Last season, Cincinnati Reds owner Phil Castellini “taunted” Reds fans after an offseason that saw them turn a team that just missed the playoffs into a gutted, Oakland A’sesque big stinky loser that ticked off everybody who rooted for the team. His signature line, the one that will follow him to hell, was pretty straightforwardly evil:
“Well, where are you gonna go?” Castellini said. “Let’s start there. Sell the team to who? … What would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money and compete more?”
It wasn’t any sort of “mask off” moment for turd owners like him and it’s only by the grace of his largesse (an estimated $400 million net worth on a team valued a little over a billion) that his brain didn’t have the capability to massage the impulse that shot through his amygdala which gave us a very clear target for who the enemy is.
That said, if you’re just trying to put together a winning baseball team (and, yes, I’m keeping in mind that front offices aren’t some “aw shucks” innocents here — they’re all about exploiting children and stealing wages from their minor leaguers and like little weasels hide behind a veneer of civilized behavior known as “analytics”), then this sentient shitpile makes the job a little harder not just in terms of the financial limitations imposed, but by public perception, which might not show up in an algorithm, but let’s at least acknowledge that a community behind a team through good times and bad can be a very powerful force.
Castellini ended the relationship when he said, “F*** you, I got mine.”
I point all this out because, my goodness, the obstacles the Cincinnati Reds have had to overcome to be — perhaps — the story of the major league season (outside of Shohei Ohtani, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the egregious strike zone miscalls against the San Francisco Giants). Exciting international signings, drafted rookies, guys traded for in those Castellini-imposed salary dumps? It’s all there.
Of course, the story is 21-year old, switch-hitting third baseman/shortstop Elly De La Cruz, who has dazzled and delighted in just 33 major league games. He’s done the improbable and the implausible in a little over 40 days of MLB service time:
Elly De La Cruz is the first Reds player to steal three bases in an inning in at least the last 60 years.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 8, 2023
At 21 years old, he's the youngest player on any team to do it over that span as well. https://t.co/wAZUNVb2JJ
For baseball history nerds, Elly De La Cruz is the first player to steal 2nd, 3rd and Home in the same AB since Rod Carew in 1969. He’s also the first Cincinnati Red to steal all three bases in the same inning since future NFL Hall of Famer Greasy Neale in 1919. #ATOBTTR— Sam Roberts (@RealSamRoberts) July 8, 2023
Elly De La Cruz has scored 28 runs in his first 29 MLB games! If that sounds like a lot, it's because it is.— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) July 8, 2023
He's the first to do that in almost 30 years and the second to do it in the last 65 years (Brian Hunter was the other).
It's completely ridiculous.
The Reds before De La Cruz’s callup: 4.6 runs per game (60 games). After his callup: 5.4 runs per game (34 games). 15 of his 41 hits are extra base hits (9 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs) and he’s slashing .297/.333/.478. He’s also 16 for 18 in stolen bases, so he’ll be a big stressor on the Giants’ defense.
Facing the Reds at Great American Ballpark oftentimes feels like a worse nightmare than games at Coors Field. The Reds won the season series 4-2 last year and the Giants won it 6-1 in 2021, but since 2013, the Reds are 6-2-1 against the Giants. They’ve tried to pay back the orange and black as much as possible for everything that happened in 2012. All that said, this is a four-game series, which means our week will be taken up by being taken with the Reds youngsters; and, historically, as much as playing the Reds in Cincinnati feels bad, the Giants haven’t lost a four-game series at Great American Ballpark... yet. The last time the Giants lost a four-game series in Cincinnati was 1996.
And yes, there is a bit more to it than Elly De La Cruz (113 OPS+). They’re getting great production from most of their lineup: 1B- Spencer Steer (119 OPS+), SS- Matt McCain (128), LF- Will Benson (131), CF- TJ Friedl (114), RF- Jake Fraley (119). Joey Votto’s back from an extended IL stint, too, and hitting .234/.351/.600 with 7 home runs in 77 PA (20 games).
Also, new for this series, another top prospect: Christian Encarnacion-Strand (#BayAreaTies).
ANNOUNCING CES— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) July 17, 2023
Welcome to The Show, Christian‼️ pic.twitter.com/DRHLA8xF6j
The third baseman, first baseman, right fielder has 20 home runs in 67 games for Triple-A Louisville this season along with a .331/.405/.637 line. That 33:69 BB:K suggests some swing and miss, but he’s a legitimate power threat in a lineup of power threats atop of a bandbox of a stadium. Gulp and yikes.
They’re 9th in MLB for runs scored on the season, and since June 1st, they’re 3rd (2nd in NL). the Giants check in at 12th and 15th, respectively, and so you can see that they’re really going to need to score some runs this week.
In theory, that shouldn’t be an issue. The Reds’ pitching staff has been a touch below the middle of the pack on the season by FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, and since June 1st they’re checking in at 24th in MLB (the Giants are 6th since June 1st). Graham Ashcraft is a flamethrowing ace (averaging 96 with his cutter and 97 with his sinker) of sorts, but his 79 ERA+ is just well below league average. Their real flamethrower Hunter Greene is on the IL, leaving Ben Lively as their best starter who has thrown the most innings (127 ERA+ on 55.2 IP); but like everything else with the Reds these days, they have some youth.
A pair of rookie lefties — Andrew Abbot and Brandon Williamson — have a combined for a 4.11 ERA in 94.1 IP (18 starts) with an 89-35 K-BB... but also 16 home runs allowed. These guys will bookend the series, and if you’re a veteran Giants fan, you know those are basically going to be shutouts against the Giants.
Their real holdup is a lot like the Pirates situation the team faced: Alexis Diaz is a dynamo. His 1.99 ERA accompanies a 1.8 fWAR — he’s been better than Camilo Doval so far this season and is straight nasty. If the Giants are trailing when he enters the game, figure it’s going to take a Rube Goldbergesque series of events to turn the game in their favor. Otherwise — and this holds true for the rotation too — the Reds’ pitchers (former Giant Derek Law among them!) are either flirting with or have consummated a 5.00 FIP. There are some nice ERAs down their, but the walks, strikeouts, and home runs suggest they’re hittable (except for Diaz! He has a 2.23 FIP).
They’re 6-6 in July and actually have a worse home record on the season (23-24, -33 run differential). The Giants are 6-5 in July and have a great road record (26-19, +50 run differential). _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds
Where: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati, OH
When: Monday (4:10pm PT), Tuesday (4:10pm PT), Wednesday (4:10pm PT), Thursday (9:35am PT)
National broadcasts: Monday — MLB Network simulcast
Monday: Logan Webb vs. Brandon Williamson
Tuesday: Anthony DeSclafani vs. Luke Weaver
Wednesday: TBD vs. Gordon Ashcraft
Thursday: TBD vs. Andrew Abbott
Where they stand
Record: 50-44, 2nd in NL Central
Run differential: -14, 11th in NL
Postseason standing: 2 games back of the third Wild Card, 2 games out of the division
Momentum: 4-game losing streak; 5-5 in their last 10 games
Record: 52-41, 3rd in NL West
Run differential: +39, 2nd in the NL
Postseason standing: +0.5 in Wild Card, 1.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 5-game winning streak; 6-4 in their last 10 games
Reds to watch
Elly de la Cruz: Uh, obviously.
Joey Votto: Uh, he’s Joey Votto.
TJ Friedl: I will be Anthony DiComo experiencing Patrick Bailey for the first time when Friedl goes off on the Giants this week. I have no idea who he is or what he does, but he’s a solid defensive centerfielder with an .808 OPS.
Will Benson: The Reds acquired him this past offseason for Steve Hajjar and Justin Boyd. The 25-year old left-handed hitting rookie is batting .287/.392/.484 with a 21-35 BB-K and is 8-for-9 in stolen base attempts.
Giants to watch
Logan Webb: I’ve mentioned his home/road splits this season in prior previews, but here it is again:
HOME: 2.02 ERA (62.1 IP)
ROAD: 4.42 ERA (63.2 IP)
He pitched six shutout innings at Great American Ballpark in 2021, but everything went perfectly that season. Perfection hasn’t been the case this season, but this will still be a critical start for the team’s ace (who has pitched like an ace for most of this season) as they try to get through this 11-game road, 4-city road trip.
Michael Conforto: He’s hit 4 home runs in 15 games, which means he’s due for one in this series, I think. Also, since June 1st, he’s hit .233/.316/.350 with 2 home runs. He’s picked it up since July started (9 games): .294/.351/.412 with one of those 2 home runs. Let’s see if four games in Cincinnati activates a launch sequence.
Patrick Bailey/Blake Sabol: Bailey maybe has passed enough tests to tell us and the Baseball world that he is a guy but now he’s going up against the flavor of the week in Elly De La Cruz and the Reds’ running game (113 stolen bases). They’ll need to hit and field to the peak of their abilities.
Casey Schmitt: With the Giants slated to face two lefty starters and the park very forgiving to hitters, let’s see if Schmitt can take advantage of this opportunity.
Brandon Crawford: Great American Ballpark is one of Crawford’s top six home run spots: Oracle (56), Coors (15), Petco (10), Chase (6), Dodger Stadium (6), Great American Ballpark (6). This will be his last trip through. Does he have one or two... or three more in him? He jussssst missed one the other night in Pittsburgh. This park rewards those warning trackers.
Giants @ Reds - how will it go?
This poll is closed
Reds win series
Giants win series
**post edited to add “Series split” to poll and corrected Giants standing in NL West at the beginning of the day, Monday, July 17th.