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A drive to deep left field: Phillies vs. Reds series preview

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Happy Memorial Day!

Syndication: Cincinnati
This happened the last time these teams played
Albert Cesare/The Enquirer, Cincinnati Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

When I wrote a piece about Thanksgiving, I mentioned that MLB should try to make one of the prominent summer holidays their version of Thanksgiving. And yes, there is a full slate of afternoon games planned for today, but I’m not sure that it truly feels like “must see watching” for anyone. Sure, if you’ve got nothing else going on, you’ll probably tune in, but I don’t think anyone’s canceling their barbecue or pool plans to watch the Phillies take on the Reds.

Maybe part of the problem is that Phillies vs. Reds isn’t exactly a hot rivalry these days. Sure, they faced off in the 1976 National League Championship Series (a series that didn’t go especially well for the Fightins), and the shared ownership of Pete Rose (You can have him, Cincy!) but that’s about it. Yes, they both wear red, but so do like five other teams.

But if Phillies vs. Reds is what the scheduling gods have seen fit to give us, Phillies vs. Reds is what we’ll watch! (Unless, like I mentioned earlier, you’ve got other plans. Then you probably won’t watch.)

Cincinnati Reds

Record: 23-28 (Fourth place in National League Central)

The manager

Phillies fans are quite familiar with David Bell from his disappointing stint in Philadelphia as a player. Signed in late 2002, he was supposed to show other prominent free agents (*cough* Jim Thome cough) that the Phillies were serious about spending money to build a contender. He was also supposed to fill the void at third base that existed since Scott Rolen was traded.

Bell had one very good season in Philadelphia in which he put up 4.4 wins above replacement. As you’ve probably heard reference to every time a Phillies player is one hit away from the cycle, Bell was the last to pull off the feat. (It’s been 17 years, guys. Surely somebody can pull this off!)

The problem was, he signed a four-year deal, and was barely above replacement level in the other three years. By 2005, fans were questioning why the team didn’t bench Bell, move Placido Polanco to third, and give the second base job to a young prospect named Chase Utley. In hindsight, nobody is still entirely sure why they didn’t do that.

As far as his managerial career goes, he’s in his third season. The Reds were bad his first year, had a winning record in 2020, but have disappointed so far in 2021. Like any manager, there are plenty of tweets calling for his firing, but I didn’t find as many results as other guys, so I guess the Reds fans are generally okay with him?

The last time they met

The teams split a four-game series in September 2019, with the Phillies taking the first two and the Reds taking the final two. The finale went 11 innings, and the Reds finally won when the Phillies were forced to use their ninth pitcher of the day - the unforgettable Nick Vincent - who immediately served up a game-wining home run by the equally unforgettable Phil Ervin.

Nick the meme

I feel a little bad for Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos. He’s had a solid career, and is having an excellent season, leading the National League in batting average and OPS. And yet, whenever anyone hears his name, the first thing that comes to mind is this:

Because the internet has no chill, here’s a taste of what ensued:

Memes aside, the guy’s having an amazing year, and Phillies pitchers need to be very careful when pitching to him.

Quick look at the Reds’ starting pitchers this series

You may recognize Wade Miley’s name from his presence on the trade block just about every single season since his debut in 2011. Miley’s one of those guys who isn’t a great starting pitcher, but he’s also not a bad starter. You can live with him at the back of your rotation, but you also can’t help but think that there’s got to be something better out there. And if the Reds continue to struggle, there’s a very good chance that he’ll once again be on the trade block this summer.

Sonny Gray has spent most seasons of his career as a nice mid-rotation starter, but he also has two All-Star seasons - with top 10 Cy Young Award finishes - so its easy for teams to think that he’s capable of more. That’s probably why he can also be found in trade rumors every year.

There’s the possibility he could also be on the move this season, but with him off to a strong start, he probably wouldn’t be cheap.

Vladimir Gutierrez will be making his second career start in the finale. There’s not much of a scouting report on the Cuban righty, but in his first start, he gave up one run in five innings against the Cubs.

Hey look, it’s Heath Hembree

Since I wrote about Hembree is a series preview featuring two teams that did not include the man, I figured it made sense to discuss him again in a series when he does play for one of the teams. (In case you’re not good at following logic, he’s on the Reds.)

Sadly, Hembree is actually having a pretty good season for the Reds. He had a bad stretch where he gave up home runs in three straight appearances, but rebounded with a 1.1 inning, three strikeout performance his last time out.

It would be nice if the Phillies got to him, and he blew a save at some point this series. But because Phillies fans can’t have nice things, it’s more likely that he appears in two games and doesn’t allow a baserunner.

Trivia

In the three-game 1976 NLCS, only one Phillies player hit a home run. Who was he?

What to expect

  • Having Vince Velasquez make a start on a holiday afternoon seems like a perfect way to get him to turn back into a pumpkin.
  • Without Bryce Harper and Didi Gregorius, the Phillies lineup will still struggle to produce big innings.
  • Castellanos will homer, and while it will hurt the Phillies, we’ll at least get a slight chuckle out of it.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series