Normally this is where we just go down the line, mention a couple neat things the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians offenses are doing, and get moderately excited for a fun series before taking a look at the pitching matchups. But dang it, this is the Ohio Cup, the second most prestigious award the Cleveland Indians vie for every season. Bragging rights are always a nice prize, and these two teams are right in the thick of things in their divisions. If it all broke (really, really, really) right, we could have an all-Ohio World Series! Just think of those ratings.
In case you’re thinking to yourself “What’s so special about this series?” or you’re looking for a fun list to read before we get to the pitching matchups, here are nine reasons why the first round of the Ohio Cup will be a blast.
Joey Votto’s greatness: He’s the best hitter in the NL Central, maybe in the entire league and up there with the best in baseball. You don’t win MVPs by accident. My favorite stat from his 2010 MVP season: Votto never hit a fly ball out to the infield. If it’s not impressive, it’s at least neat. He’s also hitting .355/.476/.631, leading the league in slugging and pacing all of baseball in on-base percentage. He’s basically Miguel Cabrera, but better. And can play defense. The guy is a monster, and he’s worth every penny of the huge deal he just signed. Even if he eviscerates the Indians’ pitching, he’s a joy to watch.
- Jason Kipnis’s ascent: In case you missed Brian’s fantastic piece yesterday (or if you haven’t seen a single Tribe game this year), this guy is something else. Even as he is still learning to play second base, he’s a grown man at the plate. The home run he hit Sunday against the Cardinals to put the Indians ahead in the ninth inning seemed almost accidental. This from a guy who was projected to be lacking in the power department when he was a prospect. He has every chance to be a superstar—and he’s already well on his way.
- The chance Jay Bruce could hit a ball into Kentucky: Maybe it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds, since the Ohio River that runs right behind Great American Ballpark is technically Kentucky. But still, the guy is a monster. Adam Dunn did it once too, and if anyone is going to do it again, it’s Bruce. He’s turned into a legitimate offensive threat (126 OPS+ with 13 homers), but before all that he was a big country boy with a load of lumber, and hopefully he’ll keep that in his heart.
- Aroldis Chapman: He throws 100 mph with regularity and with location. He’s a terror on the mound and he is just a marvel to watch. That the Reds ended up with him is a bit of a coup for Walt Jocketty, outmaneuvering a handful of bigger-market clubs and shocking the baseball establishment by dropping big money for the Cuban fireballer. Sure, Chapman has been knocked around the last couple times out (four hits and three earned runs in two outings) but before that he’d allowed nothing. Well, seven hits. His ERA+ is 475 and he’s struck out 55 in 31 innings. Plus he’s left-handed, which given the makeup of Cleveland’s lineup essentially means these games will be eight innings long.
- Old guard vs. New wave: No, there won’t be an anthropomorphic can of spray-on deodorant fighting an army of bad musicians—this is about the construction of these teams. Reds GM Walt Jocketty is from the old school of general managers, building a team the way a team has always been built. Every team uses advanced statistical analysis to some degree, but the Reds are generally seen as more traditionalist. On the other hand is the Indians’ sabermetrically inclined Chris Antonetti (and Mark Shapiro) leading a front office that hunts for that extra little edge, forced to squeeze every little bit of talent and winning from every penny. The teams took different paths to get to where they are, but right now they’re division contenders, and it’s a nice little referendum, if you will, on how the business of baseball is transacted these days.
- Michael Brantley’s hitting streak: We’re up to 18 games now, and what baseball fan doesn’t love a streak? It’s nice the Indians’ brain trust finally got Brantley out of the leadoff spot, but while his walk rate could use some work he looks and swings like a baseball player, and the ball just keeps finding holes. As long as his streak is alive each of his at-bats will be gripping.
Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez: Last year the phrase “Bullpen Mafia” entered our lexicon. It’s become a rallying cry and these two men are the standard bearers. Their manager Manny Acta said he’d put these two guys up against anyone right now, and even with Perez battling indigestion as he locks down a save or Pestano loading the bases before sneaking out unscathed, these two back-of-the-pen hurlers are just electric.It doesn’t get much better than seeing these two trot out one after the other when Cleveland has the lead.
- Dusty Baker: What a classic manager. From the toothpick forever set in the corner of his mouth, to his unique way of handling his pitchers to that swagger that’s just so, well, Dusty, the guy oozes baseball. There’s just something about him in the dugout that seems to add weight to the game. There’s no great way to describe it, he’s just so…baseball.
- Manny Acta let loose: Probably the worst part for Acta managing the Indians is he doesn’t get to manage as much. Thanks to the DH, American League skippering is much less involved than it is in the Senior Circuit. Interleague lets us see double-switches and hit-and-runs and squeezes and those hard decisions in the seventh when the game is tied but the pitcher is dealing. Acta has said he enjoys it, and misses it a bit, so letting the guy do his thing (and get a little practice for the big time in October) will be fun to watch.