So, the month of May ended poorly for the Reds, outside of Jay Bruce‘s monster month of course. The most recent 10 game/10 day road-trip was a disaster, and after splitting the first 2 games at home against the Brewers, the Reds now sit at 28-28, trailing the Cardinals by 5 games. Surely, a .500 record was not the goal after sweeping the Cardinals on May 15th to take the NL Central lead. So why have the Reds struggled so mightily of late? Are they simply not very good, or is there another explanation?
The recent road-trip for the Reds was particularly painful for a couple of reasons. For one, they lost 8 of 10 games, and 5 of those losses were 1-run games. Secondly, the Reds seemed to leave runners on base at an excruciating rate, making those close losses even more difficult to accept. And finally, the Reds didn’t just lose; they burnt through seemingly every pitcher in the system; thanks to 2 extra-innings games and early exits from starting pitchers.
It’s important to keep things in perspective as a baseball fan. As fans, we must avoid the knee-jerk reactions and remember that the regular season consists of 162 games. Even the best teams go through stretches of misery. Strange things happen over the long MLB season, and occasionally bad stretches are simply circumstantial – not directly related to the team’s ability.
So what circumstances helped the Reds slide from 1st place in the NL Central to 3rd place? For starters, the Reds were hit with some unfortunate injuries. Since May 16th, the Reds have placed 4 MLB pitchers on the disabled list: Homer Bailey, Sam LeCure, Matt Maloney and Aroldis Chapman. To make things worse, the bullpen was relied on heavily on the recent road-trip and asked to pitch far too many innings. As a result, the Reds were forced to use nearly every pitcher on the 40 man roster. The situation was so dire that the Reds even added Chad Reineke to the 40 man roster and activated him to start against the Brewers on Tuesday night.
Another contributing factor that cannot be overlooked is competition. Let’s face it, the Reds have played some of the best teams in baseball over the last 2 weeks. The Indians, while surprising, are possibly the best team in all the American League. The Phillies, preseason NL favorites, boast one of the best starting rotations of all time. The Braves are a strong, all-around team likely to be in the hunt all season. Consider the fact that the Reds played 10 games against these three teams in 10 days, on the road, and it’s no surprise they’ve struggled. Certainly we hoped they could take more than 2 games in that stretch, but there aren’t many teams who could make it through that gauntlet with more wins than losses.
And finally, consider the pitchers the Reds faced during that 10 game stretch: Josh Tomlin (6-2, 2.74), Cole Hamels (7-2, 3.01), Roy Halladay (7-3, 2.56), Cliff Lee (4-5, 3.94), Tommy Hanson (5-4, 2.80), Jair Jurrjens (7-1, 1.51). In 6 of the 10 games, the Reds faced supreme starting pitchers. From former Cy Young Award winners to young, dominating fire-ballers; the Reds were up against some of the best pitchers in all of baseball. When you consider this, it’s a bit easier to understand why the Reds struggled so mightily with runners in scoring position.
Patience is not only a virtue; it is a necessity for Reds’ fans who wish to maintain sanity. Keep in mind, the 2010 Reds had a similar 10 game stretch. From 4/14-4/24 the 2010 Reds played 10 games in 10 days, losing 8 times. Look, the Reds are not a “great” team; they are a slightly-above-average team. The Reds have some great hitters, some promising young pitchers, and solid depth. Still, without the addition of an “ace” the Reds are going to go through stretches like the recent road-trip. They simply do not have the pitching to protect against unfortunate circumstances, especially when injuries occur.
Luckily for the Reds, a season of 162 games plays to their strength. Over time, the Reds will win more games than they lose because they have the ability to win various ways. There will be a stretch where Bronson Arroyo is unbeatable. Joey Votto Will Carry this team to wins for weeks at a time. Johnny Cueto will consistently give the Reds a chance to win. Drew Stubbs will wreak havoc on the base-paths, while hitting for power and carry the Reds to several victories. The bullpen will take shape, and preserve leads consistently. Jay Bruce is quickly turning into one of the best hitters in the NL. And perhaps most importantly, this team will play great defense all season, which will translate into more 1-run wins than 1-run losses.
This Reds’ team certainly has some holes, and your patience will be tested. But relax, because this team is built for the long-haul. There will be stretches when you’ll wonder if this team will ever win again, but more often than not, they will follow those rough periods with 3 weeks of domination.
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