Cincinnati Reds: Grading the Starting Lineup
In what can best be described as a very disappointing first half of the season, the Cincinnati Reds ought to feel very fortunate that they are only four games out of first place in a jumbled up National League season.
With that said, though, they will be jumping right into the fire post all star break, with upcoming series against the three teams ahead of them in the standings.
Lets take a look back at the lineup from the first half of the season.
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez/Ryan Hanigan
Both men have split time over the course of the season, with Ramon having the reputation of being the better offensive force, and Hanigan being the better signal caller behind the plate.
(In my opinion, though, Hernandez doesn't get enough credit for his defense, but that's a different topic).
Hernandez has performed just about as well thus far as anyone could have hoped. He has come up with numerous clutch hits, and at an age where many players start to slow down, "Razor Ramon" is putting up one of the finest seasons of his career at the age of 35 (.322 BA/10 HR/26 RBI).
His counterpart, Hanigan, hasn't handled the bat quite like he normally does, as his .250 average is a career low for him thus far, but he still has a .351 OBP. Grinding out at bats is a trademark of his game, as is putting in excellent work behind the dish.
Of the numerous problems of this team, catcher is one area in which they have been able to count on.
First Base: Joey Votto
Joey Votto's numbers have dropped a little bit. He's still hitting for average at .324, but his 13 home runs at this point are well off the pace he set last year, where he homered 37 times en route to winning the National League MVP award.
Perhaps his three home runs in the past week are a sign of things to come, though.
With no consistency out of the cleanup spot, Votto is getting fewer pitches to hit. His 66 walks at this point will likely shatter his total of 91 from last season.
Rightfully so, he is among three other players representing the Reds at the All-Star game, and it's hard to imagine that he won't eventually find the power stroke again.
Second Base: Brandon Phillips
At 30 years old, Brandon Phillips is in the prime of his career, and it's reflecting in his overall game.
Defensively, there is no finer second baseman in all of baseball, and overall, he may be arguably the best in the game. (though Robinson Cano makes a strong case as well.)
My only real "knocks" against Phillips are his baserunning decisions (think, Philly), and his power numbers and stolen base totals continue to drop by the season.
Seemingly gone are the days where Phillips is a viable candidate for a 30/30 season.
Some of that dropoff is offset by the improvement of him as a leader on and off the field. Admittedly, Phillips used to rub me the wrong way, but has grown up a lot right in front of our very eyes.
Third Base: Scott Rolen
At the All-Star break last year, Rolen was putting together a fine season, but since then, he has started to look the every bit of 36 years old.
Despite the insistence of Dusty Baker, Rolen is miscast as a cleanup hitter. He continues to look a day late and a dollar short at the plate.
His power has completely abandoned him, as he had totaled eight home runs since last year's Mid-Summer classic.
Overall this season, he's batting .241.
The Reds are on the hook for his contract next year as well, so they are banking of frequent rest and a dash of "veteran grittiness" from time to time to get him through.
The only thing that keeps his first half of the season from being a D (or lower) is his glove work. He's still one of the best in the business at fielding his position.
Shortstop: Paul Janish/Edgar Renteria
This has easily been the worst position on the team.
Edgar Renteria has been a huge disappointment. I know many Reds fans didn't care for Orlando Cabrera, but I think the clubhouse misses his fire and passion for the game
Renteria seemingly brings none of that, and arguably should no longer be on the team.
As for Paul Janish, we all knew he couldn't hit, but his glove work has slipped a bit. If he's not a perfect fielder, then he belongs in the minors, which is where he's at right now.
Recently, the Reds have called up Zack Cozart to stop the bleeding.
He will grow through his growing pains, but I seriously doubt he can be any worse than the tragic two headed monster that has manned this position thus far in 2011.
Left Field: Jonny Gomes/Chris Heisey/Fred Lewis
Honestly, I'm sick to death of talking about this position, as the solution seems rather simple to me.
Play Chris Heisey.
You know exactly what you are going to get out of Jonny Gomes and Fred Lewis. Gomes will put together a solid few weeks, but that will be offset by cold spells that can run for a long time.
Lewis has had a decent first half, but lets face it, he's a backup outfielder.
Heisey has been a premiere pinch hitter, batting .296. To come off the bench cold and be expected to produce is a tough task, but Heisey has been up for the challenge.
I attribute much of his .227 average as a starter to not feeling secure in a consistent starting role.
Put the kid out there and let him play.
Center Field: Drew Stubbs
At the age of 26, it was expected that Drew Stubbs would continue to gradually improve from his solid debut season, but that hasn't been the case.
He's still very much the same player. Tantalizing speed does you no good when you strike out a ton, as Stubbs has struck out a whopping 122 times.
I feel pity for those who may take up drinking games when Stubbs gets a second strike on him. Please, for your own safety, don't do shots on every long, looping swing swing that results in strike three.
The strikeouts are somewhat excusable if you have tantalizing power, but Stubbs doesn't have that, so it's a frustrating thing to witness.
I made the argument before that Stubbs is the best leadoff choice for this team. He may be in the long run, but for now, someone else needs to handle that responsibility.
Right Field: Jay Bruce
I think its safe to say that Jay Bruce has lived up to the hype surrounding him.
He may have the most pure talent out of anyone on the team, has shown a capability to single-handedly carry this squad, and is a player of multiple talents, as his glove work in right field is rivaled by few in the business.
The only thing separating Bruce from all out superstardom is consistency.
Following a 12 homer month of May where he was named player of the month, Bruce went into a long, deep slump in June, totally only two long balls.
So far this month, he has picked up the pace, with five already.
At 24 years old, he still has a lot of room to grow, and with a multi-year deal in place, the Reds are likely to get most of his prime years.
Should be fun to watch.