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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have seen their fortunes reverse so far this year, with one of the league’s best offenses but one of the worst pitching staffs

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ever since stealing Derek Johnson away from the Brewers, the Cincinnati Reds have largely built themselves on excellent pitching and trying to scrape together enough offense despite some big names to get by.

(Sounds familiar.)

This year, however, the script has flipped a bit, and it’s led to a highly inconsistent first couple of months for the Redlegs.

After a red-hot start powered by that offense, the Reds hit the skids hard and now sit at 19-23, just a game and a half out of last place in the NL Central. Few teams have pitched worse while hitting well, and it has led to a lot of red L’s on their early-season schedule. They come into this weekend having just got swept in a four-game series at home against the San Francisco Giants, including taking a 19-4 beating yesterday.

The Lineup

In a year where offense has been down across baseball, Cincinnati’s lineup has actually found a way to be productive. They rank 6th in the majors in runs scored so far, 6th in batting, 5th in OBP and 3rd in slugging.

Nick Castellanos has had a lot to do with that, leading Cincinnati in every category while putting together an early-season dark horse candidacy for NL MVP, hitting .347/.410/.647 with 11 home runs and 10 doubles. Castellanos’ slugging percentage alone is almost higher than the OPSes of Travis Shaw (.664), Daniel Vogelbach (.659), Lorenzo Cain (.674), Tyrone Taylor (.675) and Luis Urias (.676).

Jesse Winker is also off to a hot start, hitting .338/.397/.592 in 36 games so far, with 8 home runs and 10 doubles. Tyler Naquin and Tucker Barnhart have also pitched in with OPSes above .800. Old friend Mike Moustakas will miss this series after landing on the injured list with a right heel contusion.

The Probable Pitchers

When you have a pitching coach with the reputation of Derek Johnson, you take a chance on a few failed prospects and hope he can unlock something. That hasn’t quite happened so far for Jeff Hoffman, the former Rockies pitching prospect who joined the Reds this year and gets the ball opposite Adrian Houser tonight. He has a 4.67 ERA through his first 8 starts, but even that total is lucky based on his walk and strikeout numbers. He does have a high-spin fastball, which still makes him intriguing to some pitching enthusiasts despite his career 6.17 ERA. He hasn’t gone more than 4 innings in a start for nearly a month.

Old nemesis Sonny Gray gets the start on Saturday, and like most Reds pitchers, he’s been a bit disappointing so far when it comes to results. His underlying metrics, though, are still very good, as he ranks in the 93rd percentile among pitchers when it comes to limiting hard contact, and is still getting as many swings and misses as ever (although he’s coming off a low-K start against the Giants in which he gave up 4 runs — 3 earned — in 5 innings). Gray will be making his 10th career start against the Brewers — he has a career 2.49 ERA in 50.2 innings against them.

Luis Castillo will start the finale against Freddy Peralta — a matchup that Peralta actually shone in in early 2019, when he threw 8 shutout innings against Castillo in this ballpark. Castillo is carrying an ugly 7.44 ERA this year, but his metrics say he’s been getting severely unlucky — his expected ERA is closer to 4.36, and he’s still ranking in the 91st percentile when it comes to chase rate thanks to his changeup, which is still an elite pitch. Brewers fans probably know better than to judge him based on his ERA based on his past performances.

Overall, the Reds’ pitching has been a disaster, though. They come into the weekend ranking 29th in baseball in ERA (5.11), have only had 8 quality starts all season, and have the third-worst team WHIP in the majors.