It doesn’t matter, none of it, not right now. The sweep of the A’s, taking two in Detroit, dropping two to the Tigers at home, the walkoff wins, Reynolds’ power shows, none of it. Not even first place matters this week, because the greatest contest in the history of time is rejoined in the Buckeye State. I speak of the Ohio Cup, the series played between the Reds and Indians each year, and possibly the best part of inter-league play. Personally, I think they should play the games in Columbus, but then it’d be either where the Clippers play or at Nick Swisher Field at Ohio State. Those filthy Reds would never go for it.
Like last year, it’s a contest between two teams seeming like they could contend, though the Reds are the ones who actually held onto that all season a year ago. It was a split in 2012, a little depressing and anticlimactic, but a new year means a new chance to win the honor of Ohio. So without further adieu, here’s why each team will win the four game split series, all from my point of view.
Why the Reds will win
They’re just a really good team. If you’ve lived under a rock for the past couple years or just ignore all goings on in the National League or in Southern Ohio, you wouldn’t have noticed this powerhouse taking shape. But otherwise, you know the Reds are a legit World Series contender. It all starts with the best hitter in the National League and arguably in the game, Joey Votto. He leads all of baseball with a .479 on-base percentage and his slugging percentage is climbing towards .550 as he recovers fully from injury. He’s a marvel – nobody has a more level swinging plane, and if you look at the heat map ESPN has for him, the lack of any data outside of the zone speaks volumes to his discipline. He’s incredible.
The bats keep coming, too. I guess it’s time to mention Shin-Soo Choo, prodigal son returning home for a bit. He was a great player for the Indians for several years, probably the best hitter until Santana started emerging, and he’s the perfect piece the Reds were missing. Manager Dusty Baker has a propensity for wanting speedy guys at the top of the lineup, but in the past it’s been Zack Cozart and new Tribesman Drew Stubbs. Seeing as both these guys sit around .320 with their on-base work, it’s just a poor idea. Choo is comfortable in the high .300’s, and in his best years sat above .400, including this season. His .288/.438/.514 line would make a career year for the outfielder, and as strange as he is in the outfield, his bat is as good as ever. Plus, that cannon of his, damn.
So yeah, the Reds offense, from Choo on to Votto and of course Brandon Phillips (he hates the Indians so much it seems, he’s going to go like 11-for-16 over for games) and the mighty Jay Bruce, they can murder the ball. As strong as these guys are, they don’t need the GAB launching pad, but it certainly helps.
That launching pad has necessitated the creation of a strikeout heavy, groundball inducing rotation of pitchers and a group of hardballing bullpen men as well. And Bronson Arroyo. Whether it’s Johnny Cueto or Homer Bailey now that he’s good or Mat Latos, these guys rely on filthy material to strike out a lot of guys and not give the ball a chance to go over the wall. They’ll be facing a group of guys in the Indians that love to strike out a lot, and seeing as two o the games will be in pitcher-leaning Progressive Field, their fly balls have a better chance of becoming outs rather than homers. Not only do they strike people out, they induce grounders at a high rate, so again, homers will be at a minimum.
Why the Indians will win
They want it more.
Okay, but really, they’re going to win because of defense and managerial skills, combined with a burgeoning offense.
While the Reds are certainly a powerful team, sitting at fifth in baseball with 241 runs so far this year , the Indians are fourth with 248. The Reds have the former MVP and the big name we’ve all heard, but the Indians are on the way up. Nick Swisher is turning it on and I fully expect an extended hot streak following the birth of his child. It’s just how baseball works. Asdrubal Cabrera hasn’t been performing all year and is turning it around, same with Jason Kipnis, and Michael Bourn is proving to be a better catalyst than we all hoped. And don’t get me started on Mark Reynolds. He’s everything Joey Votto isn’t, but I love everything about him. There’s speed and power all around the lineup, and they can demolish any opposition. If they’re hot. Otherwise, they’ll get two hits and strike out 19 times a game.
On that managerial note, can we all agree Terry Francona is a better manager than Dusty Baker? It seems like Baker ends up working against the success of his team as for it, though he chews toothpicks like a badass. The Indians probably have the deeper bench with guys like Giambi, Gomes and Aviles, I’m just excited to see him work the NL rules again. He was great in Philly, it’ll be nice to see how he flexes it this time.
As for the defense, outside of Phillips and maybe Votto first, the Indians have the leg up around the diamond. If the Indians still had Jack Hannahan, the left side of the infield would be theirs as well, but ol’ Jack is a backup for the Reds, and Todd Frazier isn’t that bad anyway, just not Scott Rolen. I’ll take the amalgam that Fancona will piece together over a converted first baseman and Zach Cozart. A-Cab is just as slick, and better. Phillips is dynamite defensively though.
Looking at the outfield, we’ll probably see Brantley and Bourn along with Swisher for the games in Cincy so Reynolds stays in the game for offense, then put Stubbs in right and Swish at first in Cleveland. This is far and away better than the Heisey/Choo/Bruce combo, a pair of stonefoots with good arms and whoever Heisey is. . Behind the plate, I call it a push until someone can point to Devin Mesoroco becoming a Molina. Santana isn’t bad and Gomes is great (perhaps take Reynolds out, put Santana at first and Gomes behind the plate?) so I call Indians on this one.
When it comes to actual mascots though, I have to give this one to the Reds, and all other things being equal it could edge the series. I have written in the past my dislike for Slider, and Mr. Redlegs is the greatest mascot on earth. His moustache alone could win a game a season for Cincinnati. I dread to see his giant mug, but I’ll enjoy it too.