The Cincinnati Reds surged into the All Star break on quite the roll, taking 3 of 4 against the team they’re chasing in the National League Central in Milwaukee. They’ve gone 24-14 since the start of June, including a 9-2 start to the month of July, and have begun to maximize the talent that’s admittedly all up and down the current roster.
Rookies Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson deserve ample dap for their efforts, as both have emerged as everyday threats to help back the bonking duo of Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos. The return of Joey Votto after his busted thumb has been tremendous, too, as he’s hit a more Votto-like .286/.385/.500 in those 32 games to bolster the offense.
On the pitching side, Luis Castillo settling down into the dominant starter we hoped we’d see all season has given the rotation much needed depth. That has coincided with the excellent early work from Vlad Gutierrez, and even the bullpen managed to cobble together some mostly excellent work in the three-ish weeks before the club took their break.
This Cincinnati Reds team still needs help, however. All good teams still need help, that’s basically how trade season and the flurry of deadline moves became a thing in the first place. And, rest assured, every team ahead of the Reds in the standings will be seeking that help, too, with the Brewers already months into their game of additions.
With that in mind, here are the most pressing questions facing the Reds with the second-half set to get going on Friday.
Is physical therapy enough to fix the bullpen on its own?
Michael Lorenzen is very, very close. In fact, were the Reds playing this week and not on rest, there’s probably a decent chance he would’ve been activated earlier. Instead, he’s stuck with AAA Louisville to stay ready over the break, and may well be activated before the Reds take the field on Friday.
He’s a huge, huge piece to this team’s bullpen mix when he’s back. With Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims similarly shelved for the time being, that’s perhaps the three most talented relief arms all sidelined, however, and there’s still the issue of how Jeff Hoffman’s return impacts that mix, too.
Is that enough, though? Can that group help stabilize what’s been a mostly abysmal attempt at bullpen frugality when the rest of the roster is mostly playoff-built? Or, will the ownership group actually spend a buck to bring in outside help to make that work?
Still, this entire question is the same one framed in a different light - are the in-house bullpen options going to be enough, or not? With little health, light experience, and no real roles defined 90 games into this year, answering this one is the most vital.
Do we see the real Eugenio Suarez at all this year? If so, where?
The Reds gave away their bullpen over the winter and never signed a shortstop after Freddy Galvis walked.
Did you notice?
While addressing the bullpen became a dependency on Kyle Boddy and the Driveline crew to give Derek Johnson some previously unearthed gems, the shortstop conundrum eventually became see if Geno can just do it again!
Geno got the chance. It did not go well for Geno, and the production has continued to be mostly poor even when switched back to 3B. He owns a unfathomable 61 OPS+ overall, and the one-time lefty-masher has slumped to just .125/.232/.292 against LHP in 82 PA so far this season.
Kyle Farmer and his 62 OPS+ have been more or less the definition of a replacement-level player as the now-everyday shortstop, but comes with much less upside than what Geno could, at one point, provide. And if Mike Moustakas ever returns, it will likely be Farmer - not Jonathan India at 2B - who gets bumped from the regular infield rotation, a scenario that would once again see Geno be tasked with being the team’s answer at the 6.
Is there a Disney-style ending to this story? Can he rebound, figure things out with the glove, and truly unlock the last major piece of what could be an offensive juggernaut in this story? Or will we all be left to wonder just what this story would have looked like had Story been given a role to play?
Will Shogo get his chance?
100 games as a big leaguer in the most homer-happy go-go era in the sport’s history, and Shogo Akiyama has not hit a homer. 100 games, 277 PA, and a .286 slugging percentage that’s in-line with the .275 mark put up by Mets ace Jacob deGrom in 254 PA dating back to 2017.
Time is getting short for the Shogo experiment to truly give any returns, but the sample size still remains small enough for the wonder to exist. He’s not going to morph into a dinger-socking machine now, or ever, but the way he wrapped the 2020 season - one that saw the Reds squeak into the playoffs as he fueled the lineup - still likely warrants him getting at least one more run with some regular playing time, something the outfield glut and his early hamstring injury have removed from the conversation so far.
He hit .333/.474/.383 over his final 22 games of 2020. Tyler Naquin, for all his early-2021 heroics, has slumped to a .750 OPS for the 2021 season as a whole after hitting just .221/.275/.360 (.635 OPS) in 44 games since May 19th, and when it comes to defensive prowess, we know just how good Shogo can be.
Is a 48-42 start and the return of fans to GABP enough to make this owner prioritize winning as much as making money?
Are the Reds a public utility as much as a business? There’s the whole part about the sales-tax increase in Hamilton County to help fund GABP’s construction, something that helped fuel the purported value of the Reds franchise into the billion with a ‘B’ stratosphere, after all.
Anyway, this ownership group showed their hands in a big, big way over the winter when they made it very clear that year over year cash flow was absolutely, positively more important than long-term investment in the club that may dip into the red temporarily on its meteoric rise into the billions with an ‘s’ stratosphere. As I mentioned earlier, however, even good baseball teams need help on their way to winning anything more than regular season games, and this Reds club needs help, too. Help, as it is wont to do, costs money, and the Reds are going to need some of that cold, hard cash to add a reliever or whatever to chase the Dodgers and Padres and Brewers.
Will such a request be viewed in the year-to-year cash flow model? Or will it be viewed as perhaps the investment that pushes this team into a contender, one with October games on national television who could, perhaps, hang a banner in publicly-funded GABP and regain some relevance among baseball fans on both coasts who barely know this club exists?
I’m talking priorities here, folks. This Reds club needs to answer the question, again, of what its priorities truly are.