The Pirates begin their third series of the year against the Reds Monday night. Here's what to expect in Cincinnati.
Game times and probables
Monday, 7:10: Jon Niese vs. Dan Straily
Tuesday, 7:10: Juan Nicasio vs. Alfredo Simon
Wednesday, 7:10: Francisco Liriano vs. Tim Adleman
The other two members of the Reds' rotation are Brandon Finnegan and Jake Lamb, and they're by far the most interesting ones. The Reds didn't head into Spring Training planning to have Straily, Simon or Adleman in their rotation. Losing Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Jon Moscot and Michael Lorenzen to injury has forced them to scramble. They claimed the journeyman Straily off waivers in April and ended up putting him in their rotation; they signed Simon near the end of Spring Training in response to their injury problems; and they promoted Adleman, a 28-year-old who'd had all of three career starts at Triple-A, at the beginning of the month. Adleman has fared well in his first two big-league starts, and of course, his first one was against the Pirates. It wouldn't be a complete shock if that continued, particularly since he has surprisingly good stuff, but it's doubtful it will.
C Tucker Barnhart, Ramon Cabrera, Jordan Pacheco
1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Zack Cozart
3B Eugenio Suarez
IF Ivan De Jesus
LF Adam Duvall
CF Billy Hamilton
RF Jay Bruce
OF Tyler Holt
OF Kyle Waldrop
In addition to all their pitching injuries, the Reds have lost catcher Devin Mesoraco to shoulder trouble. It appears he'll miss the rest of the season, which means 2016 will be his second straight wasted year after his 2014 breakout (and the $28 million extension to which the Reds signed him after that). Also, the Reds swapped spare outfielder Scott Schebler for rookie Kyle Waldrop yesterday, sending Schebler to Triple-A Louisville.
Other than that, the Reds' group of position players remains fairly stable (although not particularly effective, having hit just .235/.290/.399 so far). Votto had a miserable April but has had a more Votto-like .912 OPS thus far in May. The Reds have also gotten good work out of Cozart, Phillips and Duvall (who has elbowed Schebler out of the picture in left field by batting .258/.298/.551 so far). But their total lack of production from the catcher position, in particular, has hurt them. Also, their pitchers, in addition to being bad at pitching, have hit a horrible .085/.100/.102 this season.
A glorious mess. The Reds demoted former closer J.J. Hoover to the minors this weekend after he performed about as badly as humanly possible, and their current group has so many walks it's like they're raising funds to cure cancer. The Reds' bullpen has a remarkable 6.59 ERA and 4.9 BB/9 for the season. Their most recent series of transactions, in which they swapped out Hoover for Delabar and Hayes, have a "what the heck" flavor -- sure, Delabar had a 2.19 ERA with Louisville, but he'd walked 11 batters in 12 1/3 innings and hasn't been particularly successful in the big leagues since 2013. Here's hoping the Pirates dare these guys to throw some strikes.
The Reds are currently 13-19, which means they're 8-18 since starting the season 5-1 against the Phillies and Bucs. They've lost every series but two since then. (Having seven games against the Cubs hasn't helped.)
As usual, it's impossible to predict what will happen in a three-game series, and we've tied ourselves up in knots who knows how many times when the Pirates got beat by weak opponents. But this series presents a very favorable matchup for the Bucs, and particularly for their hitters.