After opening their home stand with a series win over the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals (23-20) welcome the Cincinnati Reds (19-23) to town in hopes of finishing the home stretch the way it began.
The Reds are a team the Nationals can beat. They are in third place in the NL-Central, seven games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. They are coming off a series loss in Philadelphia, and have lost three of five series in May. The Reds have struggled with injuries as the Nationals have this season, namely to their marquee first baseman Joey Votto who was recently sidelined with a quad strain.
Through the injuries, the Reds’ pitching staff has kept them afloat.
Their team opponent batting average is .229, third lowest in the majors, and the team WHIP is 1.23, ninth lowest. The Reds’ overall ERA is 3.66, but the starters’ ERA is a significantly better 3.06, which is fifth best among starting rotations. The three starters the Nationals will face combine for a 2.18 ERA.
The Reds’ starters are led by Johnny Cueto, who leads the league in almost everything. The Nationals will face Cueto on Tuesday.
Cueto has the lowest ERA among qualified starters (1.25). He has the most strikeouts in the National League with 76, followed closely by Stephen Strasburg in second place with 70. He also claims the lowest opponent batting average (.135) and lowest WHIP (0.71).
Cueto’s 2.98 FIP suggests that he has had the support of his defense to keep his ERA low, but a pitcher doesn’t lead in that many categories by getting lucky in the field a couple times. However, there is no doubting that the Cincinnati defense is good. It has committed the fewest errors in MLB (13), and has the highest fielding percentage (.992).
Possibly one of Cueto’s most notable characteristics is his durability. He has pitched the most innings of any qualified starter (72.0), and he hasn’t had a start last less than seven innings this season. In his last six consecutive starts he has pitched either eight or nine innings. His most recent start was a complete game shutout against the San Diego Padres.
Cueto doesn’t leave many innings to the relievers, but the Cincy bullpen does leave hope for the “comeback Nats” to score late in games. The bullpen has a 5.40 ERA, second worst in the majors to the Houston Astros.
Overall, the Reds’ pitching is solid. So why do they have a sub-.500 record? Because their hitting is less than impressive. The team’s slash line is .241/.310/.373, all of which rank in the bottom third of major league teams. They have scored the third-fewest total runs (150), are averaging 3.6 runs per game and own a negative four run differential.
The Nationals’ offense is better than Cincinnati’s on all of those counts. And with the offensive surges we have seen recently from hitters such as Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, the Nationals have the tools to take down the Reds, in spite of facing their most dominant pitchers.
In The Zone
Ian Desmond (SS) .348 AVG, .375 OBP, .826 SLG, 3 HR, 8 RBI (last six games)
Brandon Phillips (2B) .348 AVG, .400 OBP, .609 SLG, 1 HR, 6 RBI (last six games)
Zack Cozart (SS) .316 AVG, .316 OBP, .368 SLG, 0 HR, 2 RBI (last five games)
Ryan Ludwick (LF) .118 AVG, .211 OBP, .118 SLG, 5 SO, 1 RBI (last five games)
Todd Frazier (3B) .217 AVG, .250 OBP, .261 SLG, 6 SO, 0 RBI (last six games)
5/19, Stephen Strasburg (3-3, 3.48 ERA, .266 BAA, 70 SO, 15 BB) vs. Mike Leake (2-3, 3.09 ERA, .224 BAA, 34 SO, 11 BB)
5/20, Doug Fister (0-1, 4.76 ERA, .292 BAA, 8 SO, 0 BB) vs. Johnny Cueto (4-2, 1.29 ERA, .135 BAA, 76 SO, 18 BB)
5/21, Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.65 ERA, .230 BAA, 40 SO, 12 BB) vs. Alfredo Simon (5-2, 2.45 ERA, .212 BAA, 30 SO, 13 BB)