As good as the starting pitching has been, the bullpen has been nearly as bad. At least there is reason for optimism that the bullpen will improve.
Cincinnati's relievers have been among the league's best in recent seasons, but injuries have made this bullpen a serious liability.
The Reds bullpen has posted a 4.39 ERA, which ranks 26th in baseball and 14th in the National League. Most of the bullpens that rank near the bottom of the league have been overused. That's not the case here. Cincinnati's relievers have thrown the fewest innings (67.2) of any group in the league. In fact, manager Bryan Price has had a hard time finding enough innings for every reliever at times.
The workload isn't the problem; injuries are the issue.
Going into spring training, there weren't many spots open in the bullpen. Guys like Nick Christiani, Curtis Partch and Trevor Bell didn't stand much chance of making the club. However, injuries allowed all three relievers to make the Opening Day roster.
Cincinnati started the season with its closer (Aroldis Chapman) and two setup men (Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall) on the disabled list. Not only are those the highest-paid relievers on the team, but they are also the best.
Slowly, the bullpen has been getting healthy. Broxton returned early in the season, and Marshall was activated a couple of weeks later. By the end of this week, the bullpen could be close to 100 percent with the return of Chapman.
Marshall hasn't looked great since coming back. He has thrown a total of 13.1 innings since the beginning of last season, so he's going to be rusty right now. Once he gets going, he's a dominant southpaw. Price needs Marshall to return to form quickly considering how shaky left-hander Manny Parra has been this season.
Broxton's return was key. It allowed some relievers to settle into roles. Broxton immediately took over as closer. Sam LeCure settled into the setup role, and Marshall joined him once he was activated. With how deep the starters have pitched into games, not too many other relievers need set roles.
Even when Chapman returns, the bullpen won't be complete. Until Mat Latos returns from injury, the bullpen will be without Alfredo Simon. Given the way he has pitched this season, he is an important part of the bullpen.
No bullpen could succeed without its three best arms, especially when one of them is Aroldis Chapman. Now that the arms are getting healthy, though, the Reds bullpen should return to being a strength.