by Matt Wilkes

RC+ Preview: Reds look to split the series

After the Reds (65-75) held on for a win in Wednesday night’s game against the Phillies (72-66), they’ll look to split the series today and play spoiler to Philadelphia’s playoff hopes. Last night’s loss knocked the Phillies to three games back in the Wild Card race. Meanwhile, the Reds’ focus has shifted to avoiding a last-place finish in the NL Central for a fifth straight year. Their recent skid has allowed the Pirates to pull within three games for fourth place in the division. Fortunately, Cincinnati is getting some reinforcements today, as Eugenio Suarez (hand contusion) is back in the lineup following a three-game absence.

The series finale is set to start at 12:35 p.m. ET in Great American Ball Park.

Pitching Matchup

Sonny Gray is on an incredible run. Only Jack Flaherty (0.85) has a better ERA than Gray (1.62) in the second half. Flaherty, of course, just edged out Gray for NL Pitcher of the Month in August. Gray had a pretty strong case for it. In August, he made six starts and allowed only three runs and 18 hits in 36.2 innings. He struck out 44. However, his ERA doesn’t tell the full story.

  • 0.74 ERA
  • 3.41 FIP
  • 4.44 xFIP
  • 4.63 SIERA

Walks have been a problem for Gray (9.8% for the season, 11.1% in the second half), and they’re the main reason the peripherals and ERA don’t align. Gray’s ground-ball rate has also been on a steady decline from elite to meh:

It’s been an incredible run, but it might not last.

Jason Vargas has managed to outpitch his peripherals this season, but this is a favorable matchup for the Reds. Vargas has been supremely lucky to keep his home-run rate relatively low (1.2 per nine innings), as his ground-ball rate is only 38.5%. He’s holding a 10.6% HR/FB, which is bound for regression. He also doesn’t strike anybody out and has a walk rate well above average. Since he was traded to the Phillies at the deadline, he’s made six starts. In 33 innings, he’s given up 19 runs on 36 hits and has a 17/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Here’s how that breaks down in ERA and the estimators:

  • 5.18 ERA
  • 4.82 FIP
  • 6.24 xFIP
  • 6.15 SIERA

The stats are poor, and the peripherals are worse. Of course, this meant very little when the Reds were shut down by Drew Smyly on Monday — and by Vargas earlier this season when he was a Met. Vargas threw 5.1 innings of one-run, three-hit baseball against the Reds on April 30.

Reds Lineup

We have a fascinating Reds lineup today. Geno is back, and Michael Lorenzen is starting in center field for the first time in his professional career. The struggling Freddy Galvis, who has a 71 wRC+ with the Reds, gets the day off. Joey Votto is out as well after going 3-for-4 last night, as David Bell likely wants to rest his soon-to-be 36-year-old first baseman following a night game.

Seven of the nine hitters don’t have enough at-bats to qualify for Statcast average qualifications.

Here are the splits for Reds hitters against left-handed pitchers (keep in mind that Blandino and Lorenzen have 4 plate appearances):

Phillies Lineup

Corey Dickerson is back in the Phillies lineup after leaving last night’s game with foot discomfort. The rest of the Philly lineup remains the same as well.

[Graphics: Baseball Savant]

Mike Hart also contributed to this preview.

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.