Manager: Bryan Price, first year
Last 10 games: 2-8
Who to watch: 3B Todd Frazier (.283/.344/.488, 17 doubles, 20 HR, 54 RBIs, 15 SB); C Devin Mesoraco (.288/.359/.572, 15 doubles, 16 HR, 46 RBIs); RHP Johnny Cueto (10-6, 2.18 ERA, 0.92 WHIP); RHP Alfredo Simon (12-4, 2.74 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats: 2-1, 10 runs scored, 13 runs allowed
Had the Nationals caught the Reds 10 days ago, the conversation would be about how they’d be traveling to play one of the hottest teams in the National League.
Instead, the Nats will be facing the coldest.
Things changed coming out of the All-Star break. Cincinnati has yet to win since the Midsummer Classic, losing its first six games after the break.
It marks quite a change for the Reds, who had turned around their season following a 23-29 start. Cincinnati went 28-15 from May 30 to July 13, shrinking an eight-game deficit in the NL Central to 1 1/2, the closest the team had been since it was one game out on April 3. But the six-game skid has sunk the Reds back to six games behind the first-place Brewers, who have rebuilt their division lead.
The Reds have been outscored 28-12 during the skid, allowing fewer than four runs only once in the last six games and scoring no more than three in any contest.
Cincinnati hasn’t been especially good or bad in any area. The Reds reside in the middle of the NL pack both at the plate and on the mound to account for being one game over .500.
Pitching-wise, Cincinnati is seventh in the NL with a 3.53 team ERA and tied for fourth with a 3.39 rotation ERA. But the Reds are 14th with a 3.86 bullpen ERA to go with 14 blown saves.
The starting staff has been strong, especially the top three pitchers, all of whom will see the Nats in the series - right-handers Johnny Cueto, Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos. Each has a 3.15 ERA or better.
Cueto is 10-6 with the second-most strikeouts in the NL (148) and third-best ERA (2.18). He has 18 quality starts in 21 outings this season.
However, Cueto’s worst start of 2014 came against the Nats on May 20, when he allowed a season-high eight runs (six earned) in 5 1/3 innings. So even though Cueto is having an exceptional year, the Nats have confidence that they know how to get to him. The 28-year-old will go up against Gio Gonzalez on Saturday in one of three good pitching match-ups in the series.
Simon takes on Nats ERA leader Tanner Roark in tonight’s opener. Simon is tied for the major league lead with 12 wins. He also is 10th in the NL with a 2.74 ERA.
Latos enters his match-up with Doug Fister having gone 2-2 with a 3.15 ERA in seven starts since returning from the disabled list on June 14.
Offensively, the Reds are slightly worse off, as they’re tied for 10th in the NL with 389 runs and a .245 average, are alone in 10th with a .687 OPS and rank sixth with 87 homers.
Third baseman Todd Frazier is having a breakout season with a .283 average, a career-high 20 homers and a team-best 54 RBIs in 100 games.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco has also helped make up for a down year from outfielder Jay Bruce (10 homers, 42 RBIs) by leading Cincinnati with a .931 OPS to go with 15 doubles, 16 homers and 46 RBIs in just 64 games. Also, the Nats will have to watch out for speedster Billy Hamilton and his 40 steals.
Although the bullpen has been a weakness for the Reds, they have quite a late-inning duo with left-hander Aroldis Chapman closing and right-hander Jonathan Broxton setting him up. Champman has 21 saves and a 2.40 ERA in 30 appearances. Broxton has a 1.03 ERA in 36 appearances, having allowed just four runs in 35 innings.
At this point, the Nats will be facing a desperate club looking to for its first victory since the break, a team that tasted winning for two months and put itself back in the NL Central race. Now the Reds will be doing all they can this weekend to stay there.