5 Keys for Cincinnati Reds Taking Weekend Series vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2014

5 Keys for Cincinnati Reds Taking Weekend Series vs. Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Cincinnati Reds have a very important series coming up against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Reds are 3-6 on the young season, and the Rays come into the series at 5-5 in a tie for first place in the always-difficult AL East.

    The Reds need something to turn their season around, and this series presents them with a golden opportunity to either pull within two games of .500 or even things up at 6-6 by the end of the weekend.

    It won't be an easy task, but there are a couple of things the Reds can do in order to ensure that they take their weekend series against the Rays. In addition to helping them win their upcoming three-game series, these five keys will help the Reds win numerous games moving forward.

    So, let's get started with the all-important Game 1.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com unless otherwise noted, and are current through April 10, 2014.

Win Game 1

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    It seems like a no-brainer that the Reds would need to win Game 1 if they plan to take the weekend series, but against a team like Tampa Bay, getting out to an early series lead is even more important.

    Even though they've lost Matt Moore for an undetermined amount of time, the Rays feature one of the best starting staffs in all of baseball. Consider the stats the team's starters put up last season and how they stacked up against the rest of the American League in 2013.

    2013 Stats3.96533.81.250.309.3982.757.39
    AL Ranking5thT-2nd3rd4th3rd5th5th6th

    The Reds have a great rotation in their own right, but they'll run up against David Price, Alex Cobb and a pitcher to be named later this series, so it's imperative that they take Game 1. In fact, Cobb has never faced the Reds and, in some ways, owns advantage over the Reds because of it.

    Even Price has made just one start against the team, but in that one start he was downright dominant. In 7.2 innings, Price allowed just one earned run on six hits and one walk with 12 strikeouts.

    Luckily for the Reds, Price is a significantly different pitcher away from the friendly confines of Tropicana Field. Consider Price's home-road splits over the course of his career.

    Home2.82 1.09.221 .278 .330 3.37 8.4
    Road3.591.23.245 .306 .3832.85 7.8 
    Career3.20 1.16.233 .292 .357 3.09 8.1 

    The Reds have an opportunity to capitalize on Price's road woes, and they need to seize that opportunity if they hope to take the series. If the Reds get in an 0-1 hole against the Rays, it'll be a tough road to travel with Cobb pitching in Game 2.

Take Advantage of Runners on Base

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    The Reds have been downright atrocious with runners in scoring position this season. In fact, the team is pretty bad with runners on base in general.

    The chart below details the team's struggles in said situations. 

    w/ RISP8570.214.280.42923197
    Runners On146126.198.266.341253611

    The first thing you'll notice is that the Reds trend right around the Mendoza Line both with general runners on base and also with runners in scoring position. In addition to that, they carry an on-base percentage below the .300 mark in both situations.

    The Reds are struggling to drive in runners, and they're also struggling to get on base with the bases empty, bases occupied or with runners in scoring position. Why, you ask? Well, because they've struck out a lot.

    With runners in scoring position, the Reds are striking out at a 22.4 percent clip, and with runners on base, they're striking out at a 24.7 percent clip. Striking out with runners on base presents a host of problems, including an inability to drive in runners from third with less than two outs, while also impeding the simple task of moving a runner up to the next base.

    Only a select few everyday players on the Reds roster are performing well in these situations, and their numbers are detailed in the chart below.

    Brandon Phillips109.333333.66732
    Jay Bruce1211.364.3331.09183
    Todd Frazier107.286.500.71433

    These three have been getting the job done with runners in scoring position, but the rest of the team—aside from Chris Heisey, who is not an everyday player—needs to step up.

    Obviously it's easier said than done, but if the Reds want to take this weekend series against the Rays and help turn the season around early on, they'll need to start hitting with runners on base—and especially with runners in scoring position.

Keep Billy Hamilton Going

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    In baseball, speed kills. And when he can get on base—or put the ball in play—there's no better indicator of that statement's legitimacy than Billy Hamilton.

    The 23-year-old has struggled to this point, but he had his 2014 coming-out party Wednesday and it was awe-inspiring.

    If you missed it, the video above should serve as a nice recap of his outstanding performance. If you aren't a video person, allow me to recap just how awesome it really was.

    • Plate Appearance No. 1
      • With the outfield at normal depth, Hamilton threaded the needle with a line drive to left-center field. A normal player would've stopped at second, but Hamilton was able to stretch the hit into an incredible triple, and the throw down wasn't really close. Unfortunately, the team didn't get Hamilton home, but he was on third with nobody out to lead off the game.
    • Plate Appearance No. 2
      • In his second at-bat, Hamilton walked, moved to second on a Brandon Phillips single and was subsequently stranded at second after a Joey Votto fly out.
    • Plate Appearance No. 3
      • In his third at-bat, Hamilton singled and stole second without even a throw from Yadier Molina. Hamilton then tagged up from second on a shallow, routine fly ball to right field off the bat of Phillips. Joey Votto walked, bringing up Jay Bruce, who hit a pop-up behind the second baseman in short right field. Hamilton flashed his incredible speed again and tagged up on the shallow pop fly and beat the throw by a rather large margin, all things considered.
    • Plate Appearance No. 4
      • Hamilton's only plate appearance in which he didn't reach base was a groundout to third.
    • Plate Appearance No. 5
      • Hamilton's fifth and final plate appearance resulted in a one-out bunt single. Following that hit, Hamilton stole second base and scored on a routine single to right field.

    When he gets on base, Hamilton can be downright disruptive, and he's able to manufacture runs in more ways than any other player in the game. Unsurprisingly, the Reds won 4-0 in a game in which Hamilton scored two runs and was on base four out of the five times he came to the plate.

    As Hamilton goes, so does the rest of the offense, and this will be true of the upcoming series as well.

Devin Mesoraco Must Stay Hot

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    After missing the team's first seven games with an injury, Devin Mesoraco has come back with a vengeance in 2014. Through his first eight at-bats, Mesoraco has produced a slash line of .500/.500/1.125 with a home run, two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored. 

    Mesoraco was long touted as a top prospect and a catcher who could occupy a spot in the middle of a batting order—a rarity in today's game—but he has struggled to actualize that potential at the big league level. Through 177 games at the MLB level, Mesoraco boasts a .229/.285/.370 slash line with 17 home runs, 26 doubles, 64 RBI and 55 runs scored. 

    At 25 years old, the young catcher is finally entering the prime of his career, and now that he's finally receiving consistent starting opportunities, Mesoraco could be poised for a breakout year in 2014.

    Last year, when Ryan Hanigan was out of the lineup—July 10-Aug. 8—Mesoraco went on a brief tear, slashing .292/.309/.538 over the first 19 games of Hanigan's DL stint. Although he struggled slightly over the final three games, Mesoraco showed potential with his .292 batting average and .538 slugging percentage.

    It's an extraordinarily small sample size to pull from, but Mesoraco is seeing the ball very, very well, and carries a 60 percent line-drive rate into the series against Tampa Bay.

    Obviously, Mesoraco isn't going to carry that lofty slash line through a full season, but if he can stay hot and help solidify the middle end of the Reds lineup, the team will experience great success against the Rays and the rest of the league as well.

Get a Quality Start out of Alfredo Simon

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    The Reds got a great start out of Alfredo Simon on April 6. In his first start since 2011, Simon went seven innings and allowed one earned run on four hits and one walk with six strikeouts.

    Simon thoroughly dominated the Mets, en route to a game score of 70—that's really good—and his first win of the 2014 season.

    Though they predate his time with the Reds, Simon does not have good numbers against the Rays. The 32-year-old has made eight appearances against the Rays—three starts—and owns a 4.20 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP and averages of 7.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 2.40 K/BB and 8.7 H/9.

    In his matchup with the Rays, Simon will run up against righty Alex Cobb. Cobb may not have faced the Reds in his career, but the 26-year-old is an outstanding young starter. 

    Over his last 24 starts—his entire 2013 season and his two starts this year—Cobb boasts a strong stat line, including an 11-4 record, a 2.78 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP with averages of 8.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 2.86 K/BB and 7.4 H/9 in 155.1 innings pitched.

    Although he hasn't done so this year—0.75 GB/FB in 2014—Cobb does an excellent job of generating ground balls and weak contact in general. Between 2012 and 2014, Cobb has allowed a BABIP of .286—the big league average for his career is .296—and a GB/FB ratio of 1.35, compared to the 0.82 MLB average over his four-year career.

    If the Reds don't win Game 1 against David Price, then Game 2 is a must. Taking on Cobb will be no easy task, but if Simon pitches like he did in New York, the Reds will have a very good chance to take Game 2 and possibly the series if they're able to win Game 1 as well.