August 17, 2019

Early Look at Possible NL Pennant Match Up in Cincy

April 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The baseball season is the sum of a million small parts, “millions and millions of stars” as Carl Sagan used to say. As with the cosmos, the magic of baseball is both the enchanted aggregate and its many component parts. And that is why even at this early juncture there is no shortage of excitement about the first series of the season that pits the Washington Nationals against the Cincinnati Reds and gives the Nationals their first taste of the Great American Ballpark, (GAB) in 2013.

The computer simulations of the 2013 season show the Nationals and Cincinnati neck-and-neck for the National League crown.  I like my models with a little meat to them, but I will forgo all of that for a great early season contest like we are likely to see this weekend in Cincy.

Labor Day, 2012 I received an email challenging me to take Bryce Harper as the Rookie of the Year candidate.  My tormentor opined that Todd Frazier was the better player, if less hyped than the next Lebron James. As this season has shown so far, Harper does not disappoint. He won that bet and hasn’t stopped to look back. He is hitting .500 for the first three games of the season with those two home runs on Opening Day still the only ones he has managed.

Frazier is part of a lusty Red’s attack anchored by Joey Votto. Like Frazier, Votto finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, but went on to win the Most Valuable Player Award in 2010. Along with Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and now Shin-Soo Choo, Votto and Frazier are part of a Reds’ lineup that is as good as anyone’s in the National League. As good as the Reds lineup is, the Nationals scored almost a half-run per game more than Cincinnati. The addition of players like Denard Span and Choo will help both teams offensively.

But it is the pitching that makes the head-to-head match up with the Nationals so tantalizing. Last year the difference between Washington pitching—the best in the NL—and that of the Reds and Dodgers was a few decimal points. The Nats team ERA was 3.33 and the Dodgers and Reds came in at 3.34.

The pitching for the weekend will align Dan Haren against Homer Bailey in the first game; Ross Detwiler against Mike Leake on Saturday and the Sunday finale will see two of the best in action: Stephen Strasburg against Johnny Cueto. One series does not spell out the season, but this one will provide an early look at two teams that hit and pitch with the best of them.

While the Sunday game may be the most fascinating to watch as two of the dominant fastball pitchers in the game square off, the ultimate success of each team may depend more on how well the Friday and Saturday games go. Mike Leake had a disappointing 2012 season after what looked like a breakout campaign in 2011. But he is still only 24 years old and his upside is still there.

Dan Haren is a similar linchpin for the Nationals. He is coming off a down season and the rumors about his drop in velocity have been disturbing. Only game situations will provide a clue as to whether Haren can pitch effectively with a fastball that seldom tops out above 90 mph. Or has he been dogging it in the pre-season? The signing of Chris Young by Washington as Haren insurance suggests that even Steve McCatty and Mike Rizzo are uncomfortable with what they have seen so far.

The challenge for Haren and all of the pitchers will be keeping it in the park. The GAB is one of the top ranked homer domes in baseball and watching Bryce Harper and Joey Votto enjoy “Great American Smallpark” will be a treat for fans regardless their affiliations.

I think it will come down to the game on Sunday. Will the Strasburg who only posted three strikeouts against the lowly Marlins have as much luck against the Reds?  It should be great baseball, so buckle in, get your $3 bag of peanuts and make it last the whole weekend long. You will probably need it for this one.

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