The Cincinnati Reds are off to a terrible start even by the standards of a team coming off three consecutive 90-loss seasons and last-place finishes in the National League Central.
Now, as the Reds begin a four-game series against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, they realize how quickly it could get even worse. Even worse than the 1-6 road trip they finished up Wednesday with their fourth straight loss, a 4-3 decision in 12 innings at Philadelphia.
The Reds, whose 2-9 record is the worst in the major leagues, must go against Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha on Thursday night — and Wacha is a pitcher they simply do not beat.
Well, they’ve beaten him once — in nine career decisions. Wacha has a 2.85 ERA to go along with that 8-1 record in 16 career appearances, including 14 starts, against the Reds.
Wacha isn’t exactly dominating so far this season, going 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA in two starts and 9 2/3 innings, but he did beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 on Saturday despite walking five and giving up four hits and two runs in five innings.
“He’s progressing in his game,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said after Wacha got through a three-walk first inning against Arizona. “It wasn’t the outing he wanted, but he kept us in the game, for sure.”
Wacha always seems to perform well against Cincinnati, even though some of the Reds hitters do give him trouble. Joey Votto is 13-for-34 (.382) against him with one homer and four RBIs, and Scooter Gennett is 8-for-25 (.320). However, top-of-the-lineup hitter Billy Hamilton is only 2-for-22 (.090), and Hamilton can’t do much damage if he’s not on the bases.
Wacha will be opposed by Reds right-hander Sal Romano, who is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in 11 innings over two starts.
Cincinnati’s dreadful start is raising questions about the status of manager Bryan Price, who has a 278-381 record in four-plus seasons. The Reds have never lost fewer than 86 games in a full season under Price.
“I know it (speculation) goes with the business,” Price said Wednesday. “All that can do is make my life harder if I allow it to influence me. … I will always do the best job that I’m capable of doing, and that’ll either be enough or it won’t. Getting caught up on whether I’ll still be here or not, I don’t have any control over that. Those decisions are made over my head.”
The Cardinals aren’t struggling like the Reds are, but they could badly use the kind of start Wacha usually makes against Cincinnati.
St. Louis lost two out of three to both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers while going 2-4 during its just-concluded six-game homestand. With a 5-7 record, the Cardinals are ahead of only Cincinnati in the division. They finished up the homestand by losing 3-2 to the Brewers on Wednesday.
One reason for the Cardinals’ slow start is their .235 team batting average — and their .209 average with runners in scoring position during the homestand. They have also struck out 114 times in 12 games, an average of nearly 10 per game. St. Louis’ bats are as cold as the weather most teams have played in so far this season.
“It’s early,” Matheny said. “But (the Cardinals) will get back to where they’re supposed to be. I’m excited to see our offense really start clicking and that usually happens at the top of the order, getting guys on base and the damage starts happening. It will come in waves too.”
The Reds are doing even worse statistically than the Cardinals.
“The simple statistics will tell you we’re last in the league in pitching and we’ve scored the fewest amount of runs,” Price said. “That is a bad combination if you want to win more than you lose.”
Romano, one of four young starters in Cincinnati’s rotation, wasn’t all that effective in his last start Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing four runs in the first two innings as the Reds fell behind 4-0. He managed to last five innings despite striking out only one, but didn’t figure in the decision as Cincinnati rallied to win 7-4.
Romano is 5-9 with a 4.59 ERA in 18 career starts, but has never faced the Cardinals.