Tonight marks the first game in the Battle For Ohio. The Cincinnati Reds are up north to take on the Cleveland Indians and the entire state is wrapped up in baseball fever.
The Reds are one-half game out of first place in the NL Central, trailing the hated St. Louis Cardinals. The Indians lead the AL Central by five full games over Detroit.
FOXSportsOhio.com has taken our two Ohio baseball experts and asked them to lay out the weekend series. Hal McCoy discusses the Reds and Sam Amico will introduce the Indians.
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Here’s what to expect this weekend at Progressive Field;
The Cincinnati Reds – by Hal McCoy
• LHP Travis Wood hit a speed bump in April, losing three decisions after winning his first start. But he has won his last two starts, including 6 2/3 innings of shutout pitching during a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
• RHP Homer Bailey missed the first six weeks of the season with shoulder inflammation, but has come back magnificently, winning all three starts and posting a 1.89 ERA. He is flashing superb maturity after a slow start as the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2004 when he was 18 years old.
• RHP Edinson Volquez has given up runs in the first inning in seven of his nine starts and experienced mammoth control problems (34 walks in 48 1/3 innings), but the team has usually rescued him (his record is 3-1). He gave up three runs in the first inning of his last start against the Cubs, then only one hit and one walk with nine strikeouts over his next five innings.
THREE KEYS TO THE SEASON SO FAR
• Teams are pitching around NL MVP Joey Votto and he leads the league in walks, but clean-up hitter Brandon Phillips has made pitchers pay for it and is putting together an MVP type season of his own.
• The team stayed in first or second through April despite missing two of its starters for the first five weeks in Bailey and Johnny Cueto. The team won 11 of 15 when they returned as they combined to go 5-1 in their first six starts.
• Left fielder Jonny Gomes, a major producer last season, is hitting only .180 and is getting less and less playing time, but he does have seven homers and 19 RBI and will be used in this series as the designated hitter.
THE REDS WIN THE SERIES IF. . .
The bats come back alive after scoring just three runs in losing two straight to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates at home.
THE REDS LOSE THE SERIES IF. . .
The starting pitchers don’t go deep into the games and stay away from a heavily used bullpen that is depleted with the loss of Aroldis Chapman. The fire-balling reliver is on the DL with shoulder inflammation after three straight appearances during which he recorded one total out.
The Cleveland Indians – by Sam Amico
• RHP Alex White has given up five runs in 12 career innings pitched. He compiled six strikeouts in a win over the Angels on May 7. He previously scheduled start, May 14 vs. the Mariners, was postponed due to rain.
• RHP Josh Tomlin is 5-1 and received plenty of help following his first loss, as the Indians rocked the Royals 19-1 in his last decision. He has pitched 52-2/3 innings and allowed 16 runs, with 27 strikeouts and five walks.
• RHP Carlos Carrasco has tossed 100 and 97 pitches in his two appearances following a stint on the disabled list, a sign the inflammation in his elbow is better. He has surrendered 22 runs in 39-1/3 innings.
THREE KEYS TO THE SEASON
• Surviving injuries is the biggest thing for the Indians, who don’t have much depth when compared to most other division leaders. Grady Sizemore is on the disabled list, and now Travis Hafner and Travis Buck have a couple of sores of their own.
• It sure won’t hurt if second baseman Orlando Cabrera and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera continue at their current pace, both with timely hitting and strong defense. Asdrubal Cabrera leads AL shortstops in hits (48), runs (27), RBI (27) and home runs (seven).
• This is the first weekend of interleague play, and truly is big for both franchises. Each could look back at this series as a telling one, and it’s important for the Indians to get things together again at home following two straight road losses.
THE INDIANS WIN THE SERIES IF …
The young starting pitching (White, Tomlin) continues to impress and the bats come back alive. After pounding out 25 runs against the Royals, the Indians were held to two in two games against the White Sox.
THE REDS WIN THE SERIES IF …
Based on this season, the Reds will need to battle until the bitter end, because the Indians have had a tendency to overcome leads late in games at home.