Judging the Reds without Cueto would be liking assesing the Super Friends without Superman. There’s a pretty impressive cast of characters surrounding the Man of Steel, but when you strip Superman from the equation, you’re really only left with two guys who live by what’s attached to their belts and another who’s useless outside of water. Wonder Woman can only do so much. So the Reds lose their Superman in the middle of one of the season’s more daunting stretch of games and the results so far are pretty unsurprising – they’ve lost their last two series against the National League’s two best offenses en route to losing six of their last ten.
Keeping things in perspective – on May 27, the Reds began a stretch of 13 consecutive games against winning teams. Because of a poor record against teams over .500, a huge portion of the Reds community seemed significantly invested in the outcome of this Draconian stretch – and rightfully so. After losing their ace and another clean-up hitter for the entire Rockies series, the Reds ultimately managed a disappointing 6-7 record.
A common theme woven throughout the mini-gauntlet is the fact that the Reds once exceptional and trusted bullpen blew three saves in that span. The one in Pittsburgh would have meant a sweep. The others would have given the Reds series victories over the Rockies and the Cardinals. Sam LeCure uncharacteristically surrendered the leads against the NL’s two best offenses while Broxton did it again in Pittsburgh.
Those numbers move the Reds into a woeful echelon – the 13 losses by the bullpen is just two shy of the MLB-worst Houston Astros. Just ahead are the last place Dodgers and the last place Marlins. Immediately beneath the Reds are the Mets. But do those teams surrounding the Reds surprise you? Impossible. You’ve witnessed this bullpen surrender more leads than an FBI informant. And eventually, the numbers paint a picture you can’t refute.
One things has become painstakingly clear: the Reds will need to improve its bullpen by the trade deadline.
We can talk about Cueto and Ludwick being out until we’ve run out of adjectives, but the fact of the matter remains, the bullpen has surrendered a lot of wins the Reds could have amassed without two of its most important players. Just be honest – who behind the gate, other than Aroldis Chapman, do you trust? I submit to you the numbers for your Cincinnati Reds bullpen in just the last 30 days:
Manny Parra: 9.00
J.J. Hoover: 8.10, 0-2
Logan Ondrusek: 6.10, 6.10
Sean Marshall : 5.40, 0-1
Sam LeCure: 4.15, 0-1
Simon, Broxton and Chapman are the only ones with both an ERA under 4 and/or a win in what has been a callous stretch for the Reds. It’s worth noting that teams only hit this bullpen at an average of .236, which is just outside the top ten in that category. But wins and losses are the only stats accounted for after 162, and at this pace, the Reds are ensuring a tight race for themselves by routinely failing to secure what should be victories.
If you’re Dusty Baker, who do you confidently bring into the game prior to the 9th inning? The situation doesn’t call for Windex because it’s actually very clear: the Reds needs to add-on this All Star Break. Even if the bullpen goes on an impressive stretch, it’s cost the team entirely too much this early in the season not to address. The stakes of losing these games is ultimately low. Seriously, unless you think you the Giants planned on sending in the rest of their 2012 season after a late June series loss to the Reds, there’s plenty reason to believe this team is going be where they need to be when it gets chilly. But you can’t confidently enter October with a bullpen this suspect.
And that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? It isn’t about how quickly the Reds can run away with the Central – hell, it’s hardly about winning the division this time. The only thing people care about is if this team can realistically advance when there are no games remaining on the magnetic schedule hanging on your refrigerator.
When you consider the talent that’s behind the gate, do you see a group of guys that can protect a one-run lead late in the game against baseball’s better offenses? I don’t. And that’s OK. Still plenty of time to improve this team. And fortunately enough, any holes in this ship may start and end with the bullpen.