d love to hear it.

Right Where He Wanted Them

New Eighth Inning Guy™ David Robertson has a well-documented history of wiggling out of jams, so you didn’t really expect the eighth inning go smoothly, did you? Aramis Ramirez quickly struck out for the first out, but then Robertson walked Alfonso Soriano (on four pitches!) before walking Geovany Soto on six pitches. Just like that, the tying run was at the plate, and up came pinch-hitter and certified Yankee killer Carlos Pena. Robertson dropped a curve in for a ball before inducing a weak grounder to second for the second out, though the runners moves up. Pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt fouled off some tough cutters and curves, but eventually popped one up rather harmlessly to end the inning. Business as usual in the Robertson household.

Where’s The Pinch-Hitter?

Russell Martin had just tied the game at four with a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and a semi-intentional walk to Eduardo Nunez put men at first and second with one out. For some reason, CC Sabathia was allowed to bat for himself. Yes, he had thrown just 69 pitches up to that point, but he also wasn’t fooling anyone. The Cubs had eight hits (four for extra bases) and a walk in his five innings to that point. Of course, the second guessing seems rather stupid given the outcome of the game and the fact that Sabathia added two more scoreless innings, but at the time it was a huge moment in the game and having a real hitter at the plate could have changed things dramatically.

I don't think he'd be smiling if they were losing.

Leftovers

Speaking of Sabathia, he was not very good in this game, especially early on. The Cubs made a ton of hard contact in the first, even the outs, en route to taking a one run lead, and then CC made a huge mistake pitch to Soriano that he clobbered for a three run homer in the third. He pitched around a leadoff double in the fourth, but then he settled down and retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced. If you go back to that ugly seventh inning against the Red Sox two starts ago, Sabathia has allowed 14 runs in his last 14.2 IP. Not worried, he’ll get through it, but yuck.

Once they were behind 4-1, the Yankees really did a good job of scratching their way back into it. Swish plated a run in the fourth on a seeing through the right side, Nunez beat out a relay throw on a fielder’s choice that allowed the second run to score later that inning, and then Martin tied things at four with the aforementioned sac fly in the sixth. Three insurance runs scored in the ninth when Gardner (hustle double), Curtis Granderson (triple into the corner), Mark Teixeira (lol bloop double into the corner), and Alex Rodriguez (double into the ivy) started the inning with four straight extra base hits.

Martin took an Aramis back swing to the helmet in the middle of the game and was seen with an icepack on his head in the dugout. He was laughing and stayed in the game, but between that and the collision at the plate on Saturday, it was a rough two days for Russ. Since everyone was okay, we can also laugh at Ramiro Pena for catching a bad hop on a grounder in the ninth, taking it up high around the chest. The ball ricocheted to Nunez at short and he threw it straight into the ground, like a quarterback spiking the ball to stop the clock. Hilarious.

A total of 126,283 fans took in these three games this week, a record for a three-game series at Wrigley Field. That’s pretty nuts considering the park has been around since the dawn of time. But, you know, the Yankees are bad for baseball. They’ve now won 20 of their last 30 games, by the way.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff no one cares about.

Up Next

It’s off to Cincinnati for another interleague series in an NL park. Ivan Nova will kick things off against Johnny Cueto on Monday night. If you’re in the area, RAB Tickets can get you into the game for dirt cheap.

Girardi: A-Rod’s been playing with an injured shoulder

Via Wally Matthews, Alex Rodriguez has been playing a left shoulder injury for the past few weeks. “It’s just a small issue that only bothers him when he dives for a ball,” said Joe Girardi, though another source called it a strain and said he’s “managing it as best as he can.” Remember, Alex did serve as the designated hitter on Wednesday before sitting completely on Thursday, which if nothing else seemed a bit odd. Also, it’s his left shoulder, so throws aren’t a problem. Anyway, A-Rod is hitting .325/.397/.556 over his last 30 games, so it’s not like the injury is dragging him down at the plate.