Ever since January 2013, the Cincinnati Reds (and the fine citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio) have had July 14, 2015 circled on the calendar. It was in that first month of 2013 that the Reds and the City of Cincinnati were awarded the 2015 All Star Game. It was a 10 year wait for the stadium, which saw many a new, shiny crib jump the line in front of it, stealing the spotlight that comes with the Midsummer Classic. Regardless, the team and the city made the wait worth it and by many accounts the event was a rousing success.
Congratulations to the city for adequately taking advantage of the spotlight, and all of the members of the Reds and the city that made it possible. I suppose the new Home Run Derby rules and the subsequent winner didn't hurt, either.
For a few months now (and possibly since as early as the fall of 2014), the aforementioned All Star Game was the proverbial duct tape holding the current iteration of the Reds together. Those 2014 Reds lost 86 games. Despite that, and the pending free agency of practically the entire pitching staff, the Reds made moves that were neither all in nor all out. The general lack of discernible direction one way or another led to the belief that the Reds front office believed that the current band could be contenders, while conventional wisdom suggested something different.
Honestly, you didn't have to squint very hard to see a version of this starting eight being competitive. Devin Mesoraco coming off a career year and into a newly minted extension could boop and blast in the meat of a batting order that boasted a similarly hot Todd Frazier as well as healthy and rejuvenated offensive stalwarts Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Brandon Phillips's decline is noticeable but nothing like a disaster, especially while still being a wizard on defense. If Billy Hamilton figured out how to get on base consistently, he'd be a serious threat to score every time on almost any kind of hit and hey, Zack Cozart's return to a non-2014 version of himself would just be gravy. When you have a top three of Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake in your rotation you feel more fortunate than a lot of teams, and there were more than a few people predicting that Anthony DeSclafani would be just as competent as the man he replaced in the rotation. Besides, whenever you have Aroldis Chapman, almost every lead is safe.
Then again, when Kristopher Negron and Skip Schumaker are your first bats off the bench and your front office thinks that Kevin Gregg and Jason Marquis are not only cromulent, but candidates to be the first out of the bullpen and the fifth starter respectively, well, you're banking on a lot to go right for a team that simply hasn't caught a break since... well.. 1990?
While it wasn't hard to imagine a team that could compete, the actual result was completely predictable.
This is your 2015 Cincinnati Reds First Half Post-Mortem.
4th place in the NL Central
Games Back: 15.5
Wild Card games back: 7.5
Pythagorean Record: 38-48
This didn't go well. Thanks to an absolutely dismal Milwaukee start, the Reds aren't in the cellar, but it hardly matters. The thing that surprised here was the Pythag record; the Reds should actually be one game worse than they are. Which is baffling, because I'm pretty sure I've watched this team lose in every single way possible. The way I remember it, the Reds are 16 Kevin Gregg bullpen meltdowns in the 7th inning away from leading the division.
There's not a lot of shame in being 15.5 back of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015; they're really good at baseball (and computers). But don't let the 7.5 games back of the wild card spot fool you: there are 6 teams the Reds would have to jump in order to claim that spot. Some of those are similarly flawed squads (San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks), but the rest are legitimately better teams than the Reds (Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants). The Reds would need an unprecedented hot streak-plus-epic-meltdowns-plural to claim the spot. It's very, very unlikely it happens.
Never say never, I guess?
Days in First: 7
Biggest Lead: 2.5
There was a time that the Reds were in first place. It happened. I swear. We'll all remember that first week fondly.
While the friendly confines of Great American Ballpark have been good for the home team, the away record is dismal. Interestingly, the 0.370 winning percentage on the road is actually worse than the notoriously better-in-altitude Colorado Rockies (42%).
Predictably, the Cardinals have owned the Reds this year, much like they seemingly do every year, even the bountiful ones. Unfortunately, the Cardinals tearing the heart out of the Cincinnati Reds is something that you can set your clock by year after year. Eventually, it'll change, but someone in the Reds front office is going to have to broker a serious deal with the devil (or perhaps simply just wake up).
Also predictable, but breaks a recent trend: the Cubs have beat the Reds senseless. From 2010, the Reds have won nearly 70% of the games they played against the Northsiders. Makes sense; the Reds were good and the Cubs were... the Cubs. But, it's all been flipped upside down this year. The Cubs have assembled the young talent it takes to compete in the division (and in the league) for years to come, and have demonstrated as much whether they've come to Cincinnati or played the Reds in front of the ivy. Basically, they're where the Reds were just some six years ago.
Less predictably, the Reds have had their way with the Pirates in this doomed season. The Pirates have come into their own lately (and it resembles something dominant), and Grantland/ESPN's baseball savant Jonah Kerri considers the Buccos the best team in baseball in his latest power rankings. They've mustered a win against the Reds exactly two times in nine tries.
It hasn't all been doom and gloom in Redsland. Never forget: any baseball is better than no baseball, even if it rips your heart out and feeds it to you sometimes.
Todd Frazier: It wasn't just Home Run Derby trophies for the Reds 3rd baseman. For instance, he did this while the majority of us were asleep against Detroit. Oh, and let's not forget that he's on pace to break Frank Robinson's Reds record for extra base hits. Our Todd is an awesome Todd, indeed, accruing 3.7 WAR for the half.
But did I mention he put on an absolute show in the Home Run Derby.
Johnny Cueto's Final Days: Presumably, Johnny Cueto is going to be on the move at the trade deadline. That hasn't stopped us here at Red Reporter from celebrating everything that is Johnny Cueto, and that hasn't stopped Johnny Cueto from spinning absolute gems. The Cy Young runner-up narrowly missed the All Star Game (despite our best efforts), but as recently as last week he bested 2015 NL Cy Young front runner Max Scherzer in a big way with a nine inning shutout of the Washington Nationals. On Opening Day, Cueto owned the Pittsburgh Pirates (like he normally does) with 0 earned through 7 IP. Some arm issues have caused hiccups in the ace's season, but he's been every bit as good in 2015 as he's been in his tenure as Reds.
Billy Hamilton's steals: Sure, Billy doesn't get on base as much as everyone would like, but that doesn't mean he's not exhilarating when he does. Hamilton's 44 steals leads all of the MLB, and it feels like a foregone conclusion when he reaches first. 44 steals with a .269 OBP is astounding (and maybe more than a little frustrating), and if he finds a way to improve in the second half, 100 isn't out of the question. Hell, even if he doesn't improve the on-base skills, 100 isn't out of the question.
And, this happened:
Joey Votto is healthy: He's back, he's bashing, and he's spectacular (especially if he has his wallet). Also:
The Bullpen (non Aroldis/JJ division).
I'm not embedding gifs or videos of any of this because you remember. You probably can't block any of it out of your mind, and me showing you visuals of it isn't going to help you sleep better at night. April and May was a long time ago, but the pain is still real. It's still too real to me, dammit.
The Second Half of May: There was a point in time when the Reds were above .500. May 15th started the official beginning of the end (of the end). The Reds would lose 10 of 11 and put the nail in the coffin of the season. That's not to say it was particularly good beforehand, but they haven't been close to making up the deficit, and this run of losses will be remembered as the dooming lull, at the hands of the Giants, Indians, Royals and Rockies.
And, well, a lot of other things: Injuries to star players. Injuries to non-star players. TOOTBLANs, RedsLOBsters, and other terrible things. I could go on for a long time, but there's no sense in tenderizing the horse.
What To Look Forward To
There's really only one storyline remaining: Who is going to be on this team moving forward. We're less than half a month away from the August 1 trade deadline, and almost everyone is (or should be) on the table. There's a very good chance that the team that you watched on July 12th will not resemble the one that you watch on August 1st. Stay tuned to RedReporter dot com for all of the latest.
I couldn't possibly chronicle every highlight/lowlight from the first half of the 2015 season, so feel free to leave your favorite (or least favorite) 2015 first half Reds moment in the comments below (or on Twitter or Facebook, if that's your thing. We love you, Facebook Commenters**. We really do.)
*All stats/team details courtesy of Baseball Reference
**But most of you are really awful.