The Reds (34-36) and Jays (40-33) find themselves in the same place despite very different records. While the Jays are 7 games over .500, they still lag five games behind the Red Sox in the challenging AL East. Rather than trying to gain some ground on the Red Sox directly, they will be playing the Sox’ National League doppelganger-the team formerly known as the Red Stockings-the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds have a losing record, but still manage to keep pace at just four and a half games behind the Cards in the consistently mediocre NL Central. Interestingly, the Cards were leading the NL East with the same exact record as the Jays at the start of the day, but so far, the Reds have failed to make any kind of a statement here as they dropped the first two of this series. Both teams are at a point in the standings where they can’t much afford a loss (PECOTA gives each around a 10% chance of making the playoffs) so tonight’s battle should be a tough one.

The pitching match-up doesn’t lack drama either. Despite my warnings about Brett Cecil‘s fatigue issues, the Jays let him throw 104 pitches in his last start so today could be a big test of his stamina. On the bright side, he’s made quality starts in four of his five Major League games and has walked only seven batters in 31.2 innings. He also would have only given up three home runs were it not for his meltdown in the fifth inning of his May 20th game against those pesky Red Sox. Cecil is likely to be sent down with the return of Roy Halladay next week so he’ll have to make a strong case for his inclusion in future incarnations of the Jays’ rotation.

Cecil will be challenged by Johnny Cueto, who has managed to compile a 2.55 ERA despite league average strikeout, walk, home run, and groundball rates. He is helped by the Reds defense, which is third in defensive efficiency, but he has a .736 personal DER, 28 points higher than the team rate of .708. In other words, a reckoning is coming, and today could be the day.

Let’s take a look at the starting lineups:

Cincinnati                        Toronto
Willy Taveras, CF        .205     Marco Scutaro, SS   .299
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B   .247     Aaron Hill, 2B      .288
Brandon Phillips, 2B     .280     Vernon Wells, CF    .258
Joey Votto, 1B           .345     Scott Rolen, 3B     .308
Jonny Gomes, DH          .346     Adam Lind, LF       .316
Ramon Hernandez, C       .235     Alex Rios, RF       .273
Jay Bruce, RF            .254     Lyle Overbay, 1B    .318
Paul Janish, SS          .227     Rod Barajas, C      .258
Chris Dickerson, LF      .277     Russ Adams, DH      .306

It is hard to make any kind of sense out of Cincy’s lineup. Taveras is fast, but there is nothing about his production to suggest he is an effective leadoff hitter except that he isn’t clogging up the bases. Gomes’ .346 looks nice in the middle of the lineup, but he has almost no chance of keeping that up in a larger sample. They are happy to have Joey Votto return as his replacement in the lineup has been back-up catcher Ryan Hanigan, though Hanigan does happen to have a .286 EqA, which is actually better than most of the team.

One look at Toronto’s lineup tells us that Dusty Baker had nothing to do with its architecture. Scutaro has been ridiculously effective in the leadoff spot and has a .397 OBP. Yes, that’s 129 points better than Taveras’ .269. Wells looks a little out of place in the middle, but it’s hard to fault the Jays for thinking he’ll improve.

Brett Cecil starts off the game against Taveras. Cecil throws a few pitches in the mid-eighties, which is neither his change-up nor fastball speed, and there is already have some question as to whether he’ll even come close to his top velocity. Taveras refuses to be my punching bag and hits a double into the right field corner, only his eighth double of the year. Hairston lines out to first, and Cecil still has yet to reach as high as 88 mph on the radar gun. Brandon Phillips has been plagued by a hairline fracture in his thumb, but he is still on top of his game, and he moves the runner over in this at bat. Joey Votto hasn’t missed a beat in his time away from the team as we can see when he plates the runner with a double for the first run.

Jonny Gomes manages one of the most unusual of feats in baseball when he hits a ball off the top of the outfield wall and sees it bounce back into the field of play. This curiosity of physics allows him a double and now the Reds lead 2-0. He actually does this on the first Cecil ball to reach 90 on the radar gun. Hernandez walks before Jay Bruce smokes a double to make it 4-0.

Paul Janish finally ends the inning with a strikeout swinging, but Cecil looks like he doesn’t have much and certainly isn’t over his problems with fatigue, as he only managed to throw one ball as fast as 90, nowhere near the 95 he normally tops out at. Additionally, his trademark is the ability to get groundballs and nothing was on the ground in this inning. All of that and only a half inning has passed.

In the bottom, Marco Scutaro makes an out in a hurry, but Aaron Hill continues a tremendous year with a home run, which is demonstrative of the fact that Cueto has little ability to prevent them. 4-1 Reds. Vernon Wells follows with a single and then Rolen hits into a fielder’s choice to Janish who has to make an Olympic leap to avoid Wells’ Ty Cobb slide into second. Cueto, apparently intent on showing that he isn’t worthy of his stupendous ERA, then walks Adam Lind. Alex Rios finally strikes out to end the inning, but three men reached base, and this one has all the makings of a classic hitters’ match-up.

In the top of the second, Brett Cecil gets to start out all over again as the Reds are back to the top of the order after a single from Chris Dickerson, who really has no business in the number nine slot. Taveras strikes out this time, but Cecil hasn’t solved his velocity issues in any appreciable way, and Hairston smashes a slow fastball for a base hit. A popup by Phillips, and then Votto hits a single for another RBI. 5-1. A walk to Gomes loads the bases. Another pop-up ends it, but Cecil probably isn’t long for this game.

In the next inning, the Reds’ broadcast gets us excited by showing us that Lyle Overbay’s batting average is .414! It turns out that this is his career line against Cincinnati, a team he has only seldom played against since he was in the National League in 2005. If the guys in the truck don’t have anything else to do, maybe they can make an effort to learn about more meaningful stats. A few quick outs, in the second, including a nice catch by Taveras, and Cueto looks a lot better this time around.

In the top of the third, Jay Bruce sees pitch speeds of 78, 89, and 89, grounding out to first on the last of them. Cecil has failed to effectively change speeds or keep the ball on the ground up until now. He will have to do more of that if he doesn’t want to get hit out of this game. Cecil has some bad luck with a couple of groundball base hits, including one to Taveras who will have a respectable OBP if Brett Cecil has anything to say about it. Before you can say, “The bases are loaded again,” Hairston walks, and Toronto GM JP Ricciardi is shown in his box, looking appropriately insane, but another groundball ends it.

Cueto gets through his half of the inning with some outs on balls in play, and in the fourth we learn that Cecil has left the game, presumably because the bus back to Triple-A was departing, and Shawn Camp comes in carrying with him the mediocre skills we expect to see from a long reliever who comes in during losing causes. Joey Votto gets a hit past Aaron Hill who almost makes a brilliant play, and Votto is now 3-for-3. Camp gets a double play and another groundball and in general pitches the way Brett Cecil was expected to.

In the bottom of the fourth, Hairston lets a ball get by him, but Janish makes a brilliant play while backing him up. Hairston seems to have a hole in his glove and hasn’t posted a positive UZR at third base since 2004. Can we expect much more from a guy who posts a hundred innings at every position around the diamond each year? The lesson here is that if you expect a guy to fill in at every position, it is too much to expect him to man them effectively too. A hit-by-a-pitch before a double play ends the inning for Cueto.

In the fifth, we find that the scoring in this game continues to be reigned in with solid defense. This time it’s Alex Rios who is playing to the left in right field and makes it all the way across to the foul territory and snatches a ball almost in the stands. His defense in left is both consistently good and better than his defense in center, but center is a problem for the Jays as Vernon Wells is getting progressively worse according to both UZR and plus/minus. Lind isn’t terribly good in left so this once fearsome Toronto outfield is really only held up by some decent play from Rios. A line out and a strikeout follow. Camp brought his A stuff today.

In the Blue Jays half, Overbay leads off, and I’m sort of disappointed that we don’t get a stat on how he fared on days in which he ate a meatball sub for lunch. He walks, continuing a campaign in which he tries to prove that guys with modest power can be an asset at first base. His .318 EqA accounts for a great OBP, but ignores another aspect of his game: solid defense.

Cueto manages two outs, but allows another hit and a walk to load the bases before Wells hits a two-run double. Rolen follows by singling in two more and we suddenly have a 5-5 tie. This highlights what is so important about a good strikeout rate for pitchers. Wells is the fourth batter to reach base in the inning. If Cueto had managed to K any of them, no runs would have scored. With all of two strikeouts in the game, it is difficult for him to maintain any semblance of the spectacular ERA he had coming into the game.

In the sixth, Willy Taveras strikes out again and sets the table for a futile Cincinnati inning. Next up, Hairston slides into first and gets thrown out by Scott Rolen in a play that Hairston never would have made at third base himself. Rolen makes another play and hands Camp two-thirds of his inning. Cueto gets a couple of Ks in the bottom, but he really needed this kind of stuff last inning.

Joey Votto comes up in the seventh, apparently dissatisfied with his 3-for-3 performance up to this point. He hammers the first pitch he sees to left for a home run. Gomes follows with a single but Camp ends the inning with two groundballs to complete an unusual game for him, one where he got eight groundouts and only two fly outs.

Cueto departs as the pitcher of record and is in line for a win despite five runs and more mediocre peripherals. Nick Masset takes over, carrying a 1.88 ERA despite a morbid PECOTA forecast at the start of the season. He’s certainly not this good, but he’s performed at a level somewhere between his real ERA and his PECOTA. His home run rate is downright virtuous with only one home run in 29.2 innings. It is supported by a groundball rate that resembles what he’s done in the past. PECOTA most likely thought his groundball rate was fluky due to the small sample it came packaged in, but this year is, once again, proving it to be real. A lazy flyball, a strikeout, and a groundball here get him the kind of results he is used to.

Masset’s alter ego, Brandon League, comes in for Toronto in the eighth. His ERA of 5.85 is much worse than his PECOTA. He’s pitched well but he tends to run into unlucky problems like he does in this inning when a softly lined double is followed by a sacrifice, and a run knocked in by a speedster who legs out an infield single. 7-5 Cincinnati. Taveras, the speedster, gets a seal and then advances to third before League gets a strikeout and a groundball to end the inning. Nevertheless, always being sure to give the devils their due, Willy Taveras and Dusty Baker worked together to create some effective small ball here without purposely giving away any outs, and while it’s not advisable to use Taveras as a lead-off hitter, he’s a squirrel; every now and then he’s going to get a nut.

David Weathers, who looks old, red-faced, and generally unhealthy, comes in and gets outs on three balls in play to set-up the save. He still has almost as many strikeouts as walks so the end is probably a lot closer than his 2.66 ERA would lead you to believe.

The first batter of the ninth is Joey Votto and even the Jays fans in the stands are all on the edges of their seats, but this time it wasn’t meant to be and Votto gets a swinging strikeout. Jesse Carlson is the pitcher and like League he’s better than his half-season ERA suggests. He gives up a double to Ramon Hernandez, but two strikeouts and some tremendous defensive effort from Scutaro end the inning.

Francisco Cordero is in for the save. Coco tends to do much better in years when his name doesn’t appear on my fantasy roster, and Reds fans can rejoice that this is one such year. He allows a walk to Overbay but gets three outs on balls in play, and the game ends in less than dramatic fashion.

What do we learn, finally, after a game such as this? Does one game tell us anything about the teams going forward? The Jays have a good lineup that plays good defense. Their relief pitchers have underperformed, which should behoove them going forward. Their only problem is evident in this game: injuries to their pitching staff have forced guys like Brett Cecil to pitch when they aren’t yet ready. The staff needs Halladay, and it needs everyone else to get and stay healthy. Only then will they have a chance to cut their deficit in the AL East.

This game exemplifies how much the Reds need Joey Votto. When you combine him with some grinding play, you can find wins on days when your pitching isn’t so good. The Reds took advantage of a weak Brett Cecil and then played great defense and manufactured a run fairly effectively to take the win. I don’t generally believe that teams win games on work ethic alone, but work ethic can show up in the stats, and if these guys continue to play hard they’re going to look better and have better numbers than we might have thought at the beginning of the season. In a weak NL Central, it could be enough.

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I really, really don't like the way this article is structured. By the time I get to the lineups, I'm already hearing some corny announcer's voice in my head. He's announcer more than analyst and it makes me think he wrote this as he was watching. That was a gimmick that was tried and rightfully failed here years ago. This article just proves that even a good writer can't pull off a bad concept. There's a focus that comes to the article in the form of the pitching matchup and by the end, Joey Votto's role in the game. What Brian's done here is take a nice set of notes on the game, but I'd have liked to have seen him use these notes to write up an article afterward, spending more time and thought on the important issues.
I have to concur with Will, I hate the device of pretending to be doing this live, and although Brian asked me about length and I encouraged him to run long, I'm left regretting that decision after a bit too much unimportant action (take the Reds' half of the sixth as an example). From my perspective, my encouragement was to see what he would do; that done, I'd enjoy helping him decide which elements in a game narrative to prune away. The conclusions as far as the Jays seem a bit forced; the closing observation on the Reds worthwhile. I found several elements as enterntaining as we've seen from Brian when he's on his A-game; the observations on Hairston's defense or Taveras' squirrely feats, for example. As for the odd misstep, say something like "Reigned in...," that's not a happy thing to see, but since I have to correct that with more than one established BP author, I hope nobody gives Brian too much grief about it.
Sign me up with the first two, this was just a play-by-play written around for the most part. Really didn't work for me on a lot of levels. Some solid analysis here and there, but the signal to noise ratio was more than a bit high.
I really don't like the statement that neither team can much afford a loss. It is not do or die for anybody yet, and every team in both leagues will lose a bunch more games this year.
Not Brian's best effort. Third article I've read this week, and the third one I've been underwhelmed by. My biggest issue was that this is a game played by two teams in forth place in their respective divisions. I never felt the hook early on that made me want to stay with the article. That being said, I liked the tie back to your work on Brett Cecil and the wrap up around Joey Votto. Would have liked to seen maybe a more indepth work that way.
Agreed. The article didn't really grab my attention -- it's the only one this week (and of very few in the competition as a whole) that I felt like skipping to the end of as I was reading it.
I've read this through and still am not sure what Brian's angle is here, what's the hook he's hanging this piece on? Sorry but this is the worst effort of the week for me.
"and in the fourth we learn that Cecil has left the game, presumably because the bus back to Triple-A was departing", and some other jokes had me laughing out loud, but agree with the comments above. Also, there is a need to edit and proof read, e.g. Brian mistakenly suggests that ALex Rios is a left fielder, "His defence in left...".
The comments aren't very good this week either. "This time it's Alex Rios who is playing to the left in right field and makes it all the way across to the foul territory"
Yeah, and then he states, "His defense in left is both consistently good and better than his defense in center . . .". He then discusses Adam Lind in leftfield. Rios is the Jay's regular right fielder, so either this is terribly confusing and irrelevant or Sam is correct and Brian simply meant "right" in the line I quoted instead of "left".
It took awhile for this article to get going for me. Lines like "Both teams are at a point in the standings where they can't much afford a loss (PECOTA gives each around a 10% chance of making the playoffs) so tonight's battle should be a tough one." seemed confusing and irrelevant. What do PECOTA playoff projections have to do with making a game a tough game, especially this early in the season? The "Let's take a look at the starting lineups" felt like a video game introduction... Once it got to the play-by-play, I liked the writing style and analysis more, though the continued use of present tense was a bit confusing. I guess my problem is that, if I'm not a Jays or Reds fan, I'd probably prefer to scan the box score and read an Associated Press recap to get the information of what happened in the game in 1/3rd of the words. Perhaps this might have worked a bit better focusing on a few key points or observations (like Cecil's velocity and performance).
While I very much liked Oakchunas' past few articles, this one was underwhelming. And I am a Jays' fan. The writing would have been much more compelling if there was more in-game descriptions. Take the following line as an example: "Next up, Hairston slides into first and gets thrown out by Scott Rolen in a play that Hairston never would have made at third base himself." What was the play? You could really show your chops as a writer by describing that play. Do that a few times, and you will have succeeded in making the game come alive with words.
I liked this one, although in full disclosure I'm a Jays fan. I agree there was a little to much play by play, but it was worth it for the humorous snark. Overall I've found Brian to be the most steady of all the writers. Brian hasn't written any of my favorite 3 articles in the competition, but he is the only writer who has delivered a piece I've enjoyed each and every week so far.
I really disliked this week's effort from Brian, who had been one of my favourites. There are too many factual errors (Rios in left, Cecil ticketed for Las Vegas, Lind is usually the DH and only moonlights in left. The writing style terrorized me, in particular the use of the present tense, bad hyphenation and the use of "K" as a verb. Most importantly, I didn't see enough significant connection between this game and the rest of the season.
The person who wrote that I made a mistake on Rios' position was incorrect as molnar noted above. What will happen to Cecil is/was TBD. I judged as best as I could based on the available information at the time of the article.
In fairness to Oakchunas, he Rios comment may have been worded confusingly, but he never wrote that Rios played LF, rather that he played to the left of straight ahead in RF. As for Lind, he has played in LF in almost exactly 1/3 of his games. And will likely be the primary LF until Snider is brought back up. Regarding Cecil, the Jays' rotation will likely be Halladay, Tallett, Romero, Richmond and Cecil until the ASB, barring complete ineffectiveness. If Cecil is rocked too often, I would bet on a return to the majors from Purcey until Marcum is ready to return.
OK, so it was terribly confusing. I didn't realize Rios had been playing left lately. Still, he was playing rightfield that night - which is where he has played the majority of his games. So, to ignore how he plays in rightfield, while discussing his play in left or center thoroughly adds to the confusion.
Then what does this mean about Rios?: "His defense in left is both consistently good and better than his defense in center.."
Hmm.. I liked the setup and reference to your earlier work. I liked the article OK - seems the BP staff has some experience with articles like this one that may be coloring their views. In a continuation from my comments last week about Babe Ruth's luck/ability to prevent hits, let me ask you this: Why would you take hits against Brett Cecil as confirmation of his fatigue? Aren't they just random events uninfluenced by pitchers?
There was plenty of evidence that Cecil was fatigued with regard to DIPS. He walked three and only struck out two. Two Ks in three innings sounds okay until you consider how many batters he faced. He also allowed more fly balls than ground balls. You'll note that I mentioned the infield hits he gave up were unlucky. Beyond all that, a prerequisite for DIPS has always been that the pitcher is pitching at a Major League caliber, which one could argue that Cecil was pitching neither like himself nor like a Major Leaguer that day.
"which should behoove them going forward"?!?! What does that mean?
behoove - 1. to be necessary or proper for, as for moral or ethical considerations; be incumbent on: It behooves the court to weigh evidence impartially. 2. to be worthwhile to, as for personal profit or advantage: It would behoove you to be nicer to those who could help you. Behoove is one of my favorite archaic words, right next to deign :)
Oakchunas writes with a joyful tone that's hard not to like. However, I could not buy his opening premise. Despite both the Reds and Jays being about 5 games behind first place, no mention is made of their wild card standing which has a very different effect on the two teams' playoff chances. That Chris Dickerson "has no business in the number nine slot" needs an explanation, but I confess to be out of touch with much of the National League. The interesting side speculation about utility players could have been handled better with a "something to look into" suggestion rather than declaring it a lesson. Enough has been said about the confusion concerning Rios's outfield position and the forced clichéd significance of this game. The BP reviewers and Richard are right, the structure is flawed - perhaps taking one of your many potentially interesting tangents and expounding on it would have worked much better. Balancing those flaws, Brian has a unique good natured viewpoint that is refreshing.
I especially liked the comments around Overbay's avg vs. CIN. This is one of my pet peeves in the coverage of baseball these days. It's like when they say that (made-up) Craig Biggio is one of two major leaguers to ever have two seasons with 50 2Bs and 20 SBs while winning a Gold Glove in the same year and the other is Willie Mays. Are they trying to say that Biggio is the second best player in history or that we found a combination of largely unrelated items that make Biggio look good?
My problem with the piece is that there was too much evaluation of the players’ abilities in general, even in places that weren’t really appropriate for a game report. This was most evident with Willy Taveras. Taveras is a bad, overrated player in an offensive role that he doesn’t deserve, so every reference to him in the report (aside from a “nice catch”) was either negative or damning with faint praise. Describing a positive action by a player doesn’t require repudiating an overall assessment of him, but it was hard to tell that here.
I wasn't sure the author even knows who cueto is... maybe did a quick check of his stat line and drew a quick conclusion... way off and that's just the start of an article i didn't finish...