Cincinnati at Toronto, May 20-22

Friday, May 20 2022 @ 12:00 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

We don't see these guys very often.

Back in the day, when I was a working man, I'd get a nice, shiny Blue Jays Media Guide handed to me for free every April. Now I have to download a PDF just like everybody else. But I did, and if you'll all turn to page 342 you'll see that the Jays have done rather well (12-6) against this Cincinnati outfit over the years, on the six separate occasions that they've hooked up for a three game set.

It was almost five years ago when the Reds most recently provided the opposition. The last time they played here was on the final day of May 2017. Mike Bolsinger was on the hill for the home side - he'd spent the entire month in the rotation as those were strange and disturbing times- and a two run homer by hometown hero Joey Votto had staked the visitors to a lead just three batters in. But Bolsinger, in what would be his last start in the majors, kept the game under control and worked into the sixth inning. The Jays had tied it up by then, on a two run homer by Luke Maile (honest!) Yet another two run homer, this one by Devon Travis, put the home side ahead to stay. Jason Grilli got credit for what would be his last win in the majors. It completed a series sweep for the Jays, and the Reds - whose season had gotten off to a decent enough start (they'd been in second place with a 19-15 record just three weeks earlier) fell to 24-28.They would lose 94 games by the time it was over.

The Reds have won just twice in nine games in Toronto, and the last time was thirteen years ago. The Reds got to Brett Cecil early and took a 5-1 lead, but the Jays chipped away and tied the game against Johnny Cueto. But Joey Votto, who already had three hits and had driven in two, hit a solo HR against Shawn Camp (in his fourth inning of relief) and Coco Cordero closed it out. June 25, 2009.

Everyone's mileage will vary, but for me the most memorable game between these two teams came on a Friday night in June 2014. I was downtown, at Dundas Square, where St Vincent was putting on a free concert. I was quite enraptured with her eponymous fourth album at the time. (I'm somewhat bored with it now, but I like the one after it - both versions - much better anyway!) Meanwhile one of the various large screens in the neighbourhood had the Jays game on, but as they fell behind 8-0 almost instantly, Annie Clark had my full attention. But the Jays were chipping away. Encarnacion hit a three run homer to make it 8-3. They scored two more in the sixth, to close to 9-5. In the seventh, a solo shot by Brett Lawrie and a two run homer by Juan Francisco brought the Jays to within a run. They tied it in the eighth on a Dioner Navarro double and with the game tied Aroldis Chapman came out to work the ninth. He issued a walk to Rasmus, allowed an RBI double to Kratz, an RBI single from Cabrera, and walked Bautista. Sam LeCure was summoned, and instantly gave up a three run homer to Encarnacion - yup, another one - and we all went home happy.

The Reds have had an interesting time of it so far in 2022. They started out on the road, splitting four games with the World Champion Atlanta team. A decent start. They then proceeded to lose their next eleven games. They finally arrested that slide by beating the Cardinals - and promptly lost their next nine. When you lose 20 out of 21, it will put you in a hole, and by 6 May the Reds sported a 3-22 record and were already 14.5 games off the division lead. They've been playing better since - they've gone 8-4 since hitting absolute rock bottom, and just swept a two game mini-series against their cross-state rivals in Cleveland.

The Reds' pitching has been a disaster. No major league team has been allowing more runs, not even the one that plays way above sea level. The bullpen has been very bad and the rotation has been a dumpster fire (5-23, 6.75). Changes have already been made. Two of the three men starting against the Jays this weekend did not open the season with the team. One of them is Luis Castillo, who gets tonight's start. He was on the IL with shoulder problems, and returned to the rotation just ten days ago. Castillo has been a dependable, reliable presence in the Reds rotation since 2017. It is in fact a little mysterious how he managed to go 8-16 last year with an ERA+ of 120 for a team with a winning record. It probably had something to do with those 14 starts when he was supported by two runs or less (he went 0-12) although he did manage to lead the NL in bases on balls.

Next up will be Hunter Greene, the second overall pick from 2017. He was part of the rotation that opened the season - in fact, he won his major league debut in that season-opening series in Atlanta. Things have not gone so great since. He's taken the L in each of his following six starts, even the one in which he threw 7.1 innings of no-hit ball. Which was certainly a step in the right direction, one must admit.  In his 33.1 innings, Greene has struck out 44, which is certainly impressive. But he's walked 20, which is alarming and he's allowed 11 home runs which is that same alarm routed through a stack of Marshalls.

Finally, on Sunday, we'll see our old - well, he wasn't around long enough to make friends, let's call him an old acquaintance - Connor Overton. Remember him? Ah Connor, we hardly knew ye. Drafted by Miami and released, signed by Washington, signed by the Giants and released.  He lost a year to injury, he found himself pitching in an independent league, and no one anywhere seemed to think he could be a starting pitcher - in all his years in the minors, he started just 11 games. He was  finally signed by the Blue Jays a little over a year ago, and it was for the Jays that Overton finally got to make his major league debut last August. He actually did a very nice job while he was here only to be Designated For Assignment after three weeks (the team just had to take a chance on Jake Lamb) and subsequently claimed on waivers by the Pirates. He continued to pitch well in relief until the final week, when he made two starts for Pittsburgh and got shelled both times.Cincinnati signed him as a free agent this off-season and he began the year at AAA Louisville. He was called up after three weeks and has made four starts, all of them quite good - he's pitched into the sixth inning or deeper every time, he's never allowed more than two runs, and he has yet to allow a home run. He's only struck out 10 batters in 24.2 innings, and the opposition's .208 BABiP seems unlikely to last forever. Midnight comes for Cinderella, pretty well every time. But he's hung in there, hasn't he? While it seems to me unlikely that the good times are bound to last, it's kind of nice to see that perseverance rewarded.

Sophomore catcher Tyler Stephenson has been the Reds best hitter so far (.325/.384/.545) which isn't enormously surprising - he had a fine rookie campaign last year. What is surprising is Brandon Drury being the next best hitter. Brandon Drury? He's been alternating between second and third, and he's still hitting just .245 but he's drawn some walks and leads the team with 7 home runs - you know, as many homers as Vladimir Guerrero has. Where is the great Joey Votto, you ask? Joey has been on a rehab assignment at Louisville and Dayton this week after spending a week "on the couch or in bed" with COVID. He was planning to return to the Reds' lineup for the series in Toronto. His season got off to a dreadul, appalling, disastrous start (.122/.278/.135), but he's coming off an excellent bounce-back year in 2021, his best season since 2017. He's played in all nine games the Reds have ever played in Toronto, and done all right  (.242/.342/.576) with three homers.


Fri 20 May - Castillo (0-1, 5.59) vs Ryu (0-0, 9.00)
Sat 21 May - Greene (1-6, 6.21) vs Manoah (4-1, 1.71)
Sun 22 May - Overton (1-0, 1.82) vs Kikuchi (2-1, 3.38)