Going 11-6 over a 17 game stretch of baseball is far from unheard of. Sure, it’s a 104 win pace when stretched out over 162 games, but that’s the point - it’s not a 162 game pace, it’s merely a string of games that makes up a bit over 10% of one baseball season. That’s the kind of run that would require some very good play for a few weeks of time, and is the kind of thing you’ll see from even last place teams from time to time.
In fact, that’s exactly the run you saw from the Cincinnati Reds just recently, as they reeled off an 11-6 stretch from June 16th through July 4th. In the process, they went from a season-worst 8.0 games back in the National League Central to just 3.5 games out, picking up 4.5 games in the process.
The Reds, of course, are still in last place in the Central - a similar 4.5 games back at this point. Given a) how tightly packed this division is at the moment and b) how many games they play against their division rivals in the near future, it’s a pretty safe assumption that if the Reds can put that kind of run together out of the gate in the season’s second half, they’ll make up that kind of similar ground.
That would put them in a playoff position, of course, and playoff teams buy at the trade deadlines.
That’s the thing about this kind of cluster, though. There isn’t a team in this division that isn’t having that same exact conversation, since you can quick and dirty math each and every team in the Central to the top in no time. Factor in a dream addition to fill a need in the coming 20 days, and it becomes even easier to envision for each of these five clubs. It’s enough to safely assume that merely standing pat - or even just banking on the return to form of injured and existing players - isn’t going to be enough to make that kind of sustained push.
Sure, the Reds just welcomed back Scooter Gennett. Alex Wood is finally on rehab assignment, and the likes of Amir Garrett, Wandy Peralta, and Cody Reed should again be healthy soon to re-bolster a bullpen that had been rock-solid until slipping with depleted ranks. But every team in the division has that same tale to tell.
The Chicago Cubs will add back Brandon Morrow and Ben Zobrist at some point this season, and heck, they just added Craig Kimbrel a minute ago. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been ravaged by injuries all season, but will get the combo of Corey Dickerson and Gregory Polanco back and healthy at some point in July, with Jameson Taillon and Lonnie Chisenhall likely to join them, too. The St. Louis Cardinals look to be healthy out of the gate in the second half after limping into the break with poor play while Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter were out with minor injuries, while the Milwaukee Brewers can expect to get both Gio Gonzalez and Jimmy Nelson back to bolster their rotation at some point in the near future (with maybe, maybe even a fixed version of Travis Shaw down the road, too).
That’s all on-roster, in-house support for teams that have almost exactly the same records through 90 games - and we haven’t even gotten to the concept that each of the other four clubs are targeting the trade market for more help, too.
The Brewers have already been connected to the highest profile starting pitching available, with both Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Madison Bumgarner all having been mentioned. Theo Epstein just added Kimbrel, of course, and has been vocal lately in suggesting that the Cubs will continue to be active to help claw their way back to the postseason. The Cardinals, per usual, have a very low likelihood of sitting out the deadline adding, and figure to be buyers, while Neal Huntington has even suggested that the cost-conscious Pirates will be looking for ‘opportunities to add’ to his current set of Pirates.
Just as there were no tankers, no Baltimore Orioles in the division at the start of the season, so, too, does it appear that there won’t be any between now and July 31st, barring a complete collapse by any franchise over the next two plus weeks. For the Cincinnati Reds, there will absolutely be hope that their current core continues to improve, with the bats finally heating up after a dismal start to the season, and there will be public comments made by the front office emphasizing how much Scooter and Wood and Garrett will make the team better as they get healthier. And yes, the fact that this Reds team has scored so many more runs than they’ve allowed so far this season will be cited as how much upside there is for the rest of the season.
Still, the stockpilers of the division have plans to continue stockpiling, and the stockpilers are the division this year. The Reds are in an enviable spot within them, too, given how little financial commitment they’ve got beyond 2019 relative to what they’ve doled out this year, a product of where they are in the life-cycle of their massive rebuild. The questions will be, obviously, how much of their future they’re willing to leverage to add to what could be a special 2019 run, and whether they can find the kind of piece that - as the picture of Scott Rolen was specifically chosen for - will both impact 2019 and beyond?
Front office conductor Dick Williams has hinted at finding the latter, though that’s of course true of any front office. They’d all like to add a good hitter who’s under team control for years down the road - who wouldn’t? That’ll ultimately be the goal for Williams and GM Nick Krall, as they look just as much beyond the 2019 season as to it. Still, a building-block kind of trade this July might well be the only type of move that can put the Reds over the top this year in a division that will only continue to get better, and deciding whether to make that kind of franchise-altering decision on the players available now versus waiting to find that player this winter will be one of the defining decisions of this entire rebuild, really.
It’s going to be a spicy next 20 days in the NL Central, and for the first time in years the Reds will be in the thick of it both on the field and in the news. Let’s just hope things break right for them, for once.