The Cincinnati Reds sit at 53-42 and 5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. They currently hold a 5 game lead in the NL Wild Card race over the Washington Nationals. If the season ended today, the Reds would play a one game Wild Card in Pittsburgh with the winner getting St. Louis in the NLDS.
To say the first half of the season has been a grind would be an understatement. The Reds have been bitten repeatedly by the injury bug since Opening Day. They have played the majority of the season without their ace, cleanup hitter, and two of their best relief pitchers.
All things considered, the Reds are still on pace to win 91 games and return to the playoffs for the third time in four years. So why does the first half of the season feel like a disappointment?
The Reds miss Ryan Ludwick
To start, the Reds haven’t passed the oft-used “eye test” of a champion. They still haven’t played close to their best baseball. They have experienced injury issues, a depleted bullpen, inconsistencies at the plate, and too many errors in the field.
This team entered 2013 with high expectations. The front office made it clear they were competing for a championship when it acquired Shin-Soo Choo for what looks like a one year rental. Trading homegrown talent such as Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregarious for Choo displayed a win-now mentality from Walt Jocketty and company.
You either believe the Reds are what they are, or you believe they can improve in the second half and contend for the division crown. I believe the Reds are a better team than what they displayed in the first half of the season.
In my opinion, if they can get healthy and take advantage of an easier second half schedule, there is no reason to believe they can’t challenge the Cardinals and Pirates for the division title. Over the course of a month, they have 10 games against the Cardinals. They end the season with 6 of their last 9 games against the Pirates.
There is still a lot of baseball left.
They key to the 2012 division title was a 15-1 record out of the All-Star break. Joey Votto was placed on the disabled list and the Reds promptly won 10 games in a row and set the pace for the remainder of the season. While it’s unlikely the Reds will duplicate those efforts this year, I still believe they have a hot streak or two in them for the second half.
Brandon Phillips is the first-half MVP for the Reds
As I’ve written numerous times throughout the season, baseball is a game of ups and downs and highs and lows. The Reds have had a lot of lows during the first half of the season. Call me an optimist, but I believe the Reds best baseball is still ahead.
Make all the fuss you want about how great the Cardinals have been this season, (and they have been tremendous) but I would rather be in first place at the end of the season than at the All-Star break.
Now then, let’s hand out some awards:
Brandon Phillips production at the plate has carried the Reds much of the first half. His defense remains among the class of the league and he’s hitting .404 with RISP. The team is hitting .252 with RISP. So yeah, Phillips is clearly the first half MVP.
This is a close race between Mat Latos and Mike Leake. Leake has been spectacular this season and arguably the biggest surprise on the entire team. His 2.69 ERA is the best among the staff and he has already won as many games as all of last season.
With that being said, I give the nod to Mat Latos. Latos has taken over the role as the team ace in the absence of Johnny Cueto and has delivered solid numbers while already notching 8 wins on the season. If the season ended today, Mat Latos would get the ball for the one game Wild Card in Pittsburgh.
As I just mentioned, Mike Leake has been one of the few bright spots for the Reds this season. A lot of fans seem to forget Leake is only 25 years old and still learning the ropes. He’s transforming from a fifth starter to a legitimate number three and it’s been very fun to watch.
Todd Frazier has been far too inconsistent for the sixth batter in the lineup. He’s hitting .239 and striking out at an alarming rate. Frazier will need to turn things around in the second half if the Reds want to win the division.
This is easy. Homer David Bailey throwing his second no-hitter in the past year. Few sports moments make you stop whatever you’re doing and find a television or radio or computer. The no-hitter is one of those moments. The no-hitter is one of the most beautiful things in baseball and Homer Bailey made us all proud to be Reds fans.
Second Half Prediction
The Reds win the first series after the break against Pittsburgh and then tread water on their 10 game road-trip out west. They use a soft portion of their schedule in the middle of August to gain some momentum and get Ryan Ludwick back from the DL. For the first time all year, the Reds have Choo, Phillips, Votto, Ludwick, and Bruce in the same lineup.
The Reds play the Cardinals seven times in eleven days and use their balanced lineup to pull within one game of the Cards. The final month of the season is the most exciting race in baseball as the Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates battle for the division crown all the way to the last game of the season.
Alas, the Cardinals get Chris Carpenter back at just the right time and fend off the Reds and Pirates for the division. The Reds return to the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Pirates are the odd team out as the Washington Nationals earn the second wild card and play at GABP for the chance to play St. Louis in the NLDS.