Article Written By Guest Writer Jordan Webb
During the past couple of years, a few teams in Major League Baseball have climbed out of their respective cellars and elbowed their way into playoff contention.
One team that has seen this type of resurgence is the Cincinnati Reds. Using a young, healthy roster and a great starting rotation, the Reds have posted a 55-43 record so far in the season, enough for third place in a brutally tough NL Central.
Are the Reds finally ready to lead this division after years of heartbreak? Well, here are five questions they must answer headed into the second half:
1. Can the Reds Avoid Off-the-Field Distractions?
Although the second half of the season just started, the Reds already face media criticism and unwanted attention that could distract them during a potential playoff run.
The source of this controversy is second basemen Brandon Phillips, who recently spoke out against the Reds organization and its financial decisions. If you remember, the team had claimed that it “didn’t have enough money” to pay Phillips a bigger contact—yet it gave teammate Joey Votto a contact that was twice as big over the same period of time.
However, is it really Phillips’ place to complain? He still has a six-year, $72 million contact, which doesn’t exactly equate to living in a shack in Shabbyville. The Reds’ young clubhouse must gain the maturity to to deal with this type of unwelcome media story. It’s the type of distraction that can easily cause players to lose focus day in and day out – and potentially cause player division in the clubhouse.
If the Reds want to make it into the playoffs, the Reds just need to play ball and let their play do the talking. Of course, if Phillips wants to keep voicing his discontent that may be difficult.
2. Will the Pirates Keep It Up?
While the Reds have been a surprise in their own right the past three years, the Pittsburgh Pirates are an even bigger shock this season—both in the NL Central and the entire league.
After a terrible 2012 season, the Pirates have jumped out to a 57-39 record so far this year. Like the Reds, the Pirates have been winning with their promising young starters, such as center fielder Andrew McCutchen, and a surprisingly deep pitching staff.
The Pirates will be the biggest hurdle for the Reds in the second half of the season. Since the Reds will most likely be playing for a wild card spot, the Pirates will be their main competition. Fans who buy Cincinnati Reds tickets (especially to see the Pirates) should get a ton of wild card drama and energy in those match-ups.
In a word, no. The powerhouse of the NL Central is usually the St. Louis Cardinals, and this year is no exception. The Cardinals have been a playoff lock in recent memory—thanks to great pitching rotations, and lineups filled with superstars and young prospects alike. The Cardinals currently lead the Central with a 59-37 record. While it’s possible that the Reds could catch the Cardinals (only 5 games back in the division), the Cards simply have more depth in their clubhouse and better pitching overall, so it probably won’t happen.
However, competing against this specific club (and posting an average record against them in the second half) will help the Reds assert themselves as wild card contenders.
4. Can those on Disabled List Eventually Contribute?
Like all teams, the Reds have had their fair share of players on the disabled list this year. Key players injured for the Reds have cut deeply into their pitching, such as the recent losses of righties Johnny Cueto, Jonathan Broxton and Nick Masset and lefty Sean Marshall.
These key pitching losses have squeezed other Reds and put pressure on them—with poor results. With most of these players slated to return in late July or early August, the future looks promising for the Reds, but only time will tell if the recently injured come back as scheduled. Specifically, it will be interesting to see when leftfielder Ryan Ludwick returns (set to begin rehab on July 24).
5. Can the Reds Improve their Hitting?
So far this season, the Reds has heavily relied on their terrific pitching staff, which boasts the third best ERA in the league. The same cannot be said for the batting lineup. While not awful, the Reds hitting stats are middle-of-the-road in many crucial categories, including batting average and on-base percentage.
Being average is not how a team makes the playoffs. If the Reds want to make it anywhere this season, they need their lesser-known position players to produce—so their contributions match the Reds’ great pitching staff.