The Hunt for Red October

As of today, the Cincinnati Reds sit 3.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central and only 1.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the top Wild Card spot. The Reds have won three games in a row and 7 of their last 10 to get their closest look at first place since July 7.

It’s beginning to look like the NL Central will get three teams into the playoffs, barring a collapse by one of them or a Dodger-esque run from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Reds, Pirates, and Cardinals have provided one of the most entertaining races in baseball throughout this season.

JJ Hoover and the Reds Bullpen have stepped up

JJ Hoover and the Reds Bullpen have stepped up

The Cardinals and Pirates have traded places atop the NL Central multiple times throughout the season, while the Reds have played steady baseball and kept themselves in the race.

Despite complaints over injuries, bullpen woes, or the manager, the Reds have done enough to stay relevant.

Less than one week ago, the Reds found themselves a season high seven games out of first place and struggling to find any offense. Six days later, they have made up 4-1/2 games and seem to be playing the best baseball in their division.

Yes, they have a hit a weaker part of their schedule, but all things are equal by the end of the season.

The Reds finish up their three game series with the Chicago Cubs this afternoon and then play a four game set in Milwaukee beginning tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Pirates play two more times before playing the Cubs and Diamondbacks this weekend. Why make excuses about playing weaker opponents while the Pirates and Cardinals are playing one another?

The Reds have a golden opportunity to continue making up ground and tightening this division at the top. The Cardinals and Pirates haven’t had to worry much about the Reds so far this season. Judging by the last week, that’s about to change.

Keep in mind the Pirates and Cardinals have relied heavily on young pitchers and heavy bullpen use to get to this point in the season. Young pitching and bullpen use tend to catch up with teams during this part of the season.

Meanwhile, the Reds have battled injuries and played almost the entire season without their cleanup hitter, ace pitcher, and arguably best reliever.

While the Cardinals and Pirates are starting to show signs of fatigue, the Reds are beginning to look stronger with key players returning from the disabled list.

The Pirates are beginning to show signs of fatigue

The Pirates are beginning to show signs of fatigue

There is no denying the Cardinals and Pirates have been better than the Reds so far this season. With that being said, this feels like the right time for the Reds to finally make their move and go on a “run”.

The return of Ryan Ludwick might not seem like a huge deal considering he’s missed four months of baseball, but he provides a veteran leadership in the clubhouse and is a true professional.

Nobody is ready to make a prediction in the NL Central. The Reds still play St. Louis seven more times this season and Pittsburgh six more times, including the last three of the season. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Pirates play one another eight more times over the next month and a half.

As a Reds fan, you should like where the Reds sit today and be prepared for one of the most exciting finishes in baseball. The crown for the NL Central could very well come down to the last game of the season and there is no reason to believe the Reds won’t be right there to claim it.

The Hunt for Red October is about to heat up.

Cincinnati Reds’ Bullpen Woes

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.

Jonathan Broxton has struggled recently

Jonathan Broxton has struggled recently

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.

The Reds miss Sean Marshall

The Reds miss Sean Marshall

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.