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Reds Series Preview: Cueto returns, but not to pitch

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Johnny Cueto and John Lamb will get to see their former mates, but neither is scheduled to pitch

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Back on July 26, the Reds helped engineer one of the biggest trades in Royals history, sending ace pitcher Johnny Cueto to Kansas City for John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, and Cody Reed. Its been a lost season for the Reds, who were hoping to contend but have gone just 51-65 this year and are on pace to have their worst season since a 93-loss season in 2003. The Reds have dropped nine of their last twelve and are in danger of falling into the cellar of the National League Central Division.

The Reds have dropped seven of their last eight games against the Royals, including being swept in a short two-game series in Kansas City earlier this year. They are just 6-11 in interleague play. The team has already traded away pitchers Cueto and Mike Leake, and have lost pitcher Homer Bailey, catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart to injury for the rest of the year.

The Reds have had troubles in both offense and pitching. They are tenth in runs scored with 3.94 per contest. They can hit home runs and steal bases however. Their 125 dingers are third in the league and they lead the league in steals with 110, paced by the speedster Billy Hamilton. The Reds are eighth in on-base percentage and are dead last in batting average with runners in scoring position, hitting just .213/.305/.359 in those situations.

Home Run Derby champ Todd Frazier is enjoying a career year, and his 29 home runs are second in the league, but he has just four home runs in his last 41 games. Joey Votto leads the league in walks with 90, and is third in on-base percentage and OPS. Votto has been on fire lately, hitting .398/.548/.686 with seven home runs in his last 35 games. Great American Ballpark has been the fifth-best park for home runs this year, with the Reds hitting 68 of their 125 home runs at home.

Cincinnati is an average defensive team, although they have been strong up the middle. Billy Hamilton is a fantastic defender, ranking as the fourth-best defender in baseball by Fangraphs. The Reds are the third-best team in Baserunning Runs, largely because Hamilton has almost twice as many as anyone else in baseball with an 88% success rate stealing bases.

With Bailey, Cueto, and Leake out of the rotation, Cincinnati has had to turn to a rotation of unproven rookies and castoffs. Twenty-five year old rookie Raisel Iglesias was signed out of Cuba and has gone at least six innings or more in each of his last four outings. Iglesias brings a 92 mph fastball with a sinker, slider, and changeup. The Royals touched him up for two runs in an inning of relief back on May 20 in Kansas City. Keyvius Sampson was claimed off waivers from San Diego last winter after being a well-regarded prospect and has pitched adequately in three starts despite a 5.08 ERA in AAA this year. Edinson Volquez is well acquainted with pitching in Cincinnati, with a career 4.49 ERA in 36 starts in the small confines of Great American Ballpark. Jeremy Guthrie has only pitched in the park once, giving up six runs (two earned) and two home runs in five innings.

The Reds have the third-highest bullpen FIP, tied for the highest walk-rate. Aroldis Champan and his electric arm have converted 24-of-25 save opportunities this year and he has given up just two runs over his last 22 1/3 innings. Chapman leads all relievers in strikeouts-per-nine innings with 16.27 and has tossed more 100 mph fastballs than all of the rest of baseball this year. The rest of the pen is a hodge-podge of cast-offs from other organizations. J.J. Hoover has a 1.92 ERA but has outperformed his FIP considerably. Burke Badenhop has a 3.59 ERA but has struck out just 4.0 per-nine-innings. Opponents are hitting .306/.364/.381 off right-hander Ryan Mattheus.

The Reds are a decimated team limping towards the finish line, hoping to see some flashes of brilliance from some of their unproven talent. The Royals have been in this situation many times before. We know how it usually goes. They should have little problem dispatching of the Reds, making it a pleasant reunion for Johnny Cueto in his return to Cincinnati.