The Philadelphia Phillies are back home after a long road trip, hosting the Cincinnati Reds this weekend.
In this second and final 2016 series with the Cincinnati Reds, the Phillies look to avenge the first go-round. Back in the season’s first series in Cincy, the Phils should have taken two of three on the road, but instead left having been swept as a result of two bullpen implosions in two days.
Both Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola put out incredibly strong outings. Ironically, the one run lead, which has become the 2016 Phillies staple as their season has become a winning one, was not enough in both of those first-week losses.
Last night, Hellickson was able to fight through one difficult defensive play which would result in the only two runs the right-hander would allow. He struck out as season-high nine on his way to a 3-2 win.
Along the way, Hellickson contained the player who I deem the roadblock for this series. Zack Cozart has been the Reds best player in terms of offensive WAR this season. Hellickson kept him at bay last night, as Cozart went hitless with one strikeout in four at bats.
Cozart, a career .248 hitter, was a 2nd round pick of Cincinnati out of the University of Mississippi. He rose pretty quickly through the Reds’ farm system, moving one level each year until receiving his call-up in 2011 after the Reds were not getting the necessary production out of their shortstop tandem, Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria.
Cozart has had two season-ending injuries, going through Tommy John surgery in 2011, and suffering torn ligaments in his knee in 2015.
However, this year has been a sort of renaissance for the 30-year-old. He leads the team in hits (33), average (.317), and runs (18). While Cozart is not much of a threat power-wise, he has been able to get on base and create RBI opportunities for the likes of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips.
In the first two games vs. the Phillies to open the season, Cozart was 4-7. Since then, he has had nine multi-hit games, including a 10-game hit streak to start 2016, and has hit or reached base safely in 23 of his 27 games played this season.
The Reds shortstop is the type of hitter whom the Phillies could shift on regularly if they so choose. He hits a majority of ground balls that he puts into play to the left side of the infield. As a matter of fact, most of the balls he puts in play on the ground or in the air end up on the left side.
The thought of worrying about shifting him may be an idea that is a difficult one to grasp, considering he hits leadoff for the Central’s last place team. Cozart is not a difficult guy to approach and will not hurt the Phillies if they find ways to avoid mistakes in the middle of the zone.
Anything on the inner and outer halves are possible spots for Cozart to hurt the Phillies. However, if the ball is down and in within the zone or at the top of the zone, Cozart really struggles. And in all honesty, if he chases outside the zone, he will not hurt the Phillies at all.
He has decent splits against both types of pitchers (.296/.333/.556 vs. lefties, and .325/.313/.519 vs. righties), and so the Phillies won’t play matchup against him the next couple of days. They are much more likely to try to beat him with location than they are by picking handedness matchups.
Cozart may not be the player that most Phillies fans immediately think of when the Reds come into town, but he has been their most consistent offensive piece so far in this still-young 2016 season. We will see if Nola and Adam Morgan can continue to get him out over the remainder of the weekend.