The Cincinnati Reds are 39-26 and 3.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central division. The Reds are playing some of the best baseball in the majors through roughly a third of the season. Starting pitching has posted the second best ERA in the NL, while the offense has accounted for the third most runs scored in the NL.
Despite their best start in nearly a decade, the bullpen has become a legitimate concern.
In 2012, the Reds had arguably the best bullpen in baseball. They posted an ERA of 2.65 and were second in homeruns allowed per nine innings with .68. More importantly, the 2012 bullpen shortened games and helped the Reds win 97 games and runaway with the NL Central.
This season has been a much different story.
The bullpen has accounted for 13 losses and numerous blown saves to this point. Additionally, the bullpen is last in home runs allowed per nine innings with 1.27. Translation: relievers are giving up a lot of home runs. Home runs cost teams games.
Most recently, the bullpen blew games in Pittsburgh and then at home against the Rockies and Cardinals. Jonathan Broxton has looked uncomfortable in the eighth inning and is walking far too many batters. After looking nearly unhittable in the month of May, Sam Lecure has surrendered the lead in his last two appearances.
Furthermore, the bullpen is lacking a left hander to utilize in late game situations. Sean Marshall is out until at least July, and Manny Parra simply isn’t getting it done (posting an ERA of 9.00 over the last month). Outside of Aroldis Chapman, the Reds don’t have any left handed pitchers for Dusty Baker to rely on in crunch time.
Dusty has tried different pitchers in different spots to find something that will work. He’s already made it clear Chapman won’t pitch more than one inning at a time and he doesn’t want to wear out his arm.For now, the Reds will continue to rely on starting pitching and clutch hitting to keep pace with the Cardinals.
History says the bullpen will begin playing to the back of their baseball cards and hopefully get back on track. Sean Marshall is feeling better and hopefully will return soon enough to give the bullpen a boost.
Even if the bullpen turns things around, don’t be surprised if Walt Jocketty brings in another arm around the trade deadline. Jocketty has shown he’s not afraid to make moves at the deadline if he can improve the team.
The Reds have a championship team and are among the 4 or 5 best clubs in baseball. There is still plenty of time to improve and solidify the back end of the bullpen. There is no doubt it will be needed come October.