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Looking for answers/excuses

It's May 2 and the team has a winning record.

Jeff Curry

The Reds have scored a paltry 2.2 runs per game over their last three series (vs. the Cubs, Nats and Cardinals). With the offensive struggles fresh in mind, it's easy to think that this team needs a shake-up.

But losing the forest for the trees is a common pitfall in baseball fandom. Sometimes even losing the trees for the bats... that they're made out of? I guess my point is that we shouldn't get too confused here.

The offense has sucked lately, but a little context:

The team has a winning record through 29 games and has won more series than it's lost. In 2012, they were 15-14 after 29 games. In 2010, 14-15.

The team isn't hitting any worse than it usually does in April. The slash line last month was .245/.327/.377. The bats were even colder in April 2012 (.240/.306/.387) and about the same as in April 2010 (.245/.322/.390).

The schedule has been pretty hard. Maybe I'm giving the Angels too much credit, but the Reds have played just 1/3 of their games against "bad" teams (7 games vs. Miami or Chicago), with just two off-days and a 20-in-row stretch that sandwiched a homestand in between two road trips.

The pitching has been great. Even with a little bullpen bumbling, everyone is doing just about what you'd expect. So far, the loss of Cueto has been compensated for by Cingrani's prodigious performance, at least from an ERA standpoint. Despite injuries to Marshall and Cueto, team ERA+ (125) is exactly where it was last season.

Injuries. The Reds lost Ludwick on Day 1 and Hanigan, who was playing like he was injured, has been out nearly half the time. While the loss of Heisey might not have much effect on the offense, it hurts the depth and defense in LF.

All of that doesn't mean the offense hasn't been pretty miserable lately.

Looking at a month's worth of numbers, there's plenty of room for improvement, but only a few clear underachievers. Despite the slump, Frazier isn't far off his level. Mesoraco and Corky have actually gotten on base at a decent clip (with no power), which is roughly what you expect from Ryan Hanigan. Joey still isn't hitting for power you'd expect, but the same thing happened to him in April 2010 and 2012.

Nonetheless, we can all agree that these three things are a problem:

Left fielders hitting like pitchers. This is the line out of LF so far this season: .191/.244/.278. LF is generally the second or third-best hitting position in the league. Last year, NL LFers hit a collective .265/.329/.434

Jay Bruce in extended spring training. Jay's total lack of power is worse than his usual April, but I really think it's as simple as turning the calendar page. May is by far Bruce's best month.

Cozart=Janish. Cozart is as close to an automatic out as any active regular in the Reds' lineup. His OBP (.225) has sunk below anything Paul Janish posted over a single season.

What can the Reds actually do to help themselves along? The main thing is just to wait it out. That's how things got better in their two previous division-title-winning seasons. Jay Bruce looks like he isn't seeing the slider very well - or baseballs thrown in his direction in general - but that's how he tends to look whenever he's slumping.

Besides that, Walt, Dusty & Co should maybe think about:

1. Never, ever, ever batting Cozart ever again in the 2nd spot (ever). Cozart (with Izturis hitting 2nd in 5 PAs) has almost as many PAs as Brandon Phillips and more than Todd Frazier. He might get a bump from hitting in front of Votto, but his OBP on the season is still nearly 100 points lower than the NL average 2-hole hitter. Given his propensity for grounding out, there has to be a better way to go.

2. Getting a LFer. To put it charitably, the Reds are starting their 5th, 6th and 7th outfielders in a murky non-platoon platoon. Donald Lutz is cool, but he's probably not ready for prime time. None of the following guys are world-beaters, but they could be relatively cheap, acceptable platoon/stop-gap bats:

Tyler Colvin
Michael Morse
Reed Johnson
Justin Maxwell
Laynce Nix
Kyle Blanks
John Mayberry
Jeff Baker

3. I guess that's it. I'm out of ideas. Sleep 'til it gets better.