Reds fans can now breathe a sigh of relief. If the World Series comes down to game 7, it will be in Cincinnati! Thanks in large part to Prince Fielder, the National League dominated a rather boring All-Star game. Looking ahead to the second half of the season there are many factors that will determine if this team repeats as Central division champs or if the team will stay around .500 and fall out of the race. After much deliberation and thought, I came up with the 5 most important factors. I understand why Dusty puts together so many different lineups because there many holes throughout this team. Narrowing these blemishes down to 5 was not easy.
Leading off…Drew Stubbs. He had an atrocious first half to the season. He struggled at the plate from day one, but the slump got real bad leading up to the break. The strikeout numbers Stubbs is producing are bringing back terrible flashbacks of Adam Dunn to Reds fans all over the country. If he keeps his current pace up he could approach the unfathomable number of 250 strikeouts. Simply put, Drew Stubbs needs to start hitting. Everyone knows the defense will always be there. He has only drawn 33 walks to go with his 122 strikeouts so far. If he is going to be the lead off hitter, his patience at the plate has to improve. Plus, if the guy is getting on-base at a higher percentage his stolen base numbers will sky rocket. The offense goes as Drew Stubbs goes.
Next up, the starting rotation. The rotation has not played at a high level in the first half. The only pitcher to have any sort of sustained success is Johnny Cueto. The next lowest ERA on the staff is 4.18 which belongs to Homer Bailey. Mike Leake has looked better of late which is a great sign. However no one can forget how bad “The Drip” was the second half of last season. Can Dontrelle Willis be a mainstay in the rotation? What happens with Edinson Volquez? The Opening Day starter was just recently sent down for the second time this season. One thing is for certain – Bronson Arroyo can’t keep going out there and giving up home runs. He’s on pace to give up 50 deep balls right now, and his 5.58 ERA backs that up. He has to get it together. Maybe Travis Wood has a big impact on the second half. The talent is present for all these pitchers, but the focus and concentration need to improve for guys like Homer and Volquez. It is just a matter of who will step up and pitch well in the second half. The rotation, whoever it may be, needs to pitch better – A LOT better if this club plans on contending.
Oh the black hole that is the Cincinnati Reds left field spot. This position has been a hot topic for debate the whole first half of the season. Jonny Gomes struggled mightily for a large portion of the first half and fans were calling for his head. Then Chris Heisey was hailed as the savior to all the problems in LF. Apparently, Dusty is not a believer in the Heisey-hype. Despite his overall great numbers considering the circumstances, Dusty has not given him an opportunity to be the every day left fielder. Fred Lewis has played well of late too which complicates the matters even more. If Heisey got a fair chance to start, the Reds outfield would have to be considered one of- if not THE best defensive outfields in the league. Fans want Heisey, but everyone will have to see how Dusty plays out this quagmire in left.
How much does Scott Rolen have left in his tank? If the first half is any indication, his gas light might have just came on. Scotty has been battling injuries all year which may explain some of his struggles but the numbers are still not up to par. The fact he got to start the All-Star game is funny once you see the numbers, but that was more out of respect from the other players. Scott’s hitting .241 with a measely OBP of .276. He has looked over matched at the plate most of the season, which leads fans to question how much more we can expect out of him. It’s not fair to expect him to start hitting anything tremendous but if he can just hit .275 the rest of the year I think that would help out the offense greatly. The defense is still there, only time will tell if Rolen can figure it out at the plate.
The last key factor I chose was Zack Cozart. Shortstop has been an everyday problem the first half of the year. To put it politely, the Reds got nothing from the original combination of Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria. Those two combined for 18 errors in the first half, and combined they hit a whopping .226. Basically the Reds were playing with 2 automatic outs in the lineup every night [except when Leake pitches] thanks to no production from short. Fans were calling for him all year, and they finally got their wish right before the break when Zack Cozart was called up. Cozart has gotten a hit in every game so far and looked solid in the field. It’s far too early to declare him the answer at short, but so far so good.
These factors may or may not end up being key in the Reds success the second half. There are so many things that could play a role, but these could be determining pieces that either sink the Reds or propel them back to the playoffs in October. Starting pitching has to improve. Plain and simple. If the pitching starts to come around good things will happen. High level of play can be contagious so all it will take is a few guys to get it going and the whole team may start playing better.
And about the Ubaldo Jiminez rumor–I would love the move. He was incredible last year and could just be someone who needs a change of teams to get back to his All-Star form. That being said, I try not to look too much into rumors as most of them won’t end up happening so I’m blocking the thoughts out of my head for now.