The young Cincinnati Reds are a hanging tough at 26-20.
They are currently 1 1/2 games behind the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. They also trail the Milwaukee Brewers by a half game. The Reds are leading the preseason favorites, the Chicago Cubs, by three games.
They play all three in the next ten days.
Is this a “make or break” stretch for this young club so early in the season? Time will tell.
The Reds begin by traveling today to Milwaukee to open a three-game set with the Brewers. Following the series in Milwaukee, they travel south to face the Cardinals for four games. They finish the crucial ten games with three at home against the Cubs.
It’s ten games in ten days against your closest division rivals. Do these young, no-name Reds have what it takes to separate themselves from the pack? Will this be the beginning of a “June Swoon,” or will the Reds come out of these ten games no worse for the wear?
Reds fans have to be impressed up to this point at the staying power of Dusty Baker’s squad. While there is no superstar, there is a group of hungry young players who go out each and every day and battle opponents until the final out is recorded.
The poster boys for the Reds are first baseman Joey Votto and right fielder Jay Bruce. Votto is one of the league leaders with a .360 batting average. He has battled illness over the last couple of weeks, which has caused him to miss a few games and had him leave a couple others early. He eventually was diagnosed with an inner-ear infection.
Bruce started the season slowly, but has 14 HR’s and his average is climbing.
Veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips has been on fire in the month of May. He has a NL-leading 27 RBI for the month. He has raised his average from .188 to .275.
Phillips suffered a hairline fracture on his right thumb during the Cleveland series while fielding a ground ball off the bat of Grady Sizemore. He hopes to play with the injury.
Offseason acquisition Willy Tavares, has been setting the table for the Reds offense. While cooling off as of late, he continues to score runs for the Reds and contribute.
Other valuable contributors have been Jerry Hairston, Jr., Lance Nix, Adam Rosales, and Jonny Gomes. Hairston has come in and filled in for Edwin Encarnacion at third base (broken wrist). He also has played some outfield.
Nix is hitting .286 and has done a good job in left field. Rosales spelled Alex Gonzalez at shortstop when he sustained a rib injury. Gomes is hitting .429 since being called up on May 22.
The Reds will only go as far as their pitching will carry them. They have an above-average pitching staff. Their top four starters are good. They have a top-notch closer and a good crew of relievers.
Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, and Micah Owings are the Reds rotation. Harang is solid. He is coming off a tough 2008 season. He is 5-4 with a decent 3.36 ERA. His record should be better.
Volquez is 4-2. He recently missed a start due to back spasms.
Arroyo is 7-3, but has an ERA above five. He has been the beneficiary of some hefty run support.
Cueto has a fantastic 2.37 ERA and a 4-2 record. Hopefully his control troubles are behind him.
The wild card of the bunch is their fifth starter, Owings. He is probably the best hitting pitcher in the bigs, but he can’t get past the fifth inning of any of his starts. He does have, however, some clutch pinch hits.
In the bullpen the Reds have five players with between 19 and 21 appearances on season. Veterans Arthur Rhodes (L) and David Weathers (R) have been stellar.
Rhodes has a .52 ERA in 20 appearances. Weathers has appeared 19 times and sports a nice 2.70 ERA. Young lefty Daniel Ray Herrara has a 2.04 ERA in 20 relief appearances. Righty Jared Burton has struggled in his 19 games. His ERA is above six.
Closer Francisco Cordero is 13-of-13 in save opportunities with an ERA at 1.71. He is on pace to go above 50 saves.
Where will the Cincinnati Reds be following these ten games with their division rivals? Reds fans hope they are riding high and on top of the NL Central.
Tyrd Ferguson – VSN Writer