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Reds series preview: When playing the kids works

It’s the Elly de la Cruz show now.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

A small-market team in the Midwest lost 100 games last year, with one of the worst offenses and pitching staffs in the league. Rather than upgrade through free agency, they stood pat, and the owner was accused of being cheap for sitting on his hands. And yet this year, the team is playing well, flirting with .500, just a few games out of first in a weak division. The young pitchers have had mixed results but have taken a step forward, while the young hitters have been some of the most patient in baseball. And the fanbase has gone wild over the young infielder with a dynamic blend of power and speed that has already made him one of the stars in the game.

That was supposed to happen to the Kansas City Royals this year, but it is actually the story of the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds have taken a combination of good drafts, prospects acquired from trading away veterans, and finding a hidden gem in the Dominican Republic to give themselves a solid core that can get back to contention very quickly.

Cincinnati Reds (31-35) vs. Kansas City Royals (18-47) from Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO

Reds: 4.64 runs scored/game (10th in MLB), 5.15 runs allowed/game (27th)

Royals: 3.74 runs scored/game (28th in MLB), 5.31 runs allowed/game (28th)

The Reds’ regular starting lineup includes four former first-round picks - Tyler Stephenson (2015), Nick Senzel (2016), Jonathan India (2018), and Matt McLain (2021). Senzel is currently out, joining Joey Votto, Jake Fraley, and Wil Myers on the Injured List. Despite having the fifth-youngest lineup in baseball, they have the fifth-best walk rate. Maybe it helps the have the most patient hitter in baseball, Joey Votto, leading your young hitters rather than a free-swinger like Salvador Perez.

Despite playing in one of the best home run parks in baseball, the Reds have hit just 52 home runs, tied for third-fewest in baseball. But they have received an infusion to their lineup recently with the promotion of Elly de la Cruz, one of the top prospects in the game. He’s a dynamic young player with an imposing 6’5’’ frame with blazing speed and a big bat. Signed for just $65,000 in 2018 out of the Dominican Republic, de la Cruz has been a sensation with a 458-foot blast, mind-blowing speed and infectious energy.

The Reds are third in baseball in steals and everyone in the lineup except their catchers are a threat to run. They have the nice problem of having too many good young infielders, forcing Spencer Steer to play first base to fill in for Votto, and he has struggled a bit defensively there.

Reds starting lineup and bench

Starting Lineup PA HR SB BA OBA SLG fWAR
Starting Lineup PA HR SB BA OBA SLG fWAR
CF TJ Friedl (L) 168 3 6 .311 .360 .477 1.5
SS Matt McLain (R) 119 2 2 .336 .387 .518 1.1
2B Jonathan India (R) 292 7 12 .275 .360 .422 1.5
3B Elly de la Cruz (S) 27 1 3 .364 .481 .636 0.5
1B Spencer Steer (R) 268 8 5 .282 .362 .474 0.8
DH Tyler Stephenson (R) 259 4 0 .249 .332 .358 -0.4
RF Will Benson (L) 66 1 3 .230 .288 .311 -0.2
LF Stuart Fairchild (R) 171 2 7 .228 .325 .366 0.4
C Luke Maile (R) 71 3 1 .242 .296 .455 0.2
C Curt Casali (R) 77 0 0 .172 .293 .203 0.0
IF Kevin Newman (R) 178 2 4 .270 .331 .371 0.4
IF Jose Barrero (R) 146 2 3 .223 .301 .331 -0.1
OF T.J. Hopkins (R) 19 0 0 .167 .211 .167 -0.2

The Reds have two more first round picks in their rotation in Nick Lodolo (2016) and Hunter Greene (2017). But Lodolo is shelved with an injury and the Royals will miss the flamethrowing Greene this series. Instead they’ll see two old friends - Luke Weaver, who spent a few months with the Royals last season, and Ben Lively, who pitched briefly for the Royals in 2018-19. Both are just placeholders in the rotation and haven’t pitched particularly well. Weaver is 17th in the league in lowest walk rate but he has the 8th-highest home run rate. Lively is pretty similar - throws strikes, gives up bombs. He has given up five home runs in his last two starts, He only throws around 91 mph and mixes in a lot of sinkers and sliders.

The pitcher the Reds are counting on to be part of the future is Brandon Williamson, acquired last year from the Mariners in the Eugenio Suarez trade. The 25-year old left hander has struggled to throw strikes, and gave up three home runs in his last start. He only throws in the low-90s but has a deep arsenal of pitches that the pitch data people love.

Expected pitching matchups

Monday, June 12 - 7:10 CT ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
Monday, June 12 - 7:10 CT ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
RHP Luke Weaver 6.27 5.45 47.1 8.8 2.1 0.2
RHP Zack Greinke 4.59 4.37 66.2 6.8 1.2 0.7
Tuesday, June 13 - 7:10 CT ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
LHP Brandon Williamson 5.40 6.20 26.2 7.1 4.4 -0.1
RHP Jordan Lyles 6.84 6.01 73.2 6.7 3.1 -0.2
Wednesday, June 14 - 7:10 CT ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
RHP Ben Lively 4.21 4.92 36.1 9.2 2.2 0.3
LHP Daniel Lynch 4.41 3.09 16.1 9.4 2.8 0.5

Using a hodge-podge of relievers, the Reds have posted the 12th-best bullpen ERA in baseball at 3.88. Closer Alexis Díaz is tied for the best fWAR in baseball among relievers with the second-highest strikeout rate using one of the best sliders in the game. Fernando Cruz was once an infielder in the Royals system who converted to pitching and finally broke into the big leagues last year at age 32 using a wicked splitter.

Reds bullpen

Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
RHP Alexis Díaz 1.71 1.71 26.1 16.4 4.1 1.4
RHP Lucas Sims 3.27 3.59 22.0 10.2 6.6 0.5
RHP Ian Gibaut 3.09 4.58 32.0 7.3 3.1 0.2
RHP Buck Farmer 2.35 3.83 30.2 7.6 2.6 0.4
LHP Alex Young 2.84 4.10 25.1 10.3 2.8 0.3
RHP Fernando Cruz 7.29 3.37 21.0 11.6 4.3 0.4
RHP Casey Legumina 4.35 5.50 10.1 7.8 4.4 -0.1
RHP Ricky Karcher - - 0.0 - - -

The Reds made the playoffs as recently as 2020, and had a winning record in 2021, so they had far more talent to rebuild with than the Royals did. But they were also willing to do the hard things to rebuild, like trading talented players like Suarez, Jesse Winkler, Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo, and cutting bait on bad contracts like Mike Moustakas. They are already seeing the fruits of those moves, rejuvenating their fanbase and giving them hope for the future.


How will the Royals fare in this series against the Reds?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Royals sweep 3-0
    (5 votes)
  • 9%
    Royals take 2 of 3
    (14 votes)
  • 56%
    Reds take 2 of 3
    (85 votes)
  • 30%
    Reds sweep
    (46 votes)
150 votes total Vote Now