Break up the Reds! They’ve won 11 in a row for the first time since Sputnik; their potential Hall of Fame first baseman is back with a bang, and their rookie shortstop has the loudest tools in baseball this side of Shohei Ohtani. (And he just might have harder cheese.)
And they’re doing all this with Hunter Greene on the IL; the young flamethrower was almost certainly the most famous Red on the Opening Day roster, as Votto was out on injury rehab until just a few days ago. And they’ve been getting tremendous contributions from guys who frankly sound like they could’ve played baseball in Cincinnati at the turn of the century: Friedl! Senzel! Steer! They’ve even got a pitcher named Buck Farmer!
(Farmer actually grew up in Conyers and was a ramblin’ wreck in college. Actually, there are six Georgians on the roster in total, including one we know rather well, Lucas Sims. Catcher Tyler Stephenson, outfielder Will Benson, and utilityman Nick Senzel were all born in Atlanta, though Senzel went to high school in Tennessee. Benson went to Westminster, where he’s the second-best player in school history behind Gordon Beckham. Oh, and Alan Busenitz is from Watkinsville, outside Athens.)
Anyway, I don’t think you have to be a Reds fan to like these guys, especially as their recent success kicks more mud in the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Of course, we’ve got a hell of a likeable bunch ourselves, including the top vote-getter in the entire All-Star Game, a right fielder named Ronald Acuña, Jr. Turns out everybody likes him. And we’ve got a 20-year old Texas toeing the bump tonight. (Seems like we’ve got a 20-year old in a major role for the team every single year, doesn’t it?) Smith-Shawver will be duelling Luke Weaver, who grew up in DeLand, which means I automatically assume he knows Larry Wayne Jones, Jr.
The name to circle in the lineup Elly De La Cruz, of course, but his massive power is not unaccompanied by holes in his swing. His 30% K-rate is the kind of thing that all but kept you out of the league until recently. (Adam Dunn‘s career K-rate was 28.6%, for a Cincinnati comparison.)
Intriguingly, he appears to have compensated by swinging at far fewer pitches. He’s actually 10 percentage points below league average in swinging at pitches inside the strike zone, while he’s swinging at slightly more pitches outside the strike zone than league average, and he’s making less contact than average. And he’s been getting lucky as heck on the balls he’s hitting fair, as his BABIP is currently .457. That’s why his xwOBA is nearly 100 points lower than his wOBA, .396 to .300.
So my takeaway from all of this is: challenge the guy and don’t give in. Don’t hang one, don’t pitch backwards, don’t get cute. Come after him. Fastballs up and in and sliders low and away: there’s not a hitter in baseball who can hit one when he’s sitting on the other.
After all, that’s why Smith-Shawver got called up to the majors with just two pitches to his name.
That’s my scouting report, anyway. We’ll see just how smart I am once they play the game. One final question is about Sean Murphy, who pitch-hit in the top of the ninth and struck out. Will he be available off the bench? Or is there a chance he’ll DH?