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Home sweet home: Phillies vs. Reds series preview

The Phillies return home to take on a last place team

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds
Things haven’t gone well for Joey Votto this season
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from losing the first four games and suffering multiple significant injuries, that West Coast trip wasn’t so bad. Thanks to winning the final two games against the Padres, the Phillies prevented the trip from being a total disaster. Now they get to return home - where they’ve been much more successful this year - and take on a last place team.

Cincinnati Reds

Record: 28-33, Fifth place in National League Central

The last time they met

When the Phillies traveled to Cincinnati in late July 2018, they were feeling pretty good about themselves. They had a 2.5 game lead in the East, and had just acquired infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to reinforce the infield. After winning the first game of the series, the Phillies went on to drop the next three, kicking off a swoon that didn’t really end until the season did.

Can’t win the close ones

The Reds’ last place status is mostly due to their horrid record in one-run games. They’re just 8-13 in such games.

The downfall of Joey Votto

Joey Votto has had a long, productive career, but at age 35, his performance has tailed off considerably. He can still draw a walk with the best of them, but his batting average has dropped to .251. He isn’t compensating with power either. He’s never been the most prolific home run hitter, but with just four so far, he’s on his way to his lowest total in a non-injury-shortened season.

Have the other hitters compensated?

Based on the team batting average of .235 (13th in NL) and OPS of .714 (12th) it doesn’t seem like it.

What about Yasiel Puig?

The Reds took a chance on the former Dodgers star, hoping that he’d reach his full potential away from his considerable baggage in Los Angeles. Thus far, the move to the Midwest hasn’t agreed with Puig. His on-base percentage is a ghastly .257, and he’s on pace for a career high in strikeouts.

However, the Cincinnati fans have been strangely welcoming to Puig despite his struggles. It seems they appreciate the intensity with which he plays.

Cincinnati Reds v San Francisco Giants
Reds fans appreciate Yasiel Puig’s hustle
Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Is there any good news?

It’s scary to think how bad the Reds’ offense would be without Derek Dietrich. The Reds signed the former Marlin to a cheap free agent contract, and so far, he’s been well worth the investment. He’s already reached a career high with 17 home runs, and his slugging percentage of .700 is third best in the National League.

On the other hand, he’s apparently brought disgrace upon his family name with his over the top home run celebrations.

What about the pitching?

The Reds’ pitching has been solid, but the Phillies will miss emerging ace Luis Castillo in this series. Instead, they’ll have to face Tyler Mahle, Tanner Roark, and Sonny Gray.

Mahle is in his second full season, and although he’s cut down on his high walk total from last year, he hasn’t yet shown an ability to pitch deep into games. His longest outing of the season was 6.1 innings. That’s longer than he lasted in his start against the Phillies in 2018, when they knocked him out of the game in the second inning.

The Phillies are very familiar with Roark from his years with the Nationals. He faced them five times alone in 2018, and most of those matchups went poorly for Roark. He was 0-3 with a 5.55 ERA.

Sonny Gray finished third in American League Cy Young voting in 2015, but his career’s been up and down since then. Thus far, moving to the National League has agreed with him. There was talk that the Phillies were interested in trading for him, and in hindsight, that wouldn’t have been a bad move, despite his relatively large contract.

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati Reds
Sonny Gray, chasing the clouds away
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Reds’ bullpen has the lowest team ERA in the NL, so their poor record in close games is especially baffling. I guess when your offense doesn’t give pitchers any margin for error, even the best relievers will falter at times.

Bruce is loose

Jay Bruce spent the first nine years of his major league career with the Reds, and so far, he hasn’t exactly made them regret trading him. In five games against his former mates, he’s batting a weak .167. On the other hand, this will be hist first time playing in Citizens Bank Park as a member of the Phillies, and he’s done very well there throughout his career. Considering how his first few games with the Phils has gone, I would expect at least one home run this weekend.

Hernandez homecoming

Speaking of facing a former team, the Phillies may get to see their former teammate, reliever David Hernandez in this series. I’m sure no Phillies fan has forgotten his remarkable 2016 season with the team. Honestly, I couldn’t remember one thing Hernandez did with the Phillies, but apparently he was the pitcher who melted down on Opening Day - against the Reds - to blow the game.

He earned one save that season - also against the Reds - and the Phillies quietly sent him on his way the following year.

Hernandez has one save this season (naturally it came on Opening Day), but has mostly been used in a setup role. He’s been shaky lately, with a few rough recent outings.

Hector does it all

Hector Neris has been excellent this season, and he’s going to have to continue to be excellent going forward, since just about every other reliever is suffering from an injury. Victor Arano, Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos, and David Robertson would be one of the better bullpens in the league. Unfortunately, every single one of them will likely be unavailable this weekend.

Neris has been good, but is he good enough to cover the load of seven pitchers? We may soon find out.

The return of Eflin

Not all of the injury news is bad. Zach Eflin will be back from a stay on the injured list and is scheduled to start on Friday. However, his previous two starts against the Reds haven’t gone well. In his first start, he allowed seven runs in five innings. His second start was only a slight improvement with four runs allowed in 5.1 innings.


With the Phillies’ bullpen in shambles, we’re probably due for a few shaky moments in this series. But I think the hitters will be happy to be home, and Bruce will finally have some big games against his former team as the Phillies power their way to two wins.