Health, handling Cards among Reds keys to second half
JUL 17, 2014 3:30p ET
The Reds get back to the business of chasing down a third NL Central division title in five years Friday in New York against the Yankees. The Reds have survived early injuries and bounced back from being as many as six games under .500 and 8 1/2 games out of first place to come out of the All-Star break with a 51-44 record, just 1 1/2 games behind division leader Milwaukee and one-half game behind St. Louis for second place.
Like all teams, they've got some questions facing them as the final 10 weeks of the season await them.
The two mainstays of the right side of the Reds infield are out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. Phillips could be back by the middle of August after tearing a tendon in his left thumb but Votto's return from a left quad strain is uncertain. He could be back in the lineup after a few more weeks, after a couple of months just in time for the September stretch run or maybe not at all.
The reserves have performed admirably in the absence of Phillips and Votto, including having Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce move from their normal spots to fill in at first base for Votto, but no team wants to go through a pennant race without one top player, let alone two. The loss of Votto has been felt defensively. Bruce has committed two errors in three games played at first base. Frazier has played 10 times at first this season, starting seven times, and has made three errors in 67 chances as compared to just six errors in 216 chances at third base. Brayan Pena has played well in his first extended time at the position in his career. He's committed just one error in 150 chances and has come up with a few tough assists as well -- the no-look flip of the ball to reliever Jonathan Broxton after stopping a Matt Holliday grounder behind the bag comes to mind.
Phillips had a less-than-productive offensive end of the season last year after returning from injury and there's no way to know how he'll be with the bat coming back from thumb injury but the Reds would certainly rather take their chances with him and Votto in the lineup than without.
What, if any, moves does GM Walt Jocketty make?
The Reds didn't make any trades last season, instead choosing to stand pat with the roster on hand and hoping the return of Ryan Ludwick from a shoulder injury would be enough. It wasn't.
This year, there are a couple of areas Jocketty could address through the trade market to shore up the Reds' chances at making the postseason for a fourth time in five years. Identifying an area of need is one thing. What it would cost in terms of money (present and future) and players/top prospects leaving the organization is another consideration.
The situation regarding Votto and Phillips is one to watch, particularly with Votto at first base given the Reds don't have a set timetable for his return. The bullpen could use another left-handed setup reliever to pair with Manny Parra. Sean Marshall is done for the season and while it would be great if Tony Cingrani could figure out his command in the minors, the Reds aren't in a position to sit and hope. Cingrani is currently on the disabled list at Triple-A Louisville with a left shoulder strain.
Another area of interest is a familiar one -- left field. Ludwick has had a good season with a split line of .270/.329/.407 in 70 games while Skip Schumaker and Chris Heisey have also played the position but another productive bat in the lineup never hurts.
Can Billy Hamilton, Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco continue playing as they have the first 95 games?
These three players were question marks coming into the season, especially Hamilton and Mesoraco because they were entering new ground as first-time everyday players. All three have excelled and are a big reason why the Reds are in the thick of the NL Central race.
Frazier has arguably been the team's offensive MVP with a line of .290/.353/.500 to go along with 19 home runs, 17 doubles and 53 RBI and he's played a Gold Glove-caliber third base defensively. Despite two stints on the disabled list, Mesoraco has delivered with .304/.375/.609 splits and already set career highs for homers (16), doubles (15) and RBI (45) while his skills behind the plate continue to improve. Hamilton is well on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award.
Baseball being what it is, Hamilton and Mesoraco may not stay at their pace as teams continue to develop scouting reports against them but none of them have shown any signs of slowing down. Better yet, all three possess the demeanor to continue their play. There will be some down times the rest of the season but there is no panic in any of them.
How do the Reds answer St. Louis?
The Reds haven't lost a series against Milwaukee, Pittsburgh or Chicago this season, winning 10 of 11 with only a split of two-game series against the Cubs preventing a perfect series mark. The Reds are 25-11 against those three teams but, as has been the case in many seasons past, they have struggled against St. Louis. They've dropped two of three in each of the first three series they've faced the Cardinals and have 10 games spread over three more series still remaining with the defending NL champs.
The Reds have lost six straight series in St. Louis and have won just three series there since 2003. Two of the three series they have left with the Cardinals are on the road. Just as the Reds are missing key players in Phillips and Votto, St. Louis is without all-everything catcher Yadier Molina until September and its starting pitching has taken a hit as Jaime Garcia is out for the season and Michael Wacha is currently sidelined with a right shoulder injury.
The Reds believe they can win the division. They're in a position to do just that but they're going to have to figure out a way to beat the Cardinals.
Can the Reds get the ball to Chapman?
One of the most startling stats about the end of last season was that Aroldis Chapman recorded his 38th and final save of the season on Sept. 20. He appeared in just two games the final week of the regular season and didn't pitch at all in a game after Sept. 25.
Only a handful of teams, if that, can bring out a closer of the quality of Chapman but it's up to the Reds to get the ball to him. The offense can't go into hibernation and the setup relievers will have to do their jobs. Jumbo Diaz has been a welcomed influx into a bullpen rotation along with Parra, Broxton and Sam LeCure. Manager Bryan Price maintains confidence in J.J. Hoover and Logan Ondrusek but their results have been hit-and-miss. They'll need to be more hit down the stretch.