April 7, 2013 – Nationals @ Reds – 1:10pm – Fox Sports Cincinnati
Reds Record (3 – 2)
Home Record (3 – 2)
Nationals Record (4 – 1)
Away Record (1 – 1)
Starters: Strasberg (1 – 0) vs. Cueto (0 – 0)
The Reds played comeback yesterday but ultimately fell in 11 innings. It’s still early on the season, but both of the Reds’ losses have come in extra innings.
They are a tough team to beat, and they have been playing tough teams in their own right.
This game is the rubber match, and it has a very good pitching matchup in Stephen Strasburg versus Johnny Cueto. The team that puts a couple of runs on the board may be the winner in this one!
The Setting: Casa de Livingood on a beautiful Sunday day. What I wouldn’t give to be at the ballpark today!
My daughter (18 months and some change) is sick and cranky because of that. My wife is busy emailing our CPA upstairs, so I’ve got cranky baby that needs a nap downstairs in front of the TV.
As such, this game won’t have the chronological notes like my last few reviews, but will have a final review of everything after the fact.
The Game and Analysis:
•The Reds were able to jump on Strasburg early, and they set the table for it by not getting the ball out of the infield. Two infield singles by Xavier Paul and Brandon Phillips sandwiched a Joey Votto walk. That brought up Jay Bruce, who hit an opposite field double to left center, plating two. They got another run from a Todd Frazier groundout, putting the Reds up 3 – 0 after the first inning. At this point, I was elated that we scored that much off of Strasburg, but also a little shocked that we got to him that early.
•Speaking of Xavier Paul, one of the big strategies that I thought would be good to watch in this game was Dusty’s start of Xavier Paul in LF. Paul is a lefty, and Dusty said that he started him because lefties have historically hit better against Strasburg. He also put him in the two hole in the order, meaning three lefties in a row and four of the first five batters. While I am not against the move, I wondered about a situation where a lefty would be brought in to face these guys later in the game, but figured Dusty could pinch hit Chris Heisey and see if they would switch pitchers again. Perhaps the Heisey pinch hit would coincide with a double-switch. I love this sort of thing! Paul in the starting lineup paid off in spades, as he had two hits, scored two runs, and knocked another one in.
•Cueto was also gotten to early, as he put a couple on and gave up a three run blast to Kurt Suzuki. It didn’t look like a mistake pitch either, as Suzuki just went down and got the ball, and he blasted it. Cueto was hit early and often, and did not seem to have his best stuff. However, those three runs in the first would be all they would get off him. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, he has learned to pitch through just about anything. He ended up allowing seven hits and three walks, yet went six innings and got the win.
•Bruce ended up getting another hit to the opposite field (infield, that is) and picked up another RBI to give him three for the day. Jay still doesn’t have it going yet, but he is hitting the ball to the opposite field which is usually a sign that he is heating up. His problem at the plate has usually been trying to pull the ball too much and keeping his confidence up. Good to see him come through in the clutch in the first inning.
•Strasburg was obviously not his dominant self. The Reds touched him early and then got to him again in the sixth. C. Trent Rosecrans, who covers the Reds for the Cincinnati Enquirer, posted a gem on his Twitter following the game. To paraphrase, he said he had talked to Dusty the day before the game and remarked that the Reds were lucky they hadn’t had to face Strasburg since 2010. Dusty replied, “He’s lucky he didn’t have to face us!”
•The Nationals’ defense seems suspect, especially in the infield. Zimmerman plays a great third base and had some excellent plays in the series, but the middle infielders made a few errors or bobbles. There were also a handful of infield hits and balls that made it through that could have been fielded. From the camera angles you get from watching a game, you are unable to see the defensive shadings unless the announcers specifically mention it and the camera pans to show you. Thus, I am not sure if this is a range problem or a defensive setup problem. One can be adjusted for, but the other could give them a long season. I watched the Reds go through this for years, and now they have one of the best defenses around. It makes a world of difference and can separate the best teams from the rest.
•To give a glaring example on the Nationals’ defense, Danny Espinosa fielded a ball in the sixth inning and made a decision that was questionable but technically not an error. With runners on first and third and no outs following a hit and run (more on that below), Espinosa moved slightly to his left to field a ground ball. The speedy Derrick Robinson was on third and broke for home. Rather than try for two and concede the run, Espinosa fired home, and Robinson slid in safely, and it wasn’t really close. If there is a force out at home, you throw home. If it is the ninth inning and the game is on the line, you throw home. Otherwise, if you can get two outs and only give up a run, that is what you do in this situation. Ideally, you get the lead runner at the worst if the batter beats out the relay to first. Granted, Choo could have possibly beaten a potential throw to second, but what Espinosa did was head-scratching to say the least. Robinson is very fast, and Espinosa did not charge the ball. If you are coming home, you plan for it before the ball is hit. I have a feeling Davey Johnson or another coach will be going over defensive decisions after this play.
•The bullpen for the Reds was dominant. In three shutout innings, they gave up one hit and no walks while throwing four strikeouts. Sean Marshall made his season debut, and the Marshall/Jonathan Broxton/Aroldis Chapman succession from the seventh inning on is about as good as it gets when everyone is on. Chapman continues to look amazing, though he did give up the bullpen’s only hit. He touched 101 on the final two pitches of the game, and the batter looked lost at the plate.
•Robinson got a hit and went to third on a single by Shin-Soo Choo while a hit and run appeared to be on. Robinson’s speed off the bench and the fact that he can switch hit and play centerfield looks to make him a valuable commodity off the bench. Also, that might have been the first hit and run the Reds have had this year, and Choo seems to be a good person to have at the plate in that situation. He went 2 – 4 today and got on base another time with a walk. He has shown to be a very good catalyst at the top of the order. Leading off the bottom of the first, he just got under a pitch by Strasburg, or the ball might have landed in the river outside the stadium. He hit it right in the sweet spot, but skied it just a little too much.
•Cueto has faced Jared Weaver and Strasburg so far this year, and almost everyone would agree that they are both aces. I would argue that Cueto outpitched both of them in the matchups this year, as he definitely outpitched Strasburg here. Cueto deserves more recognition from around the league.
What Worked: The hit and run worked beautifully and set up the go ahead run. Starting Paul in left and batting him second in the lineup was also a good decision in retrospect.
Johnny Cueto navigated around not having his best stuff to control the Nats, with the only mistake being Suzuki’s home run. The Reds also came through when it counted. It was mentioned after the game that Cueto told the dugout he needed them to get him three runs in the sixth. They got him exactly that. He picked up the win because the Reds picked him up.
What Didn’t Work: Joey Votto’s bat against Strasburg. Joey seemed to be fooled in a few of his at-bats and struck out a couple of times. He was visibly frustrated.
For the Nationals, their defense let them down. As mentioned, Espinosa had no business trying to get the runner at home, and their defensive play in the infield needs to get better if they want to go deep in the playoffs.
Where They Stand: The Reds are 4 – 2, and atop the NL Central. They have won both series on the year.
Despite beating the Nationals two games to one, and pounding them 15 – 0 in one of those games, ESPN has ranked the Nationals first overall in their power rankings. The Reds dropped one spot to fourth after their impressive week.
Overall Thoughts: I love this team. These guys grind and grind and pick each other up. The mighty Nationals came to town undefeated on the year, and the Reds nearly swept them, only dropping the one game in extra innings.
I especially loved seeing Cueto get the win over Strasburg, who gets a lot more attention than Cueto.
Up Next: The Reds travel to division rival St. Louis for their first road trip of the year. The first pitch is 4:15pm on Monday.