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Series Preview: Astros @ Reds

The Astros already played the Reds (and were swept) a month ago, but I thought we might check up on the pitching matchups and look at where Cincinnati is at the moment, since their position in the standings has--ahem--changed since then.  Cincinnati currently sits atop the National League Central with a half-game lead over the Cardinals and 28-20 win/loss record.  They suddenly look like a much better team than last season, but is it real, or is it an early season mirage?

Before we get into that, let's take a look at the pitching the Astros will have to deal with this series.

The pitching matchup tonight is Wandy Rodriguez vs. rookie Sam LeCure.  If you're watching in the Houston market, you'll hear talk on Fox Sports about how the Astros tend to struggle the first time they see a pitcher, and it certainly has seemed to be the case.  University of Texas alum Sam LeCure has a very respectable record in the minor leagues, with a career 3.67 earned run average and a career ratio of 7.9 strikeouts to 3.1 walks.  Expect to see a low 90s fastball as well as a slider and changeup, and if the jitters of his big league debut don't get to him, solid command of all three pitches.

We'll also be seeing Bud Norris' replacement (could be Brian Moehler, Gustavo Chacin, Wesley Wright, or Wilton Lopez) against Aaron Harang tomorrow.  Harang has an ugly 5.98 ERA this year, but his peripherals are much better, and he won't likely be that bad over the rest of the season.

Finally, Felipe Paulino will face off against the rookie Mike Leake.  You might remember him from last time we saw him, when he dominated the Astros to the tune of one earned run over seven innings.  Maybe they'll perform a little better now that they've seen Leake before.  But knowing this offense, maybe not--and Leake has been good in general this season, with a 2.70 ERA and an excellent groundball rate.

On the whole, the Reds have been pretty good this season.  Their team OPS (on-base plus slugging) sits at .785, just a shade behind the Brewers' .786 mark .  Going by OPS, that makes them the second best offensive team in the National League up to this point in the season.  First-sacker Joey Votto has been an important part of that, as he leads all NL first basemen in OPS with .961.

Their pitching, on the other hand, has just been average, with a team ERA of 4.45 and a slightly better FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark of 4.20.  Reinforcements are on the way, however, as young pitching phenom Aroldis Chapman should be up in the big leagues before long.  Fortunately, we won't see him this series, as his talent is still being wasted developing at the AAA level, but there's a good chance we'll have to face him before the end of the season when the Reds come to Houston later in the year.

Make no mistake: This is a different team from the 78-84 Reds of last season.  With the additions of Leake and LeCure, their pitching staff is better than it has been in awhile.  And once Chapman is called up later in the season, they may well usurp the Cardinals as the team to beat in the NL Central.  Makes you feel a little better about getting swept last time, at least, doesn't it?

Okay, maybe not.