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Friday, April 04, 2008

Series Preview: Reds vs. Phillies 

Tonight the Phillies kick off a four game series in Cincinnati with the Reds. Last night's 8-7 come-from-behind victory over the Washington Nationals helped the Phillies escape the ignominy of starting the season by being swept at home.

Yes, the Phillies are off to a slow start but this is nothing new. They started 4-11 last year and still won 89 games and the N.L. East. In 2006 they started the month of April 9-14 before reeling off nine consecutive victories and managed to run their record to 22-15 before falling back again. The Phillies haven't had a winning record in April since 2003, and they've finished the regular season with a winning record each and every year. I suppose 1-2 is an improvement over last season, when they began by being swept by the Braves at home in three games. At least they enter this series with a winning record.

I even see some positive points. The much-maligned bullpen pitched well yesterday, allowing just a run in six and one-third of an inning of work, helping the Phillies to claw back from Jamie Moyer's rough start. Game Two, the Phillies 1-0 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday was a fluke: how often does anyone lose a game where your starter goes eight innings and surrenders just one run on five hits and two walks? Hamels Game Score was a robust 72. Clearly Hamels is going to pitch well this season. And Myers will bounce back. They'll be fine ...

The Phillies foe for the next four games are the 2-1 Cincinnati Reds. The 2008 Cincinnati Reds are coming off a 72-90 campaign that saw the Reds finish in fifth place in the six team N.L. Central, 13 games behind the Chicago Cubs. It was the seventh consecutive losing season for the Reds, who haven’t been above .500 since the team’s disappointing 85-77 finish in 2000, the first year of the ill-fated Ken Griffey, Jr. Era.

2007 Season Series: the Phillies won four of six games in the season series last year. The teams first met in late April, just a few days removed from the Reds sitting in first place at 8-6. The Reds won the first game on April 20th by a score of 2-1 in ten innings after being one-hit by Jon Lieber, Antonio Alfonseca and Brett Myers for eight innings. The loss, which dropped the Phillies to 4-11 and dead-last in the N.L. East was the low ebb of the season for the team. Holding a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning, Tom Gordon entered the game and promptly surrendered a solo home run to Scott Hatteburg with two outs. In the bottom of the tenth inning Gordon loaded the bases and surrendered a game-ending single to Brandon Phillips.

The next night, however, Cole Hamels dazzled the baseball world by easily beating former Phillie Eric Milton 4-1, striking out fifteen Reds on his way to a complete game that ranked as one of the best pitching performances of 2007 according to Bill James Game Score system. The sole run scored by the Reds was a fluke Jeff Conine homer. The game might have been the turning point in the Phillies season, because the next night Freddy Garcia won his sole start as a Phillie, besting the Reds 9-3 thanks to 12 Phillies hits and 3 Reds errors. Thereafter, the Phillies improved and clawed back into contention.

The two teams didn’t meet again until late June, this time at Citizens Bank Ballpark. The slumping Reds were 29-47 and sat in sixth place (having lost 39 of 59 games since they had last met), sixteen games out of first. They had just lost eight of their previous eleven games. The Phillies, in contrast, had won 35 of the 60 games they had played since April 20 and were sitting in second-place, just two games out of first. The Phillies won the first game 11-4 despite shaky pitching from Kyle Kendrick, largely thanks to three home runs and four doubles Phillies hitters clubbed. Carlos Ruiz had four RBI as the Phillies cruised to victory. The next night the Reds got the Phillies back 9-6 after trailing 3-0 for the first six innings when the Reds offense caught fire and scored nine runs to win. The next night the Phillies won 8-7 thanks in part to Chase Utley hitting a pair of home runs. The Phillies survived a five-run outing by Adam Eaton.

Reds Key Arrivals: Francisco Cordero, Edinson Volquez, Manager Dusty Baker
Reds Key Departures: Josh Hamilton, Eric Milton, Kirk Saarloos

The 2008 Reds are trying to get back to a point where they can be competitive again and Manager Dusty Baker is going to try and shake up a team that needs some energy. The ’07 team scored and gave up a lot of runs. The Reds 783 runs was seventh in the N.L., but their 853 runs allowed was second-worst after the Florida Marlins (891).

The biggest drain on the Reds is their star player, #3, Ken Griffey, Jr. Simply put: the team has been struggling along since he joined their lineup in 2000. While the Mariners went out and won 393 games between 2000 and 2003. Griffey isn’t really to blame: he missed 418 games between 2001 and 2006, nearly three whole seasons. But the effect of a hobbled Griffey on the Reds has been terrible. They have a slower slugger who does little but hit home runs and play shoddy defense now.

The Reds 2-4 hitters (Brandon Phillips, Griffey and Adam Dunn) are as strong a collection of hitters as you’ll find in baseball:

2007 Stats:
Phillips: 30 Home Runs / 94 RBI / 26 Doubles / .331 OBP
Griffey: 30 Home Runs / 93 RBI / 24 Doubles / .372 OBP
Dunn: 40 Home Runs / 106 RBI / 27 Doubles / .386 OBP

That’s 100 Home Runs, 293 RBI, 286 Runs Scored, 77 Doubles, and 219 Walks. That’s a good deal of the Reds offense right there.

With a lot of young talent in the Reds farm system, the team is moving beyond the Griffey Era and is moving towards contending again with a younger team.

Pitching Matchups: Friday Night the Phillies send Kyle Kendrick for his first start of the season to the mound against Josh Fogg, who briefly pitched for the Colorado Rockies last season. Given how much Kendrick appeared to struggle in the pre-season, it will be interesting to see if the Reds will be able to get to him early and drive him from the mound. Saturday afternoon Brett Myers tries to rebound from his struggles on Opening Day against Aaron Harang, the Reds best pitcher. This will be the best matchup of the weekend, pitting two very good pitchers against each other. Sunday afternoon features a mismatch between Cole Hamels (whose last start at Great American Ballpark was the 15-strikeout game) and Edinson Volquez, a relatively new hurler the Reds snared from the Rangers. Then on Monday Night (yes, it is a four-game series), the Phillies send Jamie Moyer against Bronson Arroyo. In his only game against the Reds last season he went six innings and struck out eight, a season-high for him. To my knowledge, this will be the first time that Moyer has ever pitched at Great American Ballpark.

Park Factor: Great American and Citizens Bank are arguably the two most home run-oriented ballparks in baseball, which might help explain why the Phillies and Reds typically rank in the top three in home runs in the National League.

So there you have it, Reds vs. Phillies in a nutshell. See you Monday.

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good preview. i think we take 3 of 4.
volquez is good against the phils unfortunately.
Hope everyone noted that Wes Helms was traded back to Florida for either cash or "for a player to be named later." Does that mean that we might not have seen the last of Helms in Phillies red pin-stripes?

Check out the post on this on http://www.blogging-baseball.com
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