Reds at Nationals: Friday, August 2 at 7:10 ET
What a difference a day makes. I'm not going overboard here. We shouldn't expect Gonzalez to continue the offense he gave us last night. And you can't overestimate the Homer Bailey effect. (One last time: what a waste of talent.) But there's a very real chance that this team plays much better from here on out. Do we dare think .500 ball is a possibility? OK, let's not go crazy. But two days ago, this was a team that had gone from underachieving to giving up. Today, we're back to fighting. If Manny can get some overachieving out of these guys, hell, .475 ball from here on out isn't beyond the realm of possibility. (I may be damning with faint praise, but unlike some people I know, I like to keep our optimistic hype reasonable here at FJB.)
Then again, if all we do is play hard but on the lower end of our abilities, well, we could still make a run at the '04 D'Backs.
Here's my take on game 2 in the Red on Red grudge match.
Josh Fogg: Of all the amazing things about the Rockies' run at the end of last season, to me one of the most unlikely is that they did it with Josh Fogg taking the ball every fifth day. He's always been a pretty bad pitcher, but this year he's been terrible, banished to the Reds bullpen in May while posting an almost Speignerian 7.84 ERA. He's also spent time on the DL with back spasms and had his last start pushed back when a batted ball hit him in the face during batting practice. Hate to make jokes about something like that, but there's something fitting about it.
He's a junkballer--lots of slow and off-speed stuff. He can be tough when he's really nailing his spots, but if he ends up in hitters' counts at all and has to throw "get me over" pitches, he's in trouble. Lefties in particular hit him hard. This year, he's throwing just 39% fastballs (at 87 mph), which is the eighth lowest ratio of anyone you could consider a starting pitcher with 40 IP this year. That's because he's throwing his cutter way more (25% of the time) than in the past. He also has a change (which comes in just 6-7 mph slower than the fastball) and an occasional slider and curve. His walk percentage is fine, but he's an extreme flyball pitcher (44% of balls in play this year are flyballs, while league average is 36%), which usually doesn't work too good if you don't strike anyone out, and he doesn't (5.3/9 this year). At least some of his rise in ERA is as a result of bad luck--his HR/FB rate is 14.3%, a touch over the 11% league average, while he's stranding just 55%, which is a very low number resulting from bad luck as well as bad pitching. But really he just doesn't have very good stuff and has to be perfect with his command to be even adequate, and he hasn't been.
But you know, the Nationals have made a lot of bad pitchers look good lately. Mediocre sinkerballers: check (Kyle Kendrick). Slow-throwing junkballers: check (Jamie Moyer). Rookies with big-time command issues: check (Clayton Kershaw). Headcases with big-time command (and other) issues: check (Brett Myers). AAAA suspects who don't really have the stuff to get major-league hitters out: check (Kevin Correia).
I was trying to think of an example of a pitcher who is a good fit for a team like the Nationals--an impatient, slappy team. You need a guy who throws a lot of very hittable pitches early in the count so that you can string together hits without the burden of having to get yourself in a hitter's count. You know who pitches like that? Guys in A ball. And Homer Bailey.
Maybe the new guys are better than I'm giving them credit for, and in fairness there's plenty of evidence that Dukes at least is a much better hitter in terms of both SLG and plate discipline. But AG, E-Bone, and Casto? We'll see. At least they're younger.
Jason Bergmann: You know the deal. Lots of flyballs, lots of strikeouts. Watch the lefties. Has a tendency to lose his head and lose command. But not lately. His ERA is 2.74 in his last 8 starts. This game will be a good test, since the Reds have some impressive left-handed power--Dunn, Votto, and Bruce. But there are few things I'm rooting for more than to see Bergy get that ERA under 4 by season's end.
What To Look For
Every Bergmann start is a good opportunity to check in on Milledge's progress in center. The main thing is the jumps--is he learning how to take better routes to the ball? If you're in the stadium (especially in the cheap seats) you can get a really good look. If you're doing it Charlie and Dave-style or watching on MASN, you'll be dependent on the announcers. But don't just think about whether he gets there eventually. The more important thing for evaluating his progress is whether he gets a good jump and takes a direct route.
Bonifacio's gotta put the ball in play on the ground to use his speed and be successful. He struck out in his first AB, but hen had two groundball outs and a base hit. More of that, please.
Fogg owns Kearns, who has a horrible .167 BA/.286 OBP/.167 SLG line against him in 28 plate appearances. If Zimmy was available, I might sit Kearns and put Harris in left with Dukes in right. Zimmerman, Belliard and Dukes have had some success versus Fogg. No one on the Reds has faced Bergmann more than five times. But Bruce and Phillips both have extra-base hits off of him.
What to Root For
I think I can phase out this feature since there's suddenly no shortage of choices. Certainly we're all hoping for success for the kids--Casto, Gonzalez, Bonifacio, Dukes, Milledge, and Flores. But tonight I again have my heart set on another quality start for Bergmann.
What to Feel Good About
Undefeated in August!
(Season record: 6-4, one bull's eye)
If we swing a Fogg's pitches, we're in trouble. But I don't have the heart to bet against us in Fogg v. Bergy. The "Amnesia Express" keeps rolling. 6-4 Nationals.