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Series preview: Cleveland at Reds

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Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Tyler Naquin.

There we got that out of the way upfront.

Yes, Cleveland let Tyler Naquin go while they still struggle to find a centerfielder who can play every day. Yes, Tyler Naquin is off to a blazing start with the Reds, and on the surface, it sure looks like Cleveland may have made a mistake. It’s still way, way too early to make any broad proclamations about it, though.

Naquin has potentially made some changes to his approach, but we’ve yet to see him consistently hit high fastballs with the Reds. He’s been launching low pitches, just like he always did with Cleveland. He had several streaks of greatness with Cleveland and still only finished well above-average at the plate one time in his career — his rookie season before pitchers read their scouting reports and started throwing nothing but high cheese.

I’m happy for Naquin, though, and I hope it continues. He’ll always be one of the most-fun personalities on the field, and that inside-the-park home run is the kind of stuff that sticks around forever. I just don’t think he’ll be a 182 wRC+ hitter forever. But who knows.

Naquin has been the biggest offensive story for the Reds, but the rest of their offense continues to mash, as well. Two weeks into the season, they have eight batters with at least 20 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 110 or greater. Naquin leads the way with 182, but Nick Castellanos isn’t far behind with 158 wRC+, a .306/.333/.653 slash, and four home runs. Behind him is another free-agent acquisition from the last couple of years, Mike Moustakas, with a .289/.404/.553 slash and a 153 wRC+.

Cleveland will be facing Sonny Gray in this series, who is making his 2021 debut after he missed the start of the year with a back injury. José De León, who started two games in Gray’s place, will be shifted to the bullpen to make room in the rotation.

Also out of the bullpen, Amir Garrett has looked OK in one relief outing and anywhere from bad to terrible in the other two. His worst outing came against the Pirates on April 7 when he allowed four earned runs in one inning. He hasn’t pitched in a week.

This series will take place in a National League park with National League rules, so Cleveland will be without their designated hitter for the next three games. So get ready for an even worse offense or Franmil Reyes in right field. Both options are terrifying.

Projected starters

Friday, April 16, 7:10 p.m. ET: RHP Jeff Hoffman vs. Logan Allen
The Reds had a decision to make between moving De León or Jeff Hoffman to the bullpen to make room for Gray. They chose the former, which means that Hoffman will start the series against Cleveland on the mound. Hoffman allowed three earned runs off six hits in his last outing against the Diamondbacks and has a 3.86 ERA in two starts so far. He features a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a changeup with some nice vertical action to it, and a slider that looks more like a curveball without as much drop.

Saturday, April 17, 4:10 p.m. ET: RHP Sonny Gray vs. Triston McKenzie
Sonny Gray will be making his first start of 2021 after missing the start of the year with a back injury suffered during spring training. The 31-year-old finished 2020 with the highest strikeout rate of his career (30.6%), but some bad luck led to a 3.70 ERA — a mark above the 2.87 ERA he had in 2019. He has primarily a four-pitch mix with the occasional changeup, and last season he threw his curveball more than any other pitch. According to MLB.com, Gray will not have a pitch limit when he starts on Saturday.

Sunday, April 18, 1:10 p.m. ET: LHP Wade Miley vs. TBD (Shane Bieber?)
Wade Miley has been a buzzsaw through his first two starts, holding the Giants and Pirates to a combined four hits and zero earned runs over 11.0 innings. His changeup has been put in play nine times with an average launch angle of -15 degrees. His cutter 13 times with an average angle of eight degrees. Four-seamer? Six times, one degree. The combined result is a 64.3% groundball rate and only a handful of line drives so far. If Cleveland is going to do anything but ground into 27 outs Sunday, they’ll need to figure out how to lift the ball — and fast.

Lineup highlights

OF, Nick Castellanos - I still struggle to hear Nick Castellanos’s name and not instantly think of Thom Brennaman’s bizarre call of his home run that has turned into a meme. Even beyond that, though, Castellanos is having a hell of a start to 2021. He hasn’t walked much, but as far as putting the ball in play in a devastating way, he’s s been about as good as they come. He also created the photo of the year when he flexed over Cardinals pitcher Jake Woodford and was given a completely unnecessary suspension.

2B, Jonathan India - Even after getting hit in the head with a fastball, rookie infielder Jonathan India continues to put himself in early discussions about the most impressive first-year player. So far he’s slashed .333/.395/.417 for a wRC+ of 120. He has slowed down a bit since his scorching start, though — he started with a six-game hitting streak but now has two hits in his last 18 plate appearances. All of his Statcast measurements would indicate that he’ll need to make some adjustments to get back to that hot start; he’s not hitting the ball very hard, but he sure is fast.

OF, Tyler Naquin - Snarf.

Reds roster

Poll

How many games will Cleveland win against the Reds?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    3
    (17 votes)
  • 53%
    2
    (75 votes)
  • 27%
    1
    (39 votes)
  • 7%
    0
    (10 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now