Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce and Others Who Must Step Up to Make the World Series
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As the playoff contenders gear up for the final two months of the season, they're all looking for momentum as they finish the season strong and enter October.
For the Cincinnati Reds—who are looking to reach the postseason for the second time in three year—not only is making the playoffs a goal, but also reaching the NLCS and World Series.
Their 2010 run was short-lived and mostly memorable for Roy Halladay's no-hitter in Game 1. The Reds eventually got swept by the Phillies behind terrific pitching performances from both Halladay and Cole Hamels.
If the Reds want to snap their seven-game playoff losing streak—dating back to the 1995 NLCS when the eventual World Series champion Atlanta Braves swept them in four games—they must get step-up performances from these five players to help their already consistent stars such as Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto and their dominating bullpen.
These five players are guys who have shown signs of performing at a high level, but also have moments of poor play or long droughts. When these players are at their best, the Reds come up victorious. When they falter, the Reds struggle to win.
Jay Bruce: Right Fielder
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Since Jay Bruce emerged in a Reds uniform he's been a power hitter with an inconsistent bat. When Bruce gets on a roll, he's one of the most dangerous hitters in all of baseball. When he's in a slump, it looks like he'll never get back on track.
Bruce started the year off strong, hitting .296 for the month of April, but he followed that with a poor May in which he hit .229 with an on-base percentage of .296. As of August 6, Bruce is hitting .316 for the month while the Reds have gone 4-2 overall.
The Reds and their fans know what he's capable of doing, as seen with his performance in May of 2011. Bruce hit an incredible .342 while hitting 12 home runs and driving in 33 RBI en route to the National League Player of the Month.
If the two-time All-Star can finish out the last two months of 2012 like he did back in 2010—where he hit .331 and the game-winning home run that clinched the Central Division—then the Reds will sleep better going into October.
Drew Stubbs: Center Fielder
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Drew Stubbs has the power and speed that every team desires when it comes to a potential leadoff hitter. Unlike the greatest of all time Rickey Henderson, Stubbs can't seem to reach base often enough.
The Reds' record holder for most strikeouts in a season—whiffing 205 times back in '11—Stubbs has yet to be consistent at the plate like he is defensively. For the past two years, manager Dusty Baker attempted to make Stubbs the leadoff hitter, but the results have been fruitless.
In the last 10 games, Stubbs is hitting .308 with four home runs as the Reds are trying to pull away with the division. As rookie shortstop Zack Cozart continues to struggle at the top of the order, Baker may revert back to Stubbs to re-energize the lineup in order to keep Brandon Phillips at cleanup.
Since Stubbs is the Reds' best base stealer, they will be relying on him to cause havoc on the bases if they want to score as many runs as possible in the playoffs.
Bronson Arroyo: Starting Pitcher
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While Johnny Cueto is having a Cy Young-caliber season and the bullpen has been the best in baseball, they are only as good as the rest of Cincinnati's starting rotation.
Bronson Arroyo is coming off his worst season as a Red where he gave up a career-high and MLB-high 46 home runs and finished with an ERA of 5.07. So it's easy to see that Arroyo could give up the long ball in October, especially in Cincy's hitter-friendly ballpark.
So far 2012 has been a bounce-back year for the Reds' longest tenured starter. But if his last outing against Milwaukee—5.1 innings, five earned runs and 10 hits—is any indicator, then opponents could have a field day against Arroyo on any given night.
Scott Rolen: Third Baseman
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When the Reds picked up Scott Rolen at the 2009 trade deadline, they took a chance on his health in order to get his stellar defense, veteran leadership and strong bat. For the rest of 2009 and all of 2010, Rolen did that while winning a Gold Glove and going to the All-Star Game.
In the Divisional Series versus the Phillies, Rolen disappeared, going 1-for-11 and striking out eight times in the three-game sweep.
Since 2010, Rolen has been a mainstay on the DL and has been hitting below .250. As late as July 18 of this year, his average fell below the Mendoza Line at .197. In 63 games this season Rolen is hitting .240 with five home runs, 27 RBI and a .320 OBP.
The good news is that in the last 10 games Rolen is hitting .387, driving in six RBI, and taking eight walks. His late surge is a blessing for the Reds who can now use their top utility player Todd Frazier in other positions. For Rolen, another playoff run will be an opportunity for redemption.
Homer Bailey: Starting Pitcher
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The one-time top pitching prospect in the Reds organization seems to be coming into his own as a middle of the rotation starter this season. After struggling to get his footing during his first five seasons in the big leagues, Bailey has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in first 22 starts of the year.
It's his starts at home that may worry Reds fans. Overall at Great American Ballpark, Bailey has a 3-5 record with a 5.35 ERA as opposing hitters are batting an incredible .317, second-worst on the team behind fifth starter Mike Leake.
Where Bailey stands in the rotation, he may be used in series-clinching or elimination games—especially in the best-of-five Divisional Series—where teams can't afford a disappointing outing from their starting pitchers.
In the 2010 playoffs, Bailey made one relief appearance throwing two shutout innings. For the 2012 playoffs, Dusty Baker will look to use Bailey more often since there won't be enough rest between his two aces in Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. When that moment comes, Bailey will need to step up and pitch like the first-round pick he was back in 2004.