Last week, I ranked the Braves’ potential postseason opponents according to how dangerous they would be in the Wild Card Series. Coming in at #1 on that list (most dangerous) was the Cincinnati Reds — the primary reason being their stingy rotation, featuring most likely the NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer along with Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. They’ve also been one of the hottest teams in the majors over the last two weeks, going 11-3 and securing the 7th seed in the National League.
There is no doubt that the Braves received the short-end of the stick when it comes to their first-round draw. However, it is what it is, and in a three-game series, there’s no time to think about anything else except what is in front of them.
So here’s everything you need to know about the Braves’ first-round opponent.
I mentioned the Reds tremendous top 3 in their rotation in the open of Bauer, Castillo, and Gray. I imagine that is who they will start in that order if it goes three games. However, Cincinnati actually has four plus-starters — the exact opposite of the Braves. Tyler Mahle has also been fantastic for them, recording a 3.59 ERA in ten appearances (nine starts) while also boasting a K/9 of 11.3. His emergence gives the Reds four starters with sub-four ERAs and K/9s of 11+ — pretty amazing, and an extremely difficult task in the postseason, where pitching reigns supreme.
A little deeper into each potential starter: Trevor Bauer will most likely take home his first Cy Young award, and shortened season or not, he’s been outstanding, posting a 1.73 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 73 innings and an eye-popping 0.795 WHIP — partly due to his minuscule 2.1 BB/9. It’s as simple as this: the guy is a beast, and he loves the big moment. Expect him to show a lot of emotion on the mound during his Game 1 start, which will make it all the more fulfilling for the Braves’ offense if they can tee off on him.
While Bauer headlines the Reds’ rotation — thanks to his fantastic season and exuberant personality — Luis Castillo might actually have the best stuff. The 27-year-old has been unbelievably consistent over his first 90 starts in the majors, posting a 3.62 ERA and 10 strikeouts per nine innings. He earned his first All-Star appearance last year and would have done it again had their been an All-Star Game in this shortened season. Castillo’s made three starts over his career against the Braves, going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA over 14 innings.
Given his success against the Braves over his career and experience, it’s fair to assume Gray will get the ball in Game 3. The former Yankee has revived his career since moving to the National League. Last year, he finished seventh in the NL Cy Young voting, posting a 2.87 ERA in 31 starts. Gray hasn’t been as productive in this shortened season, but he’s still recorded a 3.70 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 56 innings. Over his career, he has four starts versus the Braves and boasts a 3.16 ERA over 25.2 innings.
Thankfully, Cincinnati’s offense isn’t nearly as daunting as their rotation. They don’t have a single player in their everyday lineup with an average over .255 — Jesse Winker — who also leads them in OPS (.932) by a large margin. In fact, he’s the only player in their lineup with an OPS over .800 (Joey Votto finished the season right at .800). This is a lineup that even the Braves’ starting pitching, and especially their bullpen, should be able to keep quiet. However, while they may not have had a ton of success during the regular season, the Reds roster plenty of veterans who have had success in the past that could carry them, especially in a three-game series.
Joey Votto may not be the MVP candidate he once was, but he’s still one of the game’s toughest outs. Nick Castellanos, the aforementioned Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suarez may not hit for much average — but they all have the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat (41 homers between the three of them). The same can be said for Mike Moustakas, who signed a four-year deal in the offseason. His first season in Cincinnati has not gone as planned, but he still has posted a respectable .799 OPS and was an All-Star just last year. So while the Reds might have struggled with the bats this season, the potential is there for them to pop off at any second for a few games at a time.
As far as bullpens go, the Reds’ has been in the bottom half of the league, according to ERA (4.72) and FanGraphs WAR (0.6). However, they have a decent group of high-leverage options, which could be all they need, given how fantastic their starting rotation is.
The acquisition of Archie Bradley from the Diamondbacks at the trade deadline has been critical. He’s appeared six times for them (7.2 innings), allowing just one earned run (1.17 ERA). Raisel Iglesias is the Reds’ closer, and he’s been successful in eight out of ten tries, posting a 2.74 ERA over 23 innings. Amir Garrett can also be used in closing situations. The hard-throwing lefty has appeared 21 times this season, boasting a 2.45 ERA. And who can forget Lucas Sims — the former Braves’ farm hand called out the Braves’ pitching development staff in a tweet earlier this year and is having a nice 2020, posting a 2.45 ERA over 25.2 innings. Overall, it’s a decent group that could be taken advantage of if the Braves’ bats can force the Reds’ starting pitchers out of the game early.