5 Bold Predictions for the Remainder of the Cincinnati Reds' Season
The Cincinnati Reds have been hit hard by the injury bug through the first six weeks of the season, but there is still plenty for Reds fans to look forward to this year.
Manager Bryan Price has had to find a way to work through all of the injuries and keep this team in contention until it gets healthy. It certainly hasn't been easy, but Cincinnati is still hanging around early on.
Poor clutch hitting and bad relief pitching has doomed the team this season. Although that combination has led to a lot of one-run losses, there is still plenty of time to get back on track. Getting healthy will be a big plus should the team ever reach that point.
With more than four months to go in the regular season, the Reds will only get better.
Keep reading to see some bold predictions for the rest of the season.
*All stats are via MLB.com
Only 2 Reds Will Make the National League All-Star Team
Fans expected at least four All-Stars before the season began, but the team will be lucky to get any more than three at this point due to injuries and poor performances.
Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman will all be in the conversation to represent the club in Minnesota this year.
Cueto—if he stays healthy—should be a lock to make the National League All-Star team. The word "should" has to be thrown in there given his history. Back in 2012, Tony LaRussa—who was the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals at the time—left Cueto off the team. This year, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will manage the NL team. It's unlikely that Matheny will snub Cueto the way that LaRussa did, especially the way the veteran is pitching.
Through his first nine starts, Cueto leads the league in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, strikeouts, batting average against, ERA and WHIP. There's no way that a manager can leave a pitcher that good off the roster if he truly wants to earn home-field advantage.
The team's other representative will come down to Votto and Chapman.
Votto has made the All-Star team four straight years. However, he's up against some pretty stiff competition this year. Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Morneau and Freddie Freeman are all making strong cases to make the squad. If Votto wants to make the team, he's going to need to raise his average and start driving in more runs.
As for Chapman, he just has to be his usual self. He has made the NL All-Star team in each of the past two seasons. For late-game pitchers, numbers aren't everything when it comes to being selected. Chapman missed the first six weeks of the season after being hit by a line drive, so he won't be able to put up some of the numbers that other closers will. However, he can still post a low earned run average and a lot of strikeouts.
When it comes to facing the best hitters in the game, Matheny would be crazy not to give a guy who throws 100 mph and has a nasty slider a serious look. Chapman is one of the most exciting players in baseball, and given what he had to overcome this year, he would definitely be a sentimental pick.
Chapman—even after missing the start of the season—is probably the safer bet to make the team. Votto is one of the league's best first basemen, but he's going to have to beat out some worthy competitors.
Jay Bruce Will Still Lead the Reds in RBI
Although Jay Bruce is currently on the disabled list, the slugger will still end up leading the club in RBI for the third straight season.
Right now, guys like Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick are driving in runs. Once Bruce gets back, he will be expected to be the run producer that he has been in recent seasons. MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports that Bruce is already jogging and hitting just eight days after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. If he can return quicker than expected, he won't be too far behind the club's RBI leader.
Before he had surgery, Bruce was among the team leader in RBI with 14. The 27-year-old is hitting more than 70 points higher with runners in scoring position than he is with nobody on. He also has a .263 average with men on base.
Bruce has been as good as it gets when driving in runs in recent seasons. He has hit at least 30 home runs and averaged 101 RBI during the past three seasons. He would have to go on a couple of his famous surges to reach those marks this year, but he is still capable of putting up impressive numbers despite missing three weeks or so.
As long as his knee holds up, the outfielder is going to put up strong numbers. This is a similar injury to the one that Joey Votto suffered during the 2012 season, and he didn't show much power once he returned.
Billy Hamilton has quickly improved at the plate, and Votto still does a terrific job of getting on base. Those two factors mean that Bruce will have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs when he returns to the lineup.
Homer Bailey Will Not Throw a No-Hitter During the 2014 Regular Season
Given what has happened the past two seasons, this really is a bold prediction.
Homer Bailey has thrown a no-hitter in each of the past two seasons. With his stuff and experience, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he added to his total this year.
Reds fans are disappointed with what the right-hander has done since signing a giant contract, but those early season-struggles are over. The month of April has never been kind to Bailey (4.71 ERA in his career), but his career earned run average in May is nearly three-quarters of a run lower than it is in the first month of the season. Through three starts in May this year, he is showing a similar trend.
For the first time in his career, he has gotten ground balls more than 50 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs. That has also led to him being one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball when it comes to batting average on balls in play at .343. That number is too high for a pitcher with Bailey's stuff.
One big issue Bailey has had is his lack of control. The groin injury that he dealt with earlier this season certainly didn't help his command. His control problems have led to him averaging three walks per nine innings and 1.5 home runs per nine innings, with the latter being the second-highest mark of his career. The lack of command has kept Bailey from going deep into games. Despite averaging 111 pitches per start, Bailey has averaged only six innings per outing.
The 28-year-old has struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings this season, which is tied for the second-highest rate of his career. He still has had electric stuff despite his early-season struggles. His stuff is good enough to go for a third no-hitter, or perhaps his first perfect game.
Bailey will continue to improve his numbers as the season goes on, but it is highly unlikely that he will be able to throw a no-hitter for the third straight season.
Johnny Cueto Will Win the National League Cy Young Award
The Reds have never had a pitcher win the Cy Young Award, but this looks like it could be the year that it finally happens.
Two years ago, Cueto went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA and put his name on the map. He finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting that year, but he will receive more attention now that he has proven himself as an ace.
Overall, he is 4-2 in 2014 and has posted a 1.25 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP through his first nine starts.
Cueto leads the majors in just about every statistical category, but his numbers are historically good through nine starts. The right-hander has gone at least seven innings and allowed fewer than two runs in every start this season. No pitcher has done that through the first nine starts in the last 100 years, via MLB Stat of the Day.
Cincinnati's ace has gone at least eight innings in each of his past six starts, and during that stretch, he has allowed more than three hits in a game only once.
Pitching in Great American Ball Park is a blessing and a curse. Should Cueto continue to put up incredible numbers, the ballpark factor will be in his favor. However, there's a chance his numbers could be hurt by pitching in the hitter-friendly park.
Through the early part of the season, Cueto's isn't letting Great American Ball Park hurt him. He has posted a 1.31 ERA and a 0.646 WHIP in 48 innings (six starts) at home this season. According to statistician Joel Luckhaupt, Cueto's 1.99 ERA at Great American Ball Park since 2011 is the second-lowest mark any MLB pitcher has posted at home during that span.
Although a pitcher's record doesn't tell the whole story, Cueto's chances could be hurt by lack of run support. Entering his eighth start of the season, via ESPN.com, he ranks in the bottom 10 among all starters in the majors in run support at 2.44 runs per start. Meanwhile, St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright has received more than five runs per start. Wins and losses aren't everything, but they can slightly influence a voter.
Not only do his numbers look impressive, but Cueto's case will be helped by the fact that some great pitchers have unfortunately missed time with injuries.
Clayton Kershaw—who has won two of the past three Cy Young Awards—missed time earlier this season with a shoulder injury. The Miami Marlins recently tweeted that phenom Jose Fernandez has a torn ligament in his elbow and will undergo Tommy John surgery.
Although some of the best arms have been limited this season, there will still be competition for the award. Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija is off to a fantastic start, but there's no telling where he will finish the season. Wainwright will always be in the conversation, and a number of Atlanta Braves pitchers could make a run at the award.
At the end of the season, Cueto will have as good a resume as any pitcher in the league—provided he stays healthy.
Reds Will Still Make the 2014 MLB Playoffs
A number of injuries and a slow start don't mean that Cincinnati is out of contention. In fact, Reds fans should be encouraged that the team is still within striking distance, all things considered.
Entering play on May 15, the Reds were only 1.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Sure, they faced a sizable deficit to the Milwaukee Brewers (6.5 games), but the Cardinals are still the team to beat in the division. Of course, there are still two wild-card spots up for grabs as well. They trail the Colorado Rockies by 3.5 games for the top wild-card spot and are only 2.5 games out of the final wild-card spot.
Considering the Reds have scored the third-fewest runs in baseball and have the third-worst bullpen in the majors, they should be content with where they sit in the standings.
Now that Aroldis Chapman is back and Mat Latos appears to be on track to return soon, the bullpen should begin to get on a roll. Once Alfredo Simon returns to the bullpen, relievers will begin to settle into their roles.
Fans also seem to forget that J.J. Hoover had a slow start last year as well. Through June 9 of last season, Hoover was 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA. This year, he is 1-4 with a 9.24 ERA in considerably fewer innings. The right-hander caught fire in June last year, which helped solidify the middle of the bullpen.
The starting pitching has been phenomenal even without Latos, and the bullpen is sure to improve as it continues to get healthy. Now, it's up to the offense to carry its weight.
When the lineup was healthy, the lineup was scoring runs. The Reds scored at least four runs in 10 straight games with a healthy squad. That doesn't seem like a huge offensive outburst, but the team did go 7-3 during that streak. Catcher Devin Mesoraco was a big reason for the offense producing, and Jay Bruce is always a threat to put runs on the scoreboard. When those two are both back in the lineup, the Reds will get back to scoring runs consistently.
When the team can give its pitchers some cushion early, it's tough to beat. Cincinnati is 6-12 in one-run games, a trend that is likely to give a little bit throughout the season. A few hits here and there would turn those one-run losses into victories.
Things may not seem great so far, but look back at where the 2012 club was at this point in the season. Back in 2012, the Reds were 19-19 through 38 games. This year's team is 18-20 through the first 38 games. The Reds won 97 games in 2012.
Getting healthy is the biggest key to the Reds getting back to the postseason for the fourth time in five years. Once the key players currently on the disabled list return, this team will finally show some consistency in every aspect.