Hottest team in all of baseball? The Reds. Coming into the May 25 contest vs. Colorado they've reeled off six in a row. The second and third games against the Yanks in the Bronx, and a four-game sweep that knocked Atlanta out of first place in the NL East and handed Cincinnati first place in the NL Central.
As the old cliché says, "Pitching and defense wins ballgames." And with approximately one week left in May, Reds pitching is 100-proof. Led by flame-throwing Cuban closer Aroldis Chapman, the back end of the bullpen is first-rate, while the play in the field is nightly highlight-reel fodder.
The time has come to give the Reds' starting rotation some ink.
As a group, the starters have averaged 6.12 innings pitched per outing in May. Pitch into the seventh every start and then hand it over to your bulletproof pen, good things happen—like an NL-leading record in the last 30 games.
Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey both have taken the hill five times so far this month. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake each own four starts.
Starting with the obvious, Johnny Cueto is as automatic as lies from a D.C. politician. Enough said.
Looking more like the 2010 version of himself, Bronson Arroyo has been exactly as one would suspect. A rubber-hosed innings-eater who stays within himself relying on command and pinpoint control rather than pure stuff.
His strikeout per nine looks like a misprint, but in his five May starts his slow-dance breaking pitches are striking out opposing batters to a tune of 8.16 times per nine innings pitched. That's an oddity that will fall to somewhere in the mid-to-high fives when the season finishes.
Of the Reds core five, Homer Bailey's ERA ranks last in the month, but any team would take a 4.39 ERA from a last-place guy. In his five May games, four have been quality starts.
According to Fangraphs.com, compared to last season, Bailey's velocity is up on all pitches—besides his change, which is down (as it should be). This signals that his shoulder isn't giving him the fits as in previous years. Reds fans have been waiting for some sign that the former No. 1 draft pick will have a bright future—the 2012 season may finally be just that.
Mike Leake's had himself an above-average month. Three quality starts in four tries, a 4.12 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP—like Arroyo, Leake needs to pitch within himself. When he is in command of his sink, as seen in Game 1 of the Braves series, he's tough to hit.
After a shaky April, it looks like things are headed north for Leake.
Speaking of shaky Aprils, Mat Latos had Reds country calling for the head of GM Walt Jocketty. During the offseason, Walt traded the farm to bring Latos to the Queen City. In his brief career he has been a poor April starter.
In May he has put up dominant numbers.
Latos' 2.35 ERA leads Reds starters during the month. His 11.74 K/9 ratio easily leads the rotation. The only bugaboo with Latos is his tendency to run high pitch counts and force Dusty to turn it over to the pen for the final three or four innings of the game.
Will the Reds' starters pitch this well every month? Not likely. But once the sticks come around, they wont need to be as good as they have been in May.