The competition just got a lot lot lot tougher. (The Reds have played seventeen straight games against teams with losing records.Ã‚Â Come on, the Brewers are tied with the stupid Cubs in last place.)
This weekend, your Cincinnati Reds take on the rapidly improving Washington Nationals (19-12,Ã‚Â $80.5 million) in aÃ‚Â three-game home series, Friday (7:10), Saturday (7:10) and Sunday (1:10). The Nationals are coming off a three game series in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates took two of three.
The Nationals are good. Their record puts them squarely in the top tier of the National League, with the Cardinals, Braves and Dodgers. They have a pitching staff laden with power arms and a talented lineup mixing in a few veterans and some (very) young guns.
WELCOME BACK DAVEY
The series represents a homecoming for Nationals manager Davey Johnson. Johnson was installed as the Reds manager early in 1994 and led the team that year to first place in the NL Central, when the players strike cut the season short. The next year, Johnson’s Reds did make it all the way to the post-season, giving the manager a combined 151-107 record over those two seasons. Naturally, owner Marge Schott had announced early in 1995 that Johnson wouldn’t return in 1996, no matter how the team did. Marge apparently didn’t like that Johnson lived with his girlfriend out of wedlock. (Insert your own Marge Schott comment here, tasteful or otherwise.) Anyhow, welcome back, Davey.
CHERRY BLOSSOM BEATING
The weekend series presents the Reds (16-14,Ã‚Â $76 million)Ã‚Â with the opportunity for some payback. TheyÃ‚Â visited the nation’s Capitol this spring, taking a Cherry Blossom Beating in the four-game series. For most of that weekend, the Reds were thoroughly dominated by the Nationals pitching (more on that below), scoring a total of four runs in the first three games. Lowlights: Wilson Valdez batted second and went 0-6 and Willie Harris lead-offÃ‚Â (repeat: Willie Harris lead off), going 0-4. Mercifully, Ryan Ludwick hit a 3-run homer in the eleventh inning in the final game to avert a D.C. sweep.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
- Fri: Ã‚Â Gio Gonzalez (3-1, 1.72 ERA) vs. Mike Leake (0-4, 5.97 ERA)
- Sat: Jordan Zimmerman (1-3, 2.29 ERA) vs. Mat Latos (2-2, 4.93 ERA)
- Sun: Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.49 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (2-1, 2.75 ERA)
The good news: the Reds avoid Washington’s ace, Stephen Strasburg. The bad news: the three SP we will see are pitching extremely well and each handled the Reds last month. Much like the Reds, the National starting rotation is young and one of the strengths of their team. It’s come a long way from the days of Matt Chico, Mike Bacsik and Jason Bergmann. Livan Hernandez isn’t showing up on the mound in a Nats uniform this weekend.
Washington acquired LHÃ‚Â Gio GonzalezÃ‚Â from Oakland this off-season in much the same way Mat Latos came to the Reds – in a trade that cost the organization four top prospects. Gonzalez is two years older than Latos (26 vs. 24) and one year farther along with respect to arbitration. He quickly negotiated a five year/$42 million deal with his new team that runs through 2016.
While Gonzalez did make the All-Star team last year, there were solid reasons to be skeptical. Gonzalez led the AL in walks in 2011, with 91 and played in an extremely pitcher-friendly home ballpark. But this year he has cut his walk rate down (4.1 to 3.2 BB/9) and has not yet given up a home run. Hopefully the short fences in GABP will end the latter. In the previous meeting this year, Gonzalez dismantled the Reds. In 7 IP, he gave up two hits, walked none and struck out seven. Brad Lidge gacked up the lead in the ninth but Washington won the game in the 10th after an HBP and two wild pitches by Alfredo Simon.
Jordan ZimmermannÃ‚Â (two m’s and two n’s) enters his third year pitching for Washington, coming off a successful sophomore season where he started 26 games and finished with a 3.18 ERA. The Reds faced the 25-year-old right-hander in April and he followed Gio Gonzalez’s beat down with one of his own. Over seven innings he gave up just three hits and one run. Zimmermann was out-pitched by Bronson Arroyo, but an ailing Bill Bray surrendered the lead and the Reds eventually lost in the 13th inning.
On Sunday afternoon, the Reds face Edwin Jackson. Even though he is just 28 years old, Jackson has been with six other clubs prior to Washington. He’s fared better the past two seasons, keeping his ERA below 4.00. Last year he was traded from the White Sox to St. Louis mid-season and Jackson won three playoff games for the Cardinals, although he did lose his only start in the World Series in Game 4 vs. the Texas Rangers.
STARTING POSITION PLAYERS AND LIKELY LINEUP
Last night, Bernadina hit second and Harper slid down to fifth.
Speaking of Harper, if you haven’t been busy stuffing your underwear with explosives, you’ve undoubtedly been exposed to the non-stop hype over the 19-year-old catcher turned outfielder. HarperÃ‚Â stole home! BryceÃ‚Â got hit by a pitch! OMG Harper made a semi-diving catch! BryceÃ‚Â doesn’t need a glove! WOW, look at his arm! Harper is so cool heÃ‚Â pulled off his helmet on his first hit! BryceÃ‚Â looks like Justin Bieber! National sportswriters swoon.Ã‚Â Google hits: “Bryce Harper” and “phenom” – 249,000.
Also from Google, “Bryce Harper” and “arrogant” – 92,000 hits; “Bryce Harper” and “jerk” (includes jerkoff) – 118,000 hits, etc. So yeah, not everyone is in love with Bryce. And theÃ‚Â haircut.Ã‚Â But keep in mind, Bryce is just one year older than the Biebster.
Ryan ZimmermanÃ‚Â (short one ‘n’) is the Nats’ most dangerous hitter. The third baseman has just returned to their lineup after a short DL trip due to an inflamed shoulder. And he’s Rolen–goodÃ‚Â with the glove. He’ll walk away with the Gold Glove again if he stays healthy. First baseman Adam LaRocheÃ‚Â leads the team in home runs (6) and RBI (21). He’s hit a home run in each of the two nights since returning from a sore oblique. He’s probably losing sleep over the short right field fence in GABP. Former WLB Rick Ankiel plays CF most nights for Washington, and while he’s not one of their biggest threats at the plate, he can throw the ball.
THE NATS BULLPEN
Once viewed as a likely strength this season, a series of injuries has transformed Washington’s bullpen into a bit of a question mark. Closer Drew Storen Ã‚Â landedÃ‚Â on the disabled list before Opening Day and his return is not imminent. Davey Johnson installed Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez as co-closers, but then Lidge was bad and got hurt (in that order). Rodriguez, who regularly hits Chapman speeds on the radar gun, is 6-for-8 in save opportunities. He gave up a walk-off home run in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and pitched a clean inning for the save last night.
The anchor of Washington’s bullpen is Lexington, KY nativeÃ‚Â Tyler Clippard, who usually pitches the eighth inning. Last year in 88 IP, Clippard (27) struck out 104 hitters while recording a 1.83 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. The Reds did nick Clippard for four hits and three ER in their one win in the April series. The bullpen arm that was pure kryptonite to the Reds in the Cherry Blossom Beating was 28-year-oldÃ‚Â Craig Stammen. In the first two games, he struck out the side (in 10 pitches in game one). In the fourth game, he again struck out three in 2 IP.
ADDITIONS TO THE 2012 ROSTER
- Bryce HarperÃ‚Â – Harper descended from the heavens on April 28.
- Mike GonzalezÃ‚Â – Signed on Tuesday, presumably to get Joey Votto and Jay Bruce out this weekend.
- Edwin JacksonÃ‚Â – Signed a one-year, $11 million contract.
- Mark DeRosa – Signed a one-year contract.
- Chien-Ming Wang – Signed a one-year, $4 million contract.
- Gio Gonzalez – Acquired in a trade with the Oakland A’s.
NATS ON THE DISABLED LIST
- Drew StorenÃ‚Â – April surgery to remove bone chips in elbow, return possibly around All Star Game.
- Mike MorseÃ‚Â – Injured lat muscle, expected return in early June.
- Jayson WerthÃ‚Â – Broken left wrist. Out at least 3 months.
- Brad Lidge – Hernia surgery, expected back in June.
- Chien-Ming Wang – Hamstring strain, expected back later this month.