The Reds will head to Pittsburgh this weekend for a three game series before returning home next week. They’ll face a Pirates team that started the season off strong, but currently sit in fourth place at 51-63. The Pirates are 10-14 since the All Star break and 3-5 since the trade deadline.
Friday’s matchup will see Andrew Abbott square off against right hander Johan Oviedo.
The Pirates have not yet announced a starter for Saturday, though the Reds will send Brandon Williamson to the mound.
Sunday’s matchup will see Luke Weaver against the Pirates’ best starter in Mitch Keller.
The Pirates, like the Reds, have a very young and inexperienced offense. In the case of many of the Pirates’ hitters below, some consideration must be given to the small sample size before drawing any meaningful conclusions. Still, it’s clear they have some potential on the offensive side, and that could be the biggest difficulty the Reds run into this weekend.
Reds’ Offense Reeling
It’s no secret that the Reds’ offense has been struggling in recent weeks. They sit 23rd with an 82 wRC+ in August.
Much of that has come without Jonathan India and Jake Fraley, leading to increased playing time for Stuart Fairchild and Nick Senzel. Fairchild has just a 21 wRC+ in 24 PA in August, and Senzel has a 6 wRC+ in 30 PA in that time. Still, when the Reds’ other bench options consist of Kevin Newman and TJ Hopkins, they don’t exactly have anywhere else to turn, at least on the active roster.
The Reds are reaching a point where the only logical move to stop a slide may be shaking up the active roster. One of those moves is likely to occur on Friday with the activation of India from the IL. The logical corresponding move would be to option TJ Hopkins back to AAA, as he hasn’t yet come to the plate since his most recent call-up and has only appeared as a pinch runner.
An India for Hopkins swap would allow an outfield of Will Benson, TJ Friedl, and Spencer Steer against RHP, allowing an infield of Joey Votto, India, Matt McLain, and Elly De La Cruz, with Christian Encarnacion-Strand rotating between 1B and DH as well. That would allow Senzel and Fairchild to return to bench roles and likely only be placed into action against LHP. If the Reds truly want to stop the bleeding and force their way back into playoff contention, the moves shouldn’t stop there.
The most aggressive move, and potentially the highest impact one, would be promoting top prospect Noelvi Marte. However, it’s a flawed plan in a few aspects. First, a Marte promotion would force the Reds back into a bit of a rotation against RHP, with no obvious spot for Marte to play every day. Second, Marte is in the midst of a slump of his own that’s seen him post a .433 OPS in August.
That’s not to say the Reds don’t have options in AAA that could help the team right now. Perhaps the most obvious move is to promote José Barrero back to the Majors, and option Senzel. While Barrero wasn’t great in his MLB time earlier this year, he does have a .930 OPS in AAA, including an OPS over 1.070 in each of July and August. Simply put, he’s tearing the cover off the ball lately and could provide a boost off the bench and against LHP.
Some may point out Barrero’s splits against LHP this season, but it’s worth noting those have leveled out in the minors, and he’s actually been better against LHP throughout his career. Senzel still has very good numbers against LHP for the season, but just a 60 wRC+ against them in the second half. Barrero is also generally regarded as a better defender than Senzel, so ultimately even if they can perform the same with the bat, Barrero may have an edge in value.
It remains to be seen whether the Reds will make any moves beyond India’s activation, but it’s clear that this weekend is a critical series to win, and a roster shakeup may be the first step to doing so.
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