The Reds are a .500 team but for the past few seasons they have been one of the better National League squads. The Braves will face three formidable starters in Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Johnny Cueto. This will certainly not be an easy series for the hometown team, so a series win would certainly be impressive to stack on their already impressive start to the year.
At the plate:
Devin Mesoraco has been an absolute animal since returning from the disabled list a few weeks ago. In just 12 games and 50 plate appearances Mesoraco has hit .477/.520/.818 and has been worth 1.3 WAR according to FanGraphs. Other than Mesoraco the Reds have a potent middle of the lineup which features Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, and Jay Bruce. They have some great balance in their lineup with Mesoraco and Frazier from the right side and Votto and Bruce from the left side, so late inning bullpen matchups will be crucial. Fredi has not used Luis Avilan quite like a LOOGY, so if he comes in to face Votto he may be in to face Frazier before Bruce as well, if they opt to order their lineup that way.
The leadoff man is Billy Hamilton, who is probably the fastest player in the league. The problem with that is that you cannot steal first, as I am sure everyone has heard a million times. He has just a .266 average along with nine stolen bases in 12 chances. If he is on base you can pretty much guarantee he will run, which is scary considering the Braves lack of production in that department thus far. I think Gattis is adequate enough defensively, but I doubt he will be able to get Hamilton out of he opts to run.
On the mound:
Cueto, Bailey, and Leake have been mainstays in the Reds rotation for quite some time. As a group they are a bit inconsistent aside from Cueto, but what you can expect from this whole group is a lot of strikes. Despite Bailey’s high ERA, he has a 3.09 xFIP backed by a very high strikeout rate. He is a good pitcher who has experienced some poor fortune during the early parts of the season, so even though the Braves have the advantage in an Ervin Santana vs. Homer Bailey matchup, this may not be the game or series that the Atlanta bats finally get going collectively.
Leake is an exceptional athlete who is a solid bat at the plate as well. He has made a home for himself as a low-strikeout and low-walk starter who relies on his defense, which has been stellar for the past number of years, for help. It’s a great strategy considering the team he plays for and it allowed him to win 14 games last season and two this season (I know pitcher wins aren’t important).
To me, Johnny Cueto has been one of the more undervalued pitchers in the league over the past half-decade. He battled a lat injury last year that he has seemingly put behind him, but including the 11 starts he made last year his ERA has been under 2.83 every year since 2011, including this year’s extraordinarily low 1.38 mark which is sure to rise in time.
In the bullpen:
With Aroldis Chapman still out after being hit in the face with a pitch during spring, Jonathan Broxton has hopped into the closer role with our old friend J.J. Hoover acting as a set up man. Hoover, a former Braves prospect, was dealt to Cincinnati a few years ago when the Braves acquired Juan Francisco. He has struggled mightily this year to the tune of a 13.50 ERA and matching BB/9 number. Sam LeCure and Sean Marshall are probably the best non-closer relievers, and I would expect to see Manny Parra and Sean Marshall against Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman when the time is appropriate.
Friday April 25, 7:35pm (the worst) ET
Homer Bailey (CIN)
1-1, 5.75 ERA, 5.57 FIP, -0.2 WAR
Ervin Santana (ATL)
2-0, 0.86 ERA, 1.95 FIP, 0.7 WAR
Saturday April 26, 7:10pm ET
Mike Leake (CIN)
2-1, 3.49 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 0.1 WAR
David Hale (ATL)
0-0, 2.93 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 0.2 WAR
Sunday April 27, 1:35pm ET
Johnny Cueto (CIN)
2-2, 1.38 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 0.6 WAR
Julio Teheran (ATL)
2-1, 1.80 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 0.4 WAR