My thoughts on the Cincinnati Reds season through the first two months.
With the NHL and NBA Playoffs in full swing, baseball season has flown under the radar a bit. But we’re two months into the season and the Cincinnati Reds have the second most wins in baseball with 35.
It was a slow start for the team as they finished April with a record of 15-13 and couldn’t seem to win on the road to save their lives. But things turned around in May, where they only lost 8 games and managed to turn around their road woes ever so slightly. The Reds are still 15-14 on the road, which has to be better, but when you consider their 3-10 start away from home, 15-14 doesn’t look so bad. They can afford to hover around .500 on the road as they keep up their brilliant 20-7 record at home, which is best in the league.
Shin-Soo Choo has been everything they Reds could’ve hoped for. He can be an adventure in center field at times, but he’s as good as advertised at the plate. He’s second in the NL in on base percentage and walks, meaning he actually gets on base as the lead off hitter, which is something that Reds fans weren’t used to last year. He also has 10 home runs, is 4th in the NL with 41 runs scored, and leads the league in pitches taken.
While Choo has been consistent as the lead off hitter, the two and clean up spot needed shaking up early due to Ryan Ludwick’s injury. Brandon Phillips usually bats 2nd with Ludwick batting 4th, but when Ludwick went down, Phillips was moved to the four spot while the two spot was filled by the shortstop position. Phillips has thrived as the cleanup hitter, leading the NL in runs batted in with 45. Zack Cozart has just been average batting second and seems better off paired with Todd Frazier as the six and seven hitters, but due to circumstances that’s not happening. I think Xavier Paul would be better off in the two hole, but Dusty Baker doesn’t want to lead off with three straight left handed hitters. When Ludwick comes back, scheduled to be mid to late July, I could see Phillips staying in the four slot while Ludwick bats second.
Jay Bruce has been his usual self at the plate. He either crushes the ball or strikes out. He only has eight home runs, but he leads the NL in doubles and has 35 RBI, which is top ten in the league. Unfortunately, he also leads the league in strikeouts. It can be very frustrating watching Bruce because you know that he has the ability to be a good hitter, he just has this “all or nothing” mentality instead of staying patient at the plate.
Patientence at the plate is definitely something Joey Votto has. After a rough last season that included missing a significant amount of time with an injury and never quite returning to form, he’s officially back to his MVP ways. He’s fourth in batting average, first in on base percentage, runs, and walks, and he has 10 home runs. He also leads the league in wins above replacement, if you’re into that whole sabermetric stuff. He only has 28 RBI, which you would think would be slightly higher given Choo’s ability to get on base, but part of the problem is the two hitter failing to move Choo over once he does get on. If Phillips were batting second, I have a feeling that Votto’s RBI total would be higher. Despite the slightly low RBI total, Votto has done everything we expect him to do at the plate and always seems to come up with the big hit when the team needs.
The rest of the line-up has been solid as well. Todd Frazier is following up a strong rookie season with another good year, Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson have been very good in left field while Ludwick and Chris Heisy have battled injuries, and Devin Mesoraco did well while Ryan Hanigan, who is currently struggling, was hurt.
The offense is in the top 10 in all the major hitting categories, so it’s safe to say that things are going fine at the plate. Sure they leave a lot of runners on base, but you have to get them on base to leave them on. No team can drive in every run.
Last year the pitching staff was among the best in baseball. This year has been more of the same. The staff struggled a little bit early, but so did the majority of the team. Since May, they’ve been what fans saw last year. Johnny Cueto missed some time with injury but Tony Cingrani was called up and proved to be MLB ready despite only using a fastball the majority of the time. Mat Latos has been outstanding, going 5-0 with a 3.01 ERA. His record would be better if the bullpen hasn’t blown four games for him. Homer Baily has been slightly disappointing given how well he ended last season. He’s 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA, but I have confidence that he can turn things around. Bronson Arroyo has also struggled going 5-5 with a 3.75 ERA, but his veteran presence on the staff can’t be understated. Then there’s Mike Leake, who I’ve never been a fan of. I give him credit this year though. He’s 5-2 with a 2.75 ERA and has won his last three starts. I still don’t have 100% faith in him, but as long as he keeps this up, I have no complaints.
The bullpen couldn’t seem to find a rhythm early, thanks in large part to Sean Marshall missing time early, but once he went down, things seemed to fall in place. Unfortunately Marshall went back on the DL late in May, but thanks to Sam LeCure being “Mr. Everything” for the Reds staff, there hasn’t been too much of a drop off. The biggest disappointment from the bullpen has been Jonathan Broxton, who has a 4.63 ERA and a few blown saves. He’s just not putting fear into the opponents like he used to. Aroldis Chapman has been as good as expected. His ERA needs to come down a bit, but he’s striking out guys at a tremendous rate and holding them to a .186 batting average. If Marshall can come back healthy and Broxton can return to form, the bullpen becomes one of the best in baseball again. But if Marshall keeps missing time and Broxton continues to be average at best, the bullpen is still above average, but fails to capitalize on their full potential.
The way Dusty Baker handles the rotation is always a concern, but at this point, it’s just not worth complaining about. He’s always going to leave a guy in too long or not play the matchup when he should. Sometimes it costs the team, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s hard to argue with the results, but it’s fair to wonder if the results could be better if he managed a bit smarter.
The biggest problem for the Reds right now is the division they play in. While they’ve been hot, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals have been just as hot. The Cardinals have the best record in baseball and the Pirates have the same record as the Reds. So even though the Reds have been winning a lot of games as of late, they Pirates and Cardinals have kept pace with them. The Pirates have a history of falling off though and as a Reds fan, I can only hope that continues.
There are still over 100 games left in the season, so it’s way too early to panic or celebrate, but as long as the team continues to produce like they’ve been doing and they still healthy, they should be right back in the playoffs.