When the series against the San Francisco Giants concluded Sunday evening, the Cincinnati Reds officially concluded the midpoint of the season on a high note. After being as low as six games under .500 (23-29 on May 29th, after losing five of their previous six), they found the high-water mark to-date at exactly game 81 against the Giants, concluding a four-game series sweep and reaching five games over .500 at 43-38.
There’s no doubt where the biggest progress was made between the pretty dismal first two months and the month of June: a reestablished offense. The steadiest presence all season has come from the starting pitching, which has been by far the most critical in keeping this team afloat as the offense was barren. Add to that pitching (and, without a doubt, a contributing factor) the majors’ best defense all season long. While it’s still not exactly a perfect team, the threat of offense along with strong pitching makes this team one to contend again. It’s encouraging if nothing else.
The big question now still remains: Where do they go from here? Is this team a contender to the post-season? Double the halfway record from 43 wins and it projects to 86 wins. That number would be slightly lower than last season, but is it enough to get a spot in the playoffs?
The complicating factor this year appears more competition within the division AND for the wild card beyond it. While a team like the Brewers could fade, the Cardinals are right beside this Reds squad, and this team has yet to prove it can beat St. Louis on any consistent basis. Add to that the presence of two strong teams in the NL West – the Los Angeles Dodgers and those same Giants – and the challenge gets a little tougher. On the positive side, the Reds have played the Brewers within the division as good as any opponent to date.
One can prognosticate as much as anybody else what might happen going forward. Players and their health remains the biggest wildcard as evidenced that the team struggled when key players were hurt to start the year. Joey Votto still does not look 100%, despite his appeals to the contrary. Can the team truly compete with him less than himself? Can they draw from that 2012 well when they seemingly had to do the same thing … that jury remains recessed. The separate concern I could next see most involves the innings of both Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon. Cueto is on a pace to exceed any of his prior career highs in innings as is Simon. Simon almost has to hit an innings limit at some point, although that conversation has certainly stayed internal so far. Can Tony Cingrani regain his own health to come back to alleviate that possible concern? Can the rotation be modified to allow more rest going forward in the home stretch for both Cueto and Simon as needed to keep them fresh? Those are questions to which answers remain unknown for now.
What we do know: the 2014 Cincinnati Reds have at least shown up to play from the month of June … and will probably at least stay relevant for the duration with all else being equal.
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