5 Players Who Must Step Up for the Cincinnati Reds to Win the NL Central

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2013

5 Players Who Must Step Up for the Cincinnati Reds to Win the NL Central

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    The Cincinnati Reds have been the hottest team in the NL Central over their past 18 games. In that span, the Reds own a 12-6 record, compared to the Cardinals and Pirates, who have both gone 9-9 in the same stretch.

    Dating back to the All-Star Game, the Reds boast the best record of the three teams mentioned above, going 18-13, which is a .581 winning percentage.

    Should they stay on their current winning pace, the Reds would win 20-21 of their 36 remaining games and finish the season with a record of either 91-71 or 92-70. Either of those two totals would give them a very good shot at winning the division when you figure the projected win totals of the Cardinals and Pirates over the same 36 games.

    TeamCurrent W-L2nd Half Winning PercentageProjected W-L
    Cincinnati Reds71-55.58191-71
    St. Louis Cardinals72-53.46988-74
    Pittsburgh Pirates74-51.56394-68

    At their current pace, the Reds would finish second in the division. However, they'll hold the keys to their own fate as six of their 11 remaining series come against teams with a record below the .500 mark.

    The Pirates and Cardinals will face six teams below .500 in that same span. The Cardinals own the easiest schedule down the stretch, though, as all six of their series against teams below .500 happen consecutively to end the season.

    The Reds will play both the Pirates and Cardinals twice in the final 36 games, with both series against the Pirates coming in the team's final nine games.

    Simply put, the Reds have a solid chance to win their division. At just 3.5 games back, the time has come for the Reds—who have finally gotten healthy—to make their move on the NL Central.

    Several players will have to step up over the final 36 games of the season if the Reds are going to win consecutive NL Central Championshipsand their third in four seasons.

    Let's take a look at five such players right now.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com—unless otherwise noted—and are current through play Aug. 20, 2013.

Todd Frazier

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    Todd Frazier has muddled through a mediocre 2013. Over 117 games played, the 27-year-old owns a .234/.325/.397 slash line with 13 home runs, 56 RBI and 48 runs scored. 

    The last 60 games—over half of Frazier's season—have been a complete disappointment. In that time, Frazier worked to a disappointing .212/.305/.375 slash line with seven home runs, 22 RBI, 23 runs scored and a 49:22 K/BB ratio.

    Through Aug. 21 last season, Frazier had already worked to a .294/.351/.562 slash line with 18 home runs, 55 RBI and 44 runs scored.

    Although his late-season stretch last season is hardly confidence-inspiring—.195/.245/.299, one home run, seven RBI and eight runs over 25 games—it doesn't mean that he couldn't turn things around in the late-goings of 2013.

    Frazier sports a very unlucky .279 BAbip. That figure represents an 13-point decrease from his career average and a whopping 37-point decrease from the .316 mark he posted last season. In addition to this though, the third baseman owns a line-drive percentage of 25 percent, which is five points higher than both his 2012 rate and the MLB average over his three-year career.

    The pieces are there to suggest that Frazier has been the victim of bad luck. He'll need that luck to change if he's going to help the Reds down the stretch.

Aroldis Chapman

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    Aroldis Chapman hasn't been at his best for the entirety of his 2013 season. The flame-throwing closer owns a 3.10 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP to go along with per-nine ratios of 15.7 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 4.10 K/BB, 5.8 H/9 and 1.3 HR/9.

    At 25 years old, Chapman is one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. However, the young lefty has been inconsistent this year and has already matched his blown saves total from last season, with thirteen less appearances.

    Chapman is adored by fans for his incredible velocity and dominance on the mound. He's exhibited this numerous times this season, producing four streaks of five or more games without allowing an earned run. Included in those stretches is a 13-game streak from May 20 to June 19, in which he limited opposing batters to a .093/.204/.116 triple slash while striking out an incredible 53.1 percent of batters faced.

    Chapman is a force on the mound. Even when he struggles, he can still be difficult to hit. However, when he misses with a fastball out over the plate or hangs a slider, he's just asif not more—vulnerable than any other pitcher in the game.

    The Reds' closer will need to be in top form if they're going to take the division crown, and the best thing he can do at this point is work to limit the long ball.

Ryan Ludwick

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    Ordinarily, we'd cut Ryan Ludwick a bit of slack at this juncture. The 35-year-old is fresh off a DL stint dating back to the season's first game and has yet to regain his 2012 form.

    On the year, Ludwick has played in just eight games. Over said games, he owns a .190/.292/.238 slash line with four hits, one RBI and one run scored.

    The Reds' lineup suffered through a major shake-up with Ludwick out of the lineup. With his absence, Brandon Phillips was forced to slot back into the four hole, leaving Zack Cozart and, lately, Frazier to man the No. 2 spot in the order. 

    With Ludwick back, Dusty Baker has stuck with the Frazier/Cozart combo in the two hole. If he were to return to the outstanding form he showed in 2012, Ludwick could bat fourth, allowing BP to fill the two hole, giving the team a much more consistent lineup.

    Given the circumstances he's encountered this season, no one's chastising Luddy for his play. However, it would do wonders for the Reds should his play pick up over the final 36 games.

Logan Ondrusek

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    Logan Ondrusek has really floundered in 2013. After a breakout season in 2011, Ondrusek has regressed in consecutive seasons, where he's become a major liability in the bullpen.

    Ondrusek's ERA, WHIP, K/BB and H/9 figures represent the worst of any Reds reliever currently on the active roster. To this point, the 28-year-old has earned himself just 36 appearances on the season, forcing the team to use other options at a significantly higher rate.

    The 6'8" Texas product hasn't allowed an earned run in his last three appearances, but his opponents own a triple slash against him that would make Josh Hamilton giddy this season. In 148 at-bats, opposing batters are teeing off on Ondrusek to the tune of a .257/.325/.439 slash line, with five home runs, 10 doubles and a 31:15 K/BB ratio.

    In addition to problems with his own batters, Ondrusek is allowing runners inherited from previous pitchers to score at an alarming 27 percent rate. Ondrusek's average leverage index (aLI) sits at a very low .763. That figure indicates that he's facing situations featuring below average pressure.

    To put that figure in perspective, the right-hander's aLI clocked in at a massive 1.419, the highest figure of his career.

    The idea that Ondrusek has struggled this much in a season where he's faced with about half as much pressure as last year is mind-boggling, but the Reds will need him to turn it around if Sean Marshall remains on the DL.

Brandon Phillips

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    We may currently be witnessing Brandon Phillips' return to glory. The 32-year-old was bogged down into a rather long slump dating back to June 1—he slashed .230/.277/.336 until Aug. 15.

    Phillips was hit by a pitch in that June 1 game, and the effects lingered well through July and into August. However, BP has rebounded nicely in August, slashing .304/.333/.435 for the month and .320/.346/.480 over his last 12.

    Following the injury, the Reds went 34-31 during the aforementioned stretch of games between June 1 and Aug. 15.

    Phillips has hit fourth in the order for most of his games this season—just two games out of the four hole and has therefore hit behind Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo. With numerous RBI opportunities, Phillips has been able to rack up some gaudy RBI totals—92 this season—but his batting average, on-base and slugging percentages have dipped for the second straight season.

    Phillips could see his role with the team change should Ludwick excel in his return to the team. A move to the two hole could cause Phillips' RBI totals to dip, but he'll need to bring his OBP up if he's going to fix the Reds' biggest issue this year: the two hole.

    Phillips would be an obvious upgrade. He slashes .277/.320/.424 in that position. The team has used multiple players in that spot, and none have quite panned out. Including pitchers, Cincinnati's No. 2 hitters own a .225/.274/.347 slash line this season.

    It remains to be seen whether this will come to fruition, but one way or another, the Reds will rely upon Phillips' production in their chase for the NL Central.