10 Reasons the Cincinnati Reds Can Repeat as NL Central Division Champs
Five games out with three teams ahead in the standings is not an enviable position for the Reds to be in. With about a third of the games still to play, the Reds are finding it difficult to repeat as NL Central Division Champions.
A few days ago, I stated my belief that the Reds are out of the playoff race. I still believe that is the case. They are just too inconsistent in all areas of the game.
I liked the idea of the Reds adding a young and established star or two before the trade deadline by trading away some of the surplus of talent in the minor leagues.
With the price seemingly too high for Hunter Pence, James Shields and Ubaldo Jimenez, it looks like the Reds are forced to defend their title without adding another established star.
CAN the Reds still win the Central? Yes, they can. Will I put money on them winning? Not a chance.
However, there is still time, and the core of last year’s team is still intact, so at least it is possible.
Here is what needs to happen for the Reds to repeat as NL Central Division Champions...
Reds Get Hot
The Reds need to go on a tear. This probably needs to happen sooner rather than later to instill some confidence in the club.
Believe it or not, the Reds have not had a winning streak greater than five games.
Over the past five seasons, here are the longest winning streaks for mostly bad Reds teams: eight, six, six, seven, seven.
The Reds are due to break off a winning seven-game run.
A long winning streak would surely help the Reds inch closer to the top of the Central Division standings.
Bronson Arroyo Finds Second-Half Form
For some reason, Bronson Arroyo has historically been a much better pitcher after the All-Star break.
Specifically, over the past three seasons, the change in ERAs from before to after the All-Star break has averaged exactly two runs per nine innings lower.
If Bronson can find his usual post All-Star break form, he will significantly upgrade the Reds starting rotation.
Edinson Volquez Makes a Contribution
Last year, Dusty Baker sent Edinson Volquez out to start the Reds’ first playoff game in 15 years.
What happened in that game? I can't remember.
Regardless, that says a lot about Edinson’s second-half contribution last year as well as the general belief that Edinson has some of the best “stuff” in the game.
Unfortunately for Reds fans, Edinson seems to bring his “stuff” to the game every once in a while.
Right now, Edinson’s stuff is in AAA: nine innings, two ERs, and nine Ks last time out.
If he can give the Reds five or six “good-Edinson” starts, then the Reds have a chance to repeat.
The Kids Are Alright
Reds fans have been clamoring for the young talent in AAA to see some time with the big club.
Zach Cozart came right in and performed well until he hyperextended his elbow over the weekend.
Todd Frazier has played pretty well so far, and Yonder Alonso’s arrival to replace the traded Jonny Gomes proves the Reds are going to give the kids a chance.
Star catcher, Devin Mesoraco, is likely to get called up at some point this season (maybe after a Ramon Hernandez trade?).
Maybe the youth movement injects some life into this team, and the Reds go on a winning streak.
If not, the experience these prospects receive this year can only help the Reds for next year.
Drew Stubbs Finishes 2011 Like He Did in 2010
It’s so hard to pin hopes on a guy that swings and misses so often, but he struck out a lot last year and he still managed to finish 2010 remarkably.
Drew’s September line was .311/.406/.578.
Who knows why a guy like Drew Stubbs goes on a month-long tear like that?
Maybe 25-year-old legs hold up slightly better at the end of a season than the pitchers’ arms throwing the pitches. Or maybe last year was a fluke.
If last year was the start of the trend, then the Reds will have a huge boost towards winning the division.
The Reds Fire Dusty Baker
In general, I try not to be too critical of major league managers. Almost every seemingly boneheaded managerial decision would look brilliant if the players simply executed.
But let’s get real! Dusty has made some awful decisions this year.
He stuck with Paul Janish and Jonny Gomes for too long.
He routinely leaves his starting pitchers in the game well past their effectiveness.
No one can make a rational argument that the Reds haven’t underachieved this year. At some point, you have to point your finger at the manager.
Time for a change.
The Reds can’t do much worse with a new leader in the dugout.
Reds Have a Favorable Schedule
Once the calendar turns to August, the Reds will play 54 more games. Of those games, 35 will be played against teams with losing records. That’s 65 percent of their games!
This provides a great opportunity for one of the three leaders to break away from the pack, but it could also benefit the Reds if those teams beat each other up while the Reds are playing losing teams out of the playoff race.
The Reds only have 12 games left against the Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates combined, so they need to make the most of those opportunities to pick up games in the standings.
Jay Bruce Finds His May Stroke
Jay Bruce was terrific in May and has been lousy in every other month this year.
May: .342 AVG / 12 HR / 33 RBI
Non-May: .230 AVG/ 9 HR / 24 RBI
These ups and downs are the frustrating part of having so much youth on the Reds.
The Reds will certainly take his career post-August performance over the rest of the season:
Aug-Oct: .286 AVG / .364 OBP / .593 SLG / .957 OPS
This type of production would give the Reds a consistent middle-of-the-order threat in their lineup.
Pittsburgh Has To Fold Eventually, Right?
Pittsburgh has owned the Reds this year, so I'm sure I'll get some flack for saying this, but they have to fall apart at some point.
Their everyday lineup is littered with players that couldn't crack the Reds lineup. They have battled all year and deserve a great deal of credit, but how can they keep winning with these guys?
Their max-effort, team-first baseball has me rooting for them on most nights, but I'm predicting a fall back to reality at some point over the next two months.
A Pittsburgh collapse would eliminate one contender for the division crown and give the Reds a better chance of ending up on top.
A Little Good Fortune
Every losing team can probably play the "bad luck card", but the Reds have been losing in the strangest ways all year.
There was the 19-inning game against the Phillies where a Phillie reserve infielder got the win.
In May, they followed a season high five-game winning streak with a season high six-game losing streak.
Despite having a stellar defense, on Tuesday, the Reds had three errors (should have been four) in the same game that directly contributed to an 8-6 defeat.
My favorite stat is this: The Reds' six most-used relief pitchers (Bray, Ondrusek, Cordero, Masset, Chapman and Arredondo) have a combined ERA of 2.84.
That's really good. Yet, they have combined for 14 losses between them. How does that happen?
In short when the Reds hit, they don't pitch. When they pitch, they don't hit. Occasionally, they play poor defense, and it always results in a loss.
That kind of luck has to eventually turn around.
What Is Your Take?
Will the Reds get to pour champagne over the head of owner Bob Castellini at the end of 2011?
It's a tall order, but the talent is in place, and there is a favorable schedule over the last two months.
A lot of things have to go right.
I've identified some, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.