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The Thursday Takeaway
Entering yesterday’s game against the Braves, Reds leadoff men had combined for a .164/.202/.270 triple slash—and that was after rookie shortstop Zack Cozart homered in each of the first two games of the series and went 2-for-4 on Wednesday. Twenty-eight teams’ number-eight hitters had logged a better OPS than the Reds’ number-one batters’ 472 mark.  And though the overall stat line of their leadoff men is still awful, after completing a four-game sweep of the Braves, the Reds appear to have both hit their stride and solved their once-fatal flaw.

The 6-3 win over the Braves on Thursday gave the 25-19 Reds their first division lead of the season, as they pushed past the Cardinals, who lost a 10-9 nail-biter to the Phillies. Perhaps more significantly, though, the hole at the top of manager Dusty Baker’s batting order is that much closer to being plugged.

Cozart, who came into the season as one of the leading candidates for National League Rookie of the Year honors, began the just-finished four-game series with a pedestrian 672 OPS. That has since improved to 727—thanks to a 7-for-16 effort with the aforementioned pair of home runs—and the 26-year-old is no slouch in the field, either. Cozart has cemented himself as Baker’s everyday shortstop, and if he can sustain some of this recent offensive surge, the persistent leadoff issues may not plague the Reds much longer.

Yesterday, Jack Moore wrote on ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog about the Reds “getting production from all over.” Before the past four games, that all over had one glaring exception—and that one exception may have been keeping the Reds behind the Cardinals for the first month and a half of the season. If that’s the case, Cozart’s continued success may be the key to Cincinnati’s push for the third Central division title in franchise history.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • The calendar still reads May, but this Memorial Day weekend may be highlighted by an early battle for National League East supremacy, with the 26-18 Nationals visiting the 26-20 Braves. Tim Hudson—who is an outstanding 14-3 with a 2.05 ERA in 23 career starts against the Nats—will try to set the tone for Atlanta in the opener tonight (7:35 p.m. ET).
  • Injuries have wreaked havoc on many a roster during the first two months, and the Marlins are the latest victims of the bug. Ozzie Guillen’s team will be without the services of outfielders Emilio Bonifacio and Austin Kearns for a while, and the front office is said to be looking for help via trade or the slim free-agent pickings. Keep an eye on the news to see if a move will be made this weekend.
  • Mark Buehrle may have darted from the American League Central division just to escape Melky Cabrera, but the major-league hits leader followed his favorite pitcher to the senior circuit, and the two will square off on Saturday (4:10 p.m. ET). Melky is 17-for-27 lifetime against Buehrle, with four doubles, two homers, and only one strikeout. No hitter who has faced Buehrle more than 25 times has a better OPS than Cabrera’s 1.630.
  • Buehrle’s fellow crafty lefty, the A’s Tommy Milone, is still up to his dazzling tricks at the Coliseum, where he remains a flawless 4-0 with a 0.60 ERA and no home runs allowed. The Royals, White Sox, Tigers, and Angels have tried and failed to solve the 25-year-old in his home park; now, the Yankees will get their turn on Sunday afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET). Look for Derek Jeter—who still leads all big-leaguers with an obscene .510 batting average against southpaws—and Curtis Granderson, whose five big flies off lefties are tied for the major-league lead, to lead the way.
  • More lefties? Sure, why not? If you find yourself bored on Memorial Day, kick back and watch the White Sox-Rays game (3:10 p.m. ET), where two of the league’s best young southpaws will match wits. It’s Chris Sale against Matt Moore at the Trop. What better way to spend your day off?