Opposite dugout: Reds rotation looks to carry underachieving squad past Nats

reds-logo.pngManager: Bryan Price, first year
Record: 19-23
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: 1B Joey Votto (.257/.410/.449, 6 HR, 12 RBIs); 3B Todd Frazier (.258/.327/.470, 7 HR, 21 RBIs); RHP Johnny Cueto (4-2, 1.25 ERA, 0.71 WHIP); RHP Alfredo Simon (5-2, 2.45 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats (2013): 3-4, 36 runs scored, 27 runs allowed

Pitching probables
May 19: Mike Leake vs. Stephen Strasburg, 7 p.m., MASN HD
May 20: Johnny Cueto vs. Doug Fister, 7 p.m., MASN HD
May 21: Alfredo Simon vs. Tanner Roark, 4 p.m., MASN HD

Series breakdown
The Reds might be underachieving so far this season, but they bring one of the best rotations in the majors to Washington.

And on top of that, Cincinnati will throw its three best starters at the Nats over the next three days.

Major league ERA leader Johnny Cueto (1.25 ERA) highlights a Reds rotation that ranks third in the National League and fifth in the bigs with a 3.06 ERA. Cueto, who has three complete games and two shutouts through eight starts, will pitch Tuesday against Doug Fister. The right-handed Cueto hasn't surrendered more than two runs in a game this year and has lasted at least seven innings in each start.

The Reds will send Mike Leake (3.09 ERA) to the mound against Stephen Strasburg in tonight's series opener and Alfredo Simon (2.45 ERA) against Tanner Roark in the series finale.

Even with the starters pitching so well, Cincinnati is eighth in the NL with a 3.66 team ERA because of the league's worst bullpen. Reds relievers have combined for a 5.40 ERA and converted just eight of 14 save opportunities.

That has been less of a problem with Aroldis Chapman back from taking a line drive off his face during spring training, and Jonathan Broxton solidifying the closer role in his absence with five saves in six chances.

The other big reason the Reds are third in the NL Central instead of pacing the division is an offense that has fallen off from a year ago.

In 2013, Cincinnati scored the third-most runs in the NL. This season, they're 13th with 150 runs and 11th in both average (.241) and homers (34).

The return of hot-hitting catcher Devin Mesoraco from a stint on the disabled list should help. Mesoraco leads the team with a .500 average and 1.411 OPS to go with four homers and 17 RBIs - in just 15 games.

First baseman Joey Votto has an .859 OPS and six homers, but his run production has been down with just 12 RBIs in 39 games. His status for the series is uncertain because of a left knee injury that cost him the last three games.

Third baseman Todd Frazier has provided plenty of pop and production with seven homers and 21 RBIs.

Now closer to full strength, but still missing outfielder Jay Bruce and starter Mat Latos, the Reds could start to play more like the team that many expected to be one of the NL's best.

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