In the midst of a four-game losing streak, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Cincinnati Reds. Though they rest just 3.5 games out of first place in the National League Central, they're surrounded by three other teams all within reach and in no hurry to fade any time soon.
The details are obvious. Joey Votto is making his second extended stay on the disabled list (DL). To complement this crippling void, the Reds will be without Brandon Phillips for possibly the same amount of time.
According to ESPN baseball analyst and former Reds general manager Jim Bowden, the Reds are at least five weeks away from getting Votto and Phillips back.
#Reds GM Walt Jocketty just told us that both Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are approximately 5 weeks away…ouch Sirius 209 XM 89— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) July 20, 2014
Because the Reds will be without two pillars of their offense, the pressure to produce will likely shift to three main candidates: Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco and Jay Bruce.
Frazier and Mesoraco have seemingly done everything in their power to ensure the Reds' offense has runners crossing the plate. Frazier is hitting .286/.346/.495 and has arguably been the Reds' first-half MVP.
He leads the team in hits (108), home runs (20), RBI (54) and runs scored (58). At this juncture, he is the most important Red swinging the bat.
Mesoraco has been contributing at a high volume as well. He's hitting .294/.365/.583 and his .294 batting average and .593 slugging are both a team-best.
Jay Bruce has been a different story. Bruce was given the opening game against the first place Milwaukee Brewers after a horrendous series in New York. In three games after the All-Star break, Bruce went 0-for-11 with just one walk and five strikeouts in that time.
He's currently riding a four-game hitless streak where he's 0-for-15.
Bruce's streakiness is no surprise to anyone. Throughout his seven MLB seasons, he's been prone to prolonged slumps that can last months. But this season looks very different than the rest.
Right now, Bruce is sporting career lows in a number of categories, including batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS. Last year, the left-handed slugger finished the season with a 5.13 seasonal WAR (per ESPN.com/MLB). According to Baseball-reference.com, Bruce's offensive WAR is currently 0.3.
And the team is definitely feeling it. Bruce's production is so pivotal to the Reds' success. His splits in wins and losses are only too revealing to how much the Reds are depending on him.
In Reds victories this season, Bruce is hitting .278/.352/.500. In losses, Bruce's slash line plummets to .152/.242/.265. At the risk of being too cliche, the difference is night and day.
Losing Joey Votto means losing quite arguably the best left-handed bat the Reds have to send to the plate.
That places even more emphasis on the need for Jay Bruce to figure it out, because there has to be a bat in the lineup that can punish exceptional right-handed pitching.
A crippling facet of Bruce's game of late has been his propensity to strike out. While he's always been known to pile on strikeouts throughout the year, this year, he's almost on pace to eclipse his previous high of 185 that he achieved just last season.
Also, for the first time in his entire career, Jay Bruce has a fielding percentage of less than .900. He's currently at .875. The current average fielding percentage throughout the league in right field is .993.
It's understandable why Bryan Price gave Bruce they day off on Monday's opener against the Brewers. On the season, Bruce is hitting just .176/.263/.294 against the division rivals.
He was on the DL the last time the Reds played the Nationals (who the Reds play after Milwaukee), so there's nothing on the books to project performance in that series.
Against the Arizona Diamondbacks this year, the team the Reds will face after the Nationals, Bruce is hitting just .200/.273/.200. Then the Reds will play two teams they haven't seen yet this season: Miami Marlins and the Cleveland Indians.
That makes the short-term prognosis on Bruce not very positive, especially when you consider the Nationals and their No. 1 ERA in baseball (per ESPN.com/MLB).
But while the immediate future looks grim, the Reds will need their young slugger to snap out of whatever he's going through. With reportedly five weeks to go before either Votto or Phillips return, the onus will fall on Jay Bruce to be the left-handed bat who keeps the Reds within striking distance until the team is whole again.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.