Surprise: Pete Alford wrote this series preview also! But I came up with that clever title. Go me!
Cincinnati Reds (16-15) at Chicago Cubs (14-16)
The Toothpick comes to town to spread goodwill and "dudes" at the Friendly Confines for the first time this season. While I hope no one on his team defecates in his dugout, the Cubs can hope his team continues to play mediocre baseball during this trip and the Reds don't steal a few games at Wrigley (especially since Mike Leake won't be pitching this trip).
The Reds enter town with a struggling starting staff. While the Cubs top three have given up only 5 ER in their last 25 IP, the Reds have only had 2 quality starts since April 26. To put that into perspective, the Reds are 12-4 when their starter has a quality start, while going 4-12 when their starter cannot turn in a quality start. With the staff slumping as a whole this could be a big challenge for Dusty's club at Wrigley.
While the Reds struggle to replace the production of Scott Rolen (shoulder) at third base, there have been a few offensive bright spots for the team. Joey Votto resumes his MVP campaign with a slash line of .351/.408/.551 while hitting a whopping .381 with men in scoring position. Jay Bruce is also on one of his renowned tears at the moment and hitting .417 with 2 HR so far in May. The bats always seem to be there for the Reds, but the success of the team will rely heavily on whether their starting staff can do their job.
After the jump, game-by-game previews, complete with scouting reports for each pitcher.
Friday, May 6
Edinson Volquez (2-1, 5.67 ERA) vs. Matt Garza (1-3, 3.96 ERA)
Garza has been a hard luck pitcher for the Cubs. Despite a ridiculous 11.87 K/9 and minimizing the walks in his most recent starts, batters have a .400 BABIP against Garza thus far. While that statistic may not always prove a player is getting the raw end of the luck stick, the eye test confirms that Matty G has been plagued by weak base hits by the opposition.
On the other hand, there is a big reason why Volquez has been running into a string of bad luck: walks. Struggling with his command, Edinson is averaging 6.48 BB/9. On top of it, he is allowing a large number of home runs. Walks plus the gopher ball tend to mean trouble for a starting pitcher.
Scouting Report: Volquez is supposed to be the ace of the Red's staff but has yet to really hit his stride post-surgery. Volquez features a fastball that averages at 93 MPH (thrown 55% of the time), a curveball in the high 70s (thrown 21% of the time) and a changeup that averages 83 MPH (24% of the time). Volquez likes to start hitters off with his fastball or curve. When he gets two strikes on a right-handed batter, he tends to bring in the changeup as his out pitch. Against lefties he tends to become a two-pitch pitcher, relying predominantly on his fastball and changeup. With a high BB/9, the Cubs must lay off the stuff out of the zone and make Edinson challenge them in the strike zone. Getting ahead in the count will be key to this matchup.
Saturday, May 7
Bronson Arroyo (3-3, 4.17 ERA) vs. Casey Coleman (1-2, 7.36 ERA)
While Garza may be the hard luck pitcher of the Cubs staff, Coleman has basically struggled since joining the rotation this season. Bronson Arroyo, on the other hand, seems to be just flat out bad luck for Cubs hitters. Whenever Arroyo toes the rubber against the Cubs, it always seems to be an 8 IP quality start. Must be something about that high leg kick...
Scouting Report: Bronson Arroyo has a deceptive 3/4 delivery with a high leg kick. More reliant on guile than power he adds and takes away from his fastball as he sees necessary against the batter he is facing and lets the good sinking movement draw contact for outs. He throws his fastball at around 88 MPH and uses it 45 % of the time. His second best pitch is a changeup which he throws around 15% of the time this season. When using this pitch he sometimes slows his arm down to create even more deception. He also features a slider and a curveball and an occasional cutter. As a fly ball pitcher he is prone to giving up the long ball, as evidenced by the three he gave up in Florida on his last start. Arroyo will not strike out many, but as long as he is limiting walks he will stay out of danger.
Sunday, May 8
Johnny Cueto (N/A) vs. Ryan Dempster (1-3, 8.05 ERA)
Last outing it looked like Dempster was trying to throw gas on a fire as he walked the first two Dodgers on eight straight pitches. Luckily, Clownsevelt settled down and got a quality start in a game the Cubs eventually won. Hopefully Dempster has gotten his bearing and will become the reliable pitcher the Cubs expect him to be.
Cueto makes his season debut after sitting out the first month with inflammation in his right shoulder. In his four rehab starts in AAA-Louisville he was 0-2 with a 6.28 ERA.
Scouting Report: Cueto has shown signs of dominance in his career while also displaying that he is prone to injury: landing on the DL each of the last three years. He is a strikeout pitcher with a career 7.25 K/9 and throws from a high 3/4 arm slot. He features a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and has a slider with great late-breaking movement that he throws 30% of the time. Cueto has the tendency to overthrow his pitches. In doing so, Cueto tends to lose touch with his command which can lead to a few crooked numbers for the opposition.