Tomorrow night in Tampa will mark the halfway point in the Cincinnati Reds 2011 season. This morning, after 79 games, they stand tied for third place in the NL Central, four games behind Milwaukee, a game behind St. Louis, and tied with upstart Pittsburgh. Frankly, they’re fortunate to be in this good of a position heading into the second half. There’s no good explanation, however, for why the defending division champions sit in this position, especially given the relative mediocre play of the rest of the division.
Once thought to be the strength of the ball club, the Reds’ starting pitching has been abysmal. Injuries have played a part in that, with Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, and Homer Bailey all seeing time on the DL. Still, Cincinnati is reputed to have the deepest cache of starters in the majors. Volquez (5.77) and Arroyo (5.01) have been very disappointing. Only Johnny Cueto seems to be living up to the hype. Unless this staff turns things around and starts performing to the backs of their baseball cards, it won’t matter what else the Reds do between now and October.
The relief corps has been outstanding. Although young, and to this point overworked, with the exception of Aroldis Chapman’s struggles, this unit has kept the Reds in ballgames. Sam Lecure has been a savior in middle relief and Logan Andrusek. Bill Bray, and Nick Massett have been effective set-up men. Unfortunately, closer Francisco Cordero, enjoying an unusual bout of consistency, hasn’t had many leads to bring home to this point. Again, if the starters don’t turn it around, look for this unit to be gassed come September.
The numbers look impressive for the offense. They’re in the top 5 in the majors in most categories. The problem has been inconsistency and one huge hole in the lineup. Jay Bruce looked like Duke Snider reincarnated in May. He looks like Rob Deer lost in the headlights here in June. Even Joey Votto has struggled this month. The big hole is the shortstop position where the tandem of Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria is hitting a paltry .227. GM Walt Jocketty tried to defend their continued place by citing their strong defense. More about that in a moment. Zack Cozart is currently tearing up AAA pitching, hitting .314 with 7 home runs and 8 stolen bases. You can’t tell me the Reds couldn’t use that type of spark in the bottom third of the order.
Defensively, the Reds have been average. Their fielding percentage looks good, but they’re 24th in the league in total errors ad 16th in double plays turned. Of Cincinnati’s 40 errors, Janish and Renteria account for 15 of them. With pitchers already struggling and the ball starting to carry at Great American Ballpark, the Reds can ill afford to be giving extra outs or putting extra runners on base. Before this season, Cozart was known as a flashy gloveman with a questionable bat. It appears as if he’s answered the bat question.
Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker don’t need to go out and trade for a big arm or bat to contend. As the Reds proved last year, they’ve got more than enough firepower in both categories to win. What’s needed is to maximize the efficiency of the pieces they have already in the organization. Those moves need to be made sooner than later, however. They’ve already squandered Milwaukee’s slow start and St. Louis’s injury issues. If the Reds are to repeat, the folks outside the lines are going to have to make some tough decisions.