Cincinnati Reds: Jesse Winker is the catalyst for a second half run

The Cincinnati Reds are in position to make a run at the division crown. If they are to do so, an unexpected player will have to emerge, and I’m tabbing Jesse Winker as that guy.

This year’s Cincinnati Reds team has been hot and cold throughout the 2019 season. Sitting 4.5 games back in the NL Central, the team is going to need a player to emerge and be “the guy” if the Reds are going to have any chance of making a run at the postseason. I’m looking at Jesse Winker to be “that guy”.

The Reds have seen several players step up at varying points throughout the season. Derek Dietrich put on an offensive show earlier this season, hitting 12 home runs in a 22-game span while slugging .931 with a 1.328 OPS.

Of late, Yasiel Puig has been on fire. Before the All-Star break, Puig put together a 20-game run that saw him hit .371 with 9 home runs, 18 RBIs, and 4 stolen bases. Puig racked up 3 doubles and a triple during that span and his OPS was sitting at 1.259 during the 20-game stint.

Even Joey Votto, who was highly criticized earlier in the year, saw a spike in his production. After lumbering out of the gate with a .206 batting average when May 11th rolled around, Votto has found his stroke and his average is sitting at .268 after slashing .319/.391/.472 since mid-May.

While I expect Votto to continue to ascend as the second half of the season wears on, the Cincinnati Reds will be stuck in neutral if no one else steps up. Dietrich’s playing time has already taken a hit with the activation of Scooter Gennett, and Yasiel Puig’s standing with team can be described as precarious at best. Puig could be a traded before the July 31st deadline.

Call me crazy, but I think Jesse Winker is that guy who can get this team humming once the second half of the season gets underway. Winker’s production is well below where most thought the left fielder would be, however, I think Winker is primed for a second half run that could propel Cincinnati into the thick of playoff contention.

Winker has been average this season. His 100 OPS+ basically says as much, as does his .250 batting average. Winker has 13 home runs and 36 RBIs on the season and his standing in the lineup is shaky due to his .171 average against lefties. No worries on that end, as I expect Phillip Ervin and his .409/.500/.727 slash line to get the start anytime there’s a left-hander on the bump.

Against right-handers, however, Winker has had success this season. Only Derek Dietrich (.944) has a better OPS against right-handed pitchers. All of Winker’s 13 homers have come against right-handed pitching.

Where David Bell positions Winker in the batting order going into the second half will be interesting. We’ve seen Jesse hit in every spot in the batting order this season, with the majority of his at-bats coming in the leadoff spot. He’s also hit in the No. 3, 4, or 5 hole, with his most successful ABs coming behind Joey Votto as the third bat in the Reds’ lineup.

Winker has slashed .340/.411/.620 with 5 doubles and 3 homers when he’s slotted in the No. 3 spot. That position in the batting order seems to be have entrusted to Eugenio Suárez, and with good reason. With Puig’s power and Nick Senzel‘s success as the leadoff batter, I can’t foresee Winker hitting any higher than fifth in the Reds’ lineup. But, that might be a good thing.

With runners in scoring position, Winker possesses the tools to hit for power, hit for average, and draw walks. While he’s likely to see a few starts in the leadoff spot during the second half of the season, I think Winker’s value is better batting fifth or sixth in the Reds’ lineup.

Jesse Winker has a calm swagger about him, very similar to that of Derek Dietrich. The confidence that Winker, Dietrich, and Puig carry with them can be infectious and really rally a clubhouse. It can also rile up an opposing team’s fanbase, something we’ve seen all to well from those three this season.

If the Cincinnati Reds are going to make a second half surge, the pitching is going to have to continue to be solid, the usual suspects (Joey Votto, Eugenio Suárez, and Yasiel Puig) must play up to their potential, and an unsuspecting player needs to step up. I think that player is Jesse Winker.