The last time the San Francisco Giants faced the Cincinnati Reds, the Orange and Black were in the midst of a run where they won ten of thirteen games. Hard to believe it was in the same month (June 3rd-5th) as the stretch in which they went 4-11 (June 9th-24th). But that’s baseball according to the old axiom.
Fresh off a meeting involving manager Bruce Bochy, pitching coach Dave Righetti, and the starting rotation, not to mention the stirring no-hitter hurled by Tim Lincecum on Wednesday, the Giants welcome the Reds to AT&T Park with a renewed focus and determination.
The thrust of the pitchers’ meeting was that the Giants have always relied on their starting rotation as the most dangerous weapon in the arsenal. So in examining this component, Bochy pointed out that the staff ERA for June, before Timmy’s no-no, was 5.05, and that was the main reason why the Giants were struggling.
If San Francisco were going to be able to pull out of its nosedive and deflect the Los Angeles Dodgers’ charge to the top of the division, it was going to be up to the five starters in the room to reestablish their winning ways. They are physically healthy and they need to step up their performance. The message was as simple as that.
Ryan Vogelsong gets the call for the opener of the four-game set, and he comes into the contest with momentum from his last start in Cincinnati, where he got the victory in a 3-2 win, giving up the two runs on seven hits, the first win of five in a row for the Giants.
That was the game where Juan Perez hit a two-run home run, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, which was the final score. The Giants would like to see Vogelsong repeat the performance from that earlier game, especially since they are playing at AT&T Park, where Vogelsong has a 3.33 ERA in eight starts this season.
When the Giants left Cincinnati, the Reds were 27-31, a .465 win/loss percentage. Since playing the Giants they are 12-7, or a .632 clip. The Reds have taken five series out of their last six, and they split the sixth series with Los Angeles, two games to two. They are a formidable opponent.
Vogelsong’s opponent is Mike Leake, 4-1 with a 4.38 ERA in seven career appearances against the Giants, including six starts. For the season he is 5-6, with a 3.59 ERA, in fifteen games started.
Let’s take a look at the lineup. I start with Devin Mesoraco (.318, 14 home runs, 40 RBI’s), because he was batting .351 for the season when the Giants played the Reds the first time, and he batted .400, in six games this past week with an incredible five home runs and 12 RBI’s. He drew four walks and struck out only three times in twenty at-bats. You won’t need binoculars to see this guy at the plate.
Third-baseman Todd Frazier (.280, 17 HR, 15 2B, 45 RBI’s) was batting .269 when the Giants rolled into Cincinnati, and has raised his average to .280 since. In his last seven games, he hit .345, with ten hits in twenty-nine at-bats. In right field, Jay Bruce was batting .197 earlier in the series in Cincinnati, but is up to .230 now, hitting .333, with two big flies and eight RBI’s, in the last seven games.
Brandon Phillips (.274, 5 HR, 33 RBI’s), the Reds’ second baseman, has missed three games with a bruised heel, so his status is day-to-day. Skip Schumaker, 27 hits in 37 games (.235), is replacing him in the order.
Joey Votto (.266, 6 HR, 22 RBI’s), who missed the first series between the two clubs, is batting .208 in the past week, with only five hits in 24 at-bats, but he has drawn seven walks in the same period, for a .375 on-base percentage. It does not pay to take this guy lightly.
Zack Cozart (.229, 2HR, 17 RBI’s) is the shortstop. He has had four hits in his last 21 at-bats, with no homers and no RBI’s. Ryan Ludwick (.268, 5 HR, 23 RBI’s) is the left fielder, with three hits in seventeen at-bats, in the last five games, with no home runs and two RBI’s.
In center field is Billy Hamilton (.270, 4 HR, 13 2B, 23 RBI’s), the guy who drove Giants pitchers nuts the last series. He got on base five out of eight times up in the first two games, before Madison Bumgarner and the defense kept him off the bases in the finale.
In that game Hunter Pence robbed him in the first inning, and Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse combined on both ends of the play, to take a hit away in the sixth inning. Ryan Vogelsong will do well to remember that the last time he faced Hamilton, Billy had two infield hits in his first two plate appearances, and advanced in both cases on bad throws, one by Vogelsong himself, and the other by Buster Posey. It would behoove Vogelsong to find a way to keep Hamilton off the base-paths.
Besides Leake, the Reds starters are Johnny Cueto (16 GS, 7-5, 1.86 ERA), Alfredo Simon (15 GS, 10-3, 2.92 ERA), Tony Cingrani, (11 games started, 2-8, 4.55 ERA) and Homer Bailey (16 GS, 7-4, 4.80 ERA). Alroldis Chapman is the closer, with fourteen saves in fifteen opportunities.
The Reds have been hot and the Giants have not. But the Giants have a very good team, waiting for the starters to get going. They don’t all have to pitch no-hitters; we’ll settle for quality starts (six innings, three or fewer earned runs), and an earned run average closer to a field goal than a touchdown.