When the Cincinnati Reds came to visit in May, the Indians’ hot start was nearing its zenith. Cleveland swept the Reds in that three-game set, outscoring them 19-9. By the end of the series, the Tribe had a 29-15 record and a seven-game lead over the then-second-place Detroit Tigers.
This weekend, the Indians will wrap up their interleague play for the season (and this long road trip) exactly as they started it with a Battle of Ohio. But unlike last time, when they take the field tonight, they won’t have home-field advantage.
To get a better idea of who the Tribe’s weekend hosts are, I talked to RedReporter.com‘s Justin Inaz about Cincinnati’s approach to the Trade Deadline, Joey Votto’s Cooperstown credentials, and who will take the mound against the Indians at Great American Ballpark this weekend. Here’s what he had to say:
Read my answers to Justin’s questions about Asdrubal Cabrera’s power surge, the Indians’ love of ground-ball pitchers, and Manny Acta’s sabermetric credentials on RedReporter.com.
WAHOO BLUES: The top of the NL Central is really crowded, with the Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, and Pirates (?) all less than three games apart. How do you see the division shaking out?
JUSTIN INAZ: Right now I see the Brewers as the team to beat. And that’s not just because they’re in first: they have a very good offense, an amazing starting rotation, and a good bullpen. The only thing they don’t do well is catch the ball…which might be why they haven’t run away with it. The Cardinals would be a similar team, but they’ve suffered so many big injuries that I don’t know if they can keep with the Brewers. The Pirates…well, it’s hard to knock them too much as they’re right there with the Reds, but their offense is not good and their rotation has probably overperformed. I think finishing above .500 is a more realisitic goal for them than trying to win the division.
I see the Reds slotting in right behind the Brewers right now. If the Reds can finally see a few guys (Bailey? Volquez?) step forward to get their rotation going, or make a deal to bring in a quality pitcher or two, they have good enough hitting and fantastic enough fielding to get them back over the top. They’re definitely still in it, and my gut says that they’re getting ready to make a run at it. My head’s not so sure, but it hopes my gut is right.
WB: As we enter the month of non-stop trade rumors, what kind of players (if any) will the Reds be looking to add? Are there any specific players you’d like them to target?
JI: Walt Jocketty has indicated that he’s interested in adding pitching depth, which makes sense. We expected the Reds’ rotation to be very deep this year. But several guys we thought would pitch like #3′s have pitched like #5′s, so it’s become an area of need. Aside from that, the most glaring need is at shortstop, where the Reds have been getting absolutely zero offensive production from Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria. There is a kid named Zack Cozart at AAA who seems ready, but if the Reds believed in him my guess is that he would have been in Cincinnati weeks ago. Maybe it’s another case of Dusty not wanting to upset his team’s karma or something.
As for specifics…it’s hard to say without knowing who is available and what they’d cost. If he comes back healthy from his leg injury, Erik Bedard has been fabulous, and other starters like Jeremy Guthrie or Edwin Jackson have come up. At shortstop, J.J. Hardy is a name we’ve heard about, as well as Jose Reyes. I don’t really have a specific guy I want. The important thing is that whoever we bring in can upgrade this club in a significant way. I think most of those guys would qualify.
WB: Jay Bruce has a pretty impressive resume for a 24-year-old, but he’s yet to develop into the offensive monster we’ve been hearing about for three years (probably more for you Cincinnati fans). What’s your projection for how good he’ll be in his prime?
JI: Jay’s a streaky player. His May was legitimately monstrous this year: .342/.402/.739. He did something similar last September. In between his hot streaks, though, he tends to be pretty mortal. I think Jay still has room to grow, and certainly has the potential to be the best right fielder in the National League. But even as he is now, he’s a fabulous player. Last year, FanGraphs had him as a 5 WAR player thanks to his fielding, which is top notch for a corner outfielder. I think he can be an annual 4-5 win player during his prime, and an MVP-caliber season or two in which everything clicks is definitely a possibility.
WB: Bold prediction time: Is Joey Votto a Hall of Famer?
JI: It’s hard to be a Hall of Fame first baseman, because you have to hit the crap out of the ball for a long time. Joey didn’t really get his first full MLB season until age 24, which isn’t bad but is a bit late for a typical Hall of Famer. But you can’t argue with what he’s done since his debut. He’s one of the most methodical, adaptive hitters I’ve ever seen, and is incredibly fun to watch from at bat to at bat as he makes adjustments to whatever the pitchers are doing to him. Eventually, he’ll get you. If he can stay healthy and plays long enough, he’s got a shot.
WB: Who’s taking the mound for the Reds this weekend, and what should Tribe fans know about them?
JI: You’re getting Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake. I’ll give a quick scouting report on each…
Arroyo you probably know. He’s a crafty junkballer who throws pretty much every pitch out there except a split-finger, and I have suspicions that he throws a split as well (though he denies it). His raw numbers this season aren’t pretty, but there’s nothing obviously wrong with him, and his peripherals actually look a bit better this season than last. Arroyo really is one of those pitchers who gets by on pitchability, deception, smarts, guile, etc. His big, loopy curve seems to work better righties than lefties, which makes me nervous against Cleveland as your team seems to have plenty of left-handers.
Bailey is a former top-tier pitching prospect who has yet to really put it together. His strikeouts took a nice spike last year, though, and he’s pitched very well thus far whenever he’s been healthy enough to stay on the field. He’s had some weird shoulder issues this season which have me a bit concerned about him long term. But when he’s right, he has a strong arsenal with a fastball, slider, a good curveball, and a splitter that can be very effective against lefties. I was pretty high on him in the preseason, and haven’t seen any reason to change my mind.
Finally, Leake was the Reds’ first round selection in the 2009 draft, and after a rough start to this year (which included a brief incarceration for a bizarre incident involving attempted t-shirt theft), he’s pitched very well for the Reds. He throws a variety of pitches, but one of his best is his two-seamer, which induces a lot of ground balls. I like his slider and change-up as well. His strikeout rates are up this year, and his walk rates are down, so I think he’s looking very promising.
WB: What’s your prediction for the series?
JI: While I think game one is going to be a tough one against Masterson, also I think the Reds have the pitching advantage in games two and three. On top of that, without Choo and Hafner in this series, the Indians’ offense seems a bit weakened, whereas the Reds have been hitting pretty well. Therefore, I like the Reds to win two out of three. But surely you didn’t think I’d say the Reds would lose the series, did you?