Cincinnati Reds: 5 Keys to Success in the 2nd Half

Reed Domer-Shank@ReedDS20Correspondent IJuly 14, 2011

Cincinnati Reds: 5 Keys to Success in the 2nd Half

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    It’s been a curious first half for the Reds, hasn’t it?

    Curious, of course, in that no one can quite pinpoint the reason why everything has gone down the FREAKING TRASH HOLE.

    (Sorry, spontaneous blasts of anger have become commonplace lately, when convos turn to the bleepity-bleep Reds.)

    Indeed, it’s tough to determine the reason for the Reds' mediocrity so far. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t theories…

    The dip in production from left field, third base and shortstop is one. The rotation’s inconsistency (with a certain floppy-haired head case as the scapegoat is another). Or, the absolute implosion at the back end of the bullpen (the raison du jour) is a third.

    Whatever the cause, one thing has been clear: The Reds have had a hard time winning games.

    When researching this issue this morning, I uncovered a stat that, while it may be known to some, was downright astonishing to me:

    Aside from their five-game winning streak to start the season, the Reds have managed only one streak of four or more wins this season. That’s two for the season. Ridiculous.

    In comparison, the division-leading Cardinals and Brewers have five and four such streaks, respectively, and the third-place Pirates have three.

    (The lousy Astros and bumbling Cubs have one and zero, respectively, but, due to their obvious ineptitude, we’ll count them as non-factors and move on.)

    The NL Central standings line up almost exactly with win streak totals, a connection that is only strengthened when examining the Reds’ totals from the first half of their 2010 championship campaign (five streaks of four or more wins by July 10).

    My feeling is that, more than anything else, this stat defines what most Cincy fans have tried to wrap their heads around lately. That is, for every right step taken forward, we’ve seemingly taken two monumental steps back.

    (Leading to, of course, a 45-47 record, fourth place in the standings, and a team full of underachievers.)

    It’s lazy, though, and frankly unhelpful to say the Reds have been a disappointment because, well, they just can’t string together wins. Every Pirates fan from 1989-2009 could tell you that.

    Still, a lot goes into putting together a solid win streak, and if the Reds plan on netting a few (and in the process, repeating as division champs), a few things need to happen…

Bruce Needs To Produce

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    Remember back in May when Jay Bruce was treating the baseball like a poorly made piñata? Remember when he was hitting home runs at an alarming rate (12 for the month) and needing only a few hot weeks to punch a ticket to the All-Star Game?

    Yeah, neither do I.

    These days, Bruce has been colder than day-old liverwurst, batting a mere .217 with two dingers in June, and hacking away at pitches with about as much success as the blond kid from the Volkswagen commercials.

    In short, if Jonny Gomes and/or Scott Rolen aren’t going to produce the way they did in 2010 (news flash: they aren’t), then someone needs to step up and fill that power void. Bruce is uniquely positioned to be that guy, as he has shown that he can get scorching hot (.342 BA in May), and has always been a second-half performer.

    In July, Bruce has batted .250. Not near the drudges of June, but also not close to where he needs to be to help Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto carry the offense.

    I expect Bruce to hit at least .270 the rest of the way, but if he’s able to hit closer to .285, while doubling his current home run total (21), I think we’d all be more than satisfied.

2. Cueto Needs Help

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    Since returning from injury, Johnny Cueto has been remarkable.

    In 12 starts, the Reds’ now-unquestioned ace has five wins, a 1.96 ERA and has held opponents to a .199 batting average.

    Straight-up filthy.

    On one hand, we never expected Cueto to start this well this season, so I count that as a blessing. However, in no way, shape or form has Cueto’s brilliance covered up the puke that the remainder of the Reds rotation has produced.

    Bronson Arroyo, elder statesman/high earner/resident soothsayer of the group, has been one of the worst starters in the NL (three quality starts in his last 10).

    Edinson Volquez (Dusty Baker’s pet project) has brought shame to himself and the whole House of Slytherin with his childlike approach to game preparation (dude couldn’t find the strike zone if you gave him a map, compass and Sherpa.)

    Beyond that, the collective of Travis Wood, Mike Leake, Dontrelle Willis and Homer Bailey have all spent time on the disabled list and/or in a Louisville uniform, adding to the mixed bag of atrocity that has characterized the Reds' first-half rotation.

    A few things need to happen to turn this around.

    First, Homer Bailey needs to prove he can be a No. 2.  He has as good of stuff as anyone in the bunch, and he’s had plenty of chances to prove it.

    Second, Volquez needs to stay in Louisville. For a while. If the Louisville coaching staff does nothing else for the remainder of the season, they should figure out what has stopped Volquez from realizing his immense potential, and tinker with him until he’s right. The Reds can’t afford to get nothing out of this guy.

    Finally, two guys need to claim the No. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation, and the rest of the silliness needs to end. Between Leake, Wood, Willis and Lecure, you’d think two guys could step up and carve out a niche for themselves. You’d think.

    I don’t care who it is, but the inconsistency has to stop. Johnny needs help, and he needs it soon.

3. Shhhh...Nobody Mess with Aroldis

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    I’m not sure what the Cuban Missile changed when he was banished to Louisville (he and Volquez shared the same “directional impairment”), but for God’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t change it back.

    Since Walt and the boys returned the keys to his Lambo, Chapman has made eight appearances, struck out 17 batters, walked only two and recorded his first major league save. He’s been that guy we saw last season, who made mothers weep, grown men cry and little boys want to dip their baseballs in gasoline.

    A lot of people assumed the bullpen would be better this year, as a full season of Chapman would offset the loss of the indomitable Arthur Rhodes.

    In order for that to happen (and if we want any semblance of order in the later innings), Chapman needs to be exactly who he is now, and stay that way.

4. Don't Stand Pat

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    When I heard the Brewers acquired Francisco Rodriquez, I immediately went into spoiled six-year old mode.

    You know, like when Jimmy Fargus from next door got that shiny new Huffy with the comfy seat and the baseball cards in the spokes that went flap-flap-flap-flap-flap when he rode it past your house?

    I guarantee at some point you approached your parents with the same old tired line that every other less-spoiled-than-Jimmy kid on the street used: “But Jimmy got onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne.”

    Seriously, if there were ever a year for the Reds to be buyers at the deadline, wouldn’t it be this one? Let’s check the scorecard:

    1. Still in contention? Yup (four games out).
    2. Haven’t yet peaked? That’s putting it gently.
    3. Have obvious holes to fill? I’d say! (One good left fielder is better than three average ones.)
    4. In a division that nobody seems to want to win? Absolutely.

    And, finally:

    1. Have a loaded farm system that you can afford to weaken? Indeed (ranked sixth in baseball).

    Even if the Redlegs offense begins to blossom in the second half, and even if the rotation and bullpen firm up, a few improvements could go a long way in assuring a repeat divisional crown.

    Even if reinforcements don’t come in the form of trades (Ubaldo Jimenez and Hunter Pence are at the top of my wish list), general manager Walt Jocketty and his team should strongly consider promoting from within.

    Just as they have had early success with Dontrelle Willis and shortstop Zack Cozart, Cincinnati’s missing link could very well be waiting in AAA. If no good deals can be made by the deadline, the time may come to see if burgeoning talents Yonder Alonso and/or Dave Sappelt can provide the last shot in the arm this club needs.

5. Win Some Close Ones

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    If it seems like the Reds can never catch a break it’s because, well, they can't.

    More from the “astounding statistics that you may or may not know” department:

    The Reds are 20-30 in games decided by two runs or less this year. In games that have been decided by one run? Just 13-21.

    Last year, by contrast, the Reds (you know, that team that always seemed to get the big hit) were 29-21 in games decided by two runs or less, through July 10.

    Now, let’s say the 2011 Reds, a team with arguably more talent than last year’s squad, would have been able to not even match last year’s success rate, but just finish the first half at 25-25 in these close games.

    We’d be looking at a 50-42 squad, and staring down at the rest of the division.