While that seems unlikely, both NL Central clubs want to start playing better though it is just the first month of the season and begin creating a little momentum with May not too far away.
Pittsburgh in a Major Funk
The Pirates have lost eight of 10 and in those defeats; they have averaged 2.75 runs per game which anyone gazing at the MLB odds knows is going to lead to a lot losses.
Pittsburgh even lost their poise yesterday in a little bench-clearing mayhem with Milwaukee, who ended up being 6-1 against the Bucs the past two weekends.
Manager Clint Hurdle needs to see more runners on base because his team is certainly capable of doing damage, since their 24 home runs are the most in the National League. Yet this is a mute point without more guys on the bags and this is shown by the Pirates .304 on-base percentage (12th in the NL) and subpar team batting average of .232 (13th).
Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Gaby Sanchez were a combined 14 for 36 (.389) in last week's series and could use more help from others on the lineup card.
Cincinnati Finding a Comfort Zone
After a bumbling start the Reds have won five of seven and getting the type of offensive production they need. First-year manager Bryan Price faced early criticism but three elements have changed how Cincinnati is playing and two have something to do with him.
Because Joey Votto has been ultra-selective in the three-slot of the batting order, Price moved him up to No. 2 and Cincy is averaging 5.8 runs a game in their past eight tries. Votto is 10 for 25 (.400) and seeing more fastballs with leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton on base.
As MLB baseball handicappers note, Hamilton has blazing speed and as Reds radio broadcaster Jeff Brantley said over the weekend, “When Hamilton is on first, he’s in scoring position.” The centerfielder’s speed means the opposing pitcher and catcher have to be near perfect to even have a chance to throw out Hamilton, who has seven stolen bases. For those making sports picks, this leads to Votto seeing fewer off-speed pitches and more hard stuff, which he is hammering.
The Cincinnati coaches have also been working with Hamilton to be more selective and despite his lowly batting average of .213; he’s 7 for 18 in his past five games.
One aspect Price just walked into was the return of Devin Mesoraco. The Cincy catcher has career-high nine-game hitting streak and .545 average over his last six games and even he admits, this has been something. "Little League, rec ball, whatever it is. This is definitely the hottest I've ever been," Mesoraco said.
Pitching Matchup for Monday
Mike Leake (2-1, 2.95, 0.89 WHIP) has pitched at least 6 2/3 innings each of his three starts, while allowing no more than three earned runs. His last start came against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, where he met his seasonal numbers of three earned runs allowed on five hits in 6 2/3 innings. The right-hander is 6-3 lifetime against the Pirates with a 3.81 ERA and his continued improvement from a year ago is the further development of a nasty curveball.
The Bucs Francisco Lirano (0-3, 3.96, 1.24) has not been able to pick-up where he left off last season and is still chasing his first win. His strikeout totals are still excellent at 28 in 25 innings, but he’s been tagged for four long ball in his past three starts. The lefty has a solid 3.29 ERA versus Cincinnati, however, has a 1-4 record.
Pittsburgh’s 2.90 ERA is good for fifth in the senior circuit. Where this group has failed is late, with five blown saves in nine attempts. It would help if the offense gave them a greater margin of error; nonetheless, this is their job.
Cincinnati’s bullpen was expected to scuffle early due to injuries and it has with a 5.57 ERA. Jonathon Braxton and Sean Marshall are now both back and Aroldis Chapman is getting ever closer, which will improve them having the fewest strikeouts in the NL by a wide margin. (34, league average is 57)
Head to Head Combat and Betting Odds
Pittsburgh lost the series last week in the Queen City and is 10-9 as host’s the past two years, with the UNDER 11-8.
Sportsbooks sent out the Pirates at -135 with a total of 7 and they are 8-1 OVER when the money line is -100 to -150 this season.
The Reds are simply playing better and have a starting pitcher making it to the seventh inning. Though the sample size is only five, Cincinnati is averaging 5.2 runs a game against lefties and beats the betting odds in the first of a four-game series.
MLB Free Picks: Cincinnati wins