After several agonizing days without baseball, the second half of the season kicks off today. The first few months have gone how many Reds fans expected. Unfortunately, according to Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds, Cincinnati has no chance of making the post season. Barring the most incredible turn around in baseball history, there will be no playoff baseball for the Reds. In spite of that there is still plenty to pay attention to. The rebuild is on in Cincinnati, and over the next few months there are a few ways the Reds could continue to move in the right direction.
With that in mind, here are five hopes that many fans likely have for the Reds over the rest of the season.
1. The return of Homer Bailey
If you've watched the Reds much this season there were probably a few nights you woke up in a cold sweat worried about the pitching. One of the things that kept most fans sane was the reality that the pitching staff was missing several key contributors. The most important missing piece has been Homer Bailey.
You're all familiar with Bailey's story up to this point. Cincinnati gave him a six-year $105 million contract, and it feels like he's been injured every since. It doesn't help that the starting pitcher some fans wish the Reds had paid instead, Johnny Cueto, started this year's All-Star Game. Expectations for Bailey have always been high, and the fact that he's been unable to deliver recently has only increased the pressure. The return of Homer Bailey to the top of the rotation would be a big step forward for the Reds this season.
Bailey has pitched in three games for Louisville following a setback to his rehab in late April. His numbers aren't eye popping, but there have been reasons for optimism. Jason Linden of Redleg Nation recently had the opportunity to watch Bailey and had this to say. "Bailey was a little iffy on command but the velocity was up from his previous starts (he sat 93-94 instead of just touching those numbers once or twice) and he seemed much more relaxed on the mound. He threw 51 pitches through 3 2/3 innings with one strikeout and no walks."
Unless he pitches like an ace there will always be fans frustrated with Bailey's performance. However, what Cincinnati needs this season is for Bailey to return, shake the rust off, and show flashes of the pitcher he once was. If he can use the second half of the season to get comfortable it will be time well spent. Few players will impact the speed of Cincinnati's rebuild like Bailey, and a solid comeback could inject the organization with some much needed optimism.
2. Jose Peraza gets more (consistent) playing time
On a recent episode of Effectively Wild Joe Sheehan said that one of the worst things for a prospects development is likely inconsistent playing time. Nothing helps a players development like regular reps at the plate and in the field. On the contrary few things can shake a players confidence like wondering when/if he'll be in the lineup. Yet this has been Peraza's experience since coming to the big leagues.
Bryan Price recently noted that Peraza needs to play around four games per week for his time in Cincinnati to be valuable. That sounds about right, but if that amount of playing time requires the Reds to send Peraza back to Louisville then they should. Of course there could be plenty of playing time for Peraza in Cincinnati's lineup if the Reds were willing to make the difficult decision to bench Brandon Phillips.
Phillips situation is well known by Reds fans. Cincinnati attempted to trade him in the offseason, but he nixed a move to the Nationals. At this point, even if Cincinnati wanted to trade him it's unlikely they could get much (if anything) back in return. He's in the midst of one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, and his defense has been on a steady decline since last season. It could potentially cause some clubhouse issues, but it doesn't make any sense for the Reds to be giving regular playing time to the 35 year old at this point. Phillips will not be a contributor the next time the Reds contend, but Peraza will hopefully play a key role on that team.
Whether it's in Louisville or Cincinnati Jose Peraza needs more consistent playing time over the next few months. It's nice for fans to to be able to watch promising prospects at the big league level, but it might not be the best thing for that player's development. Here's hoping a decision gets made with the future in mind sooner rather than later.
This won't be the most enjoyable part of the next few months, but it's absolutely necessary for the Reds to keep moving forward. The most obvious candidate is Jay Bruce who has returned to his pre-2014 performance at the plate. Rumors are already swirling about potential suitors, and it's incredibly unlikely that Bruce remains in Cincinnati much longer.
The other likely trade candidate is Zack Cozart. Watching Cozart's development at the plate has been one of the few pleasant surprises for Reds fans this season. However, he's already thirty years old, and it's worth asking how much longer he'll remain this productive at shortstop. Cozart could be a valuable piece for a contender, but he probably won't be when the Reds start winning again. The fact that there is a market for Cozart would have been unthinkable to fans a few seasons ago. Cincinnati needs to make the most of this window of opportunity.
4. Top prospects start playing like top prospects
There have been a few impressive performances from Reds prospects this season. Amir Garrett dominated in Double-A, but the farm system has provided more questions than answers thus far. Jesse Winker appeared to come out of an early season slump (minus the power) in June, but now he's dealing with a wrist injury. Robert Stephenson has been okay, but he's allowed fewer than three runs in only one of his last four starts. Not only that, but his command continues to be a concern. A string of dominant starts in July or August would be a welcome sight.
Tyler Stephenson and Alex Blandino have both really struggled at the plate this season. That's four of the Reds top ten prospects, according to MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, who have struggled to varying degrees in 2016. While slumps are unavoidable, a bounce back by a few of these players could really boost the confidence of the fan base in the future.
5. The bullpen is better
Because I can't take three more months of this.
What hopes do you have for the Reds in the second half? Let us know in the comments section.
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