The Cincinnati Reds are an enigma.
As of Friday, June 26, with 71 games in the books, they are one game under .500, sitting just 3.5 games behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals.
On May 27, the Reds were six games above .500—the Cardinals are currently above .500 by six games.
Reds' manager, Dusty Baker, has had to fill out patchwork lineup cards due to a plague of injuries. Opening day was probably a sign of the omen to come. Offseason free agent acquisition, Willy Taveras, missed the first two games with the flu.
More significant players who have missed time include Joey Votto, Edinson Volquez, and Edwin Encarnacion.
The most recent addition to the disabled list, shortstop Alex Gonzalez, underwent surgery to remove four bone chips from his elbow. His return is fully dependent on the status of his elbow, and how it reacts to the surgery.
The Reds have had a horrible month of June. This was, in very large part, attributable to Joey Votto's vacancy at first base.
Votto missed time due to severe depression caused by the death of his father last August. The Reds won only eight of 21 ballgames while Votto was on the disabled list.
Needless to say, Votto's return on Tuesday, June 23, was a welcome sight for fans in Reds country.
Upon his return, Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he was feeling, "like my old self again."
In AAA, Louisville, Edwin Encarnacion is currently on a rehab assignment. His broken wrist seems to be healing in fine fashion. As of June 25, he has homered twice in 16 at bats.
The news isn't so sunny for Edinson Volquez. He had been tossing some flat-ground sessions from as far as 125 feet. After a second MRI revealed more swelling in one of the muscles between his forearm and elbow, he was told to put all throwing on the back burner.
Assuming the worst, the Reds already have their best player, Votto, back in the lineup and producing.
Edwin is very close to returning. Like him or not, he is better than Adam Rosales.
As far as Edinson Volquez is concerned—let's go ahead and say he will need surgery and is on the shelf for the rest of the season.
Here come the big questions:
Can the Reds make the playoffs?
Of course they can. They are only 3.5 back with 91 games left. That makes the St. Louis magic number something like 84 or 85. So, unless numerical values happen to change sometime this summer, the answer is yes, they can make the playoffs.
Do the Reds need to make any trades to reach the playoffs?
There is a nasty rumor floating around that says Cincinnati will make a "we wish the economy were better" trade.
The Spidey Senses of a few bloggers are saying that the Reds will dump one of their high priced starting pitchers, either Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo, in exchange for lower priced duds or more prospects.
If the Reds trade Harang or Arroyo, numerical values may as well disappear.
Both are inning eaters and, even though they are subject to inconsistency, they will be needed if the team plans to compete with or without Volquez.
What flaws need fixing if a playoff appearance is in the crystal ball?
The Reds are in desperate need of a lead-off man who can reach first base.
Willy Taveras has been everything that General Manager Walt Jocketty hoped he would not be.
Taveras has been a carbon copy of the 2008 Taveras, which saw his on-base-percentage plummet .059 points from his 2007 campaign.
In fact, his current OBP is .276, down from his puny .308 of last year. As of June 26, Taveras has not walked since May 23 (33 days), and so far this season he has struck out 40 times compared to only 14 bases on balls.
I thought you said the Reds did not have to trade. Where will they get a replacement for Taveras?
Give Louisville Bats manager, Rick Sweet, a call and tell him to send up Drew Stubbs. Stubbs is batting .283, has an OBP of .369, with 26 stolen bases.
Stubbs was the Reds' first round pick (eighth overall) in the 2006 draft. Before the season, Baseball America ranked him as the third best prospect down on the farm.
So an intra-organization trade with Louisville is in order; Willy Taveras strait up for Drew Stubbs.
Okay, brass tacks, what are the Reds chances for a postseason appearance?
They'll get close. If that guy in St. Louis who hits all those homers breaks his leg, it's more than a possibility.
But Reds' fans need to remember that most of their talent is still very young—two or three years from what should be the prime of their careers.
So, for this season, let's just enjoy the ride.
Who knows, maybe The Skipper will wreck on Playoff Island.
But please, Skip, don't leave us anywhere near those stinkin' Pirates.