Series 38 Preview: Cubs vs. Reds

Latos

Mat Latos has served as the ace of the Reds staff. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Reds pulled into the 2013 All-Star break with a better record than they had at the same point in 2012, when they finished with the second-best mark in baseball. But things are different this year in the NL Central, baseball’s toughest division, where Cincinnati is locked in a three-way race for the crown with Pittsburgh and St. Louis. With seven games left against the Cardinals following the Reds’ trip to Wrigley Field, and six of their last nine against the Pirates, Cincy and perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto will have several opportunities to make up ground in the division race. And they could be poised for a better second half, as they were two games below their expected win-loss record at the break. If the Reds can make a late-season surge to the top of the NL Central standings, it would be the first time the organization has claimed back-to-back division titles since the Big Red Machine did it in 1975-76.

4.30 Runs Scored per Game, 3rd in NL
The Reds owe much of their offensive success to generating lots of walks and stockpiling power hitters who can exploit Great American Ballpark’s comfortable dimensions. But one of those strengths is more precarious than the other. The lofty on-base percentage stems from just two regulars: leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo and Votto. Once again, Votto is leading the attack with his league-best OBP and walks total, but he and Choo are the only reliable on-base threats. The Reds lineup is stacked with multiple righties who struggle against right-handed pitching. Reds hitters from the right side combined for a .609 OPS against right-handers in the first half. With cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick out since the first game of the season, a big question has been power in the middle of the order.

3.68 Runs Allowed per Game, 3rd in NL
The silver lining to putting ace Johnny Cueto on the DL three separate times is that his absence has given the Reds the opportunity to break in top lefty prospect Tony Cingrani, who has lived up to his advance billing thus far. Monday’s starter Mat Latos is logging another fine season as the front man of a rotation that has no true weak link. The staff’s youth and relative health have allowed manager Dusty Baker to avoid getting too involved with a bullpen left short-handed by injuries to veterans Sean Marshall and Nick Masset. Only the Nationals go to the ’pen less frequently than the Reds, and Baker prefers to avoid bringing his relievers into runners-on situations or using them on consecutive days. If there’s a mystery as big as Homer Bailey’s swings between excellence and mediocrity (Tuesday’s projected starter tossed a July 2 no-hitter surrounded by three losses), it’s closer Aroldis Chapman’s struggles on the road contrasted with his absolute dominance at home.

—Christina Kahrl

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