The Cincinnati Reds became the first team in Major League Baseball this season to clinch a spot in the playoffs on Thursday. There are 12 games remaining in the season, but the Reds, at 91-59, have at least a wildcard birth wrapped up. And they can capture the NL Central Division championship for the second time in three years with a Cardinals loss to the Cubs and a Reds win over the Dodgers on Friday. (The Reds' "magic number" to win the Central is 2.)
Speaking of 91 wins, that's exactly how many the World Champion Reds had during the regular season in 1990. It's also how many Cincinnati had two years ago. So, the Reds could lose 12 games to close this season and still have as many regular-season wins as they did during their last trip to the World Series. That illustrates just how amazing this season has been thus far for the Reds. Everyone who follows the team expected them to be good when spring training started many moons ago, but few (if any) expected them to be great.
Now it remains to see if they'll enter the playoffs as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs. They are battling with the Washington Nationals who also clinched a spot in the playoffs later on Thursday. The Nats are a half-game up on the Reds for the best overall mark in the NL (and in MLB overall). If the Reds and Nats tie record-wise, the Nats will get the No. 1 seed in the playoffs due to their 5-2 record over the Reds during the regular season.
Anyway, what a stunningly-fantastic season and hopefully the ride continues deep into October. And even if it doesn't, the Reds have made this a memorable year.
The Cincinnati Reds became the first team in Major League Baseball this season to clinch a spot in the playoffs on Thursday. There are 12 games remaining in the season, but the Reds, at 91-59, have at least a wildcard birth wrapped up. And they can capture the NL Central Division championship for the second time in three years with a Cardinals loss to the Cubs and a Reds win over the Dodgers on Friday. (The Reds' "magic number" to win the Central is 2.)
Talk about a true, yet misleading headline.
Enjoy it while it lasts my fellow Bengal sufferers. Cincinnati's finest professional football team finds itself in a three-way tie for first-place in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Hey, a three-way with the Ravens and Steelers! Just like you always dreamed about. It's even better than putting chili and cheese on spaghetti.
Following their not-all-that-impressive 34-27 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Bengals are 1-1. Forget the fact that the Ravens made the Bengals look like a college team in Week 1 with a 44-13 blowout on national TV; them boys are all even in the standings.
Simply put, this is not a good Bengals football team. They'll be lucky to win the 8 games I predicted they would. And some of my fellow Bengal fan friends accused me of being negative. Well, do you remember the last time the Bengals pieced together back-to-back playoff seasons? Of course you don't. And it won't happen this year, either.
This is a roster that wasn't all that strong to begin with -- don't forget in true Mike Brown fashion they are at least $20 million under the salary cap for 2012 -- and it has been ravaged by injuries. I also see a poorly-coached football team for the most part, which isn't anything new. Marvin Lewis is by far the best head coach Brown has ever hired, and Lewis still isn't good. He's OK.
And what is going on with Mike Zimmer? His defense has gotten gashed each week. It's frustrating enough when it's the goofy, yet veteran Joe Flacco. But when it's the goofy (and rookie) Brandon Weeden? Completely unacceptable. By the way, speaking of shitty defense from the Bengals, as Trent Richardson was running wild I was thinking, "Well, chalk up yet another player that will say he had his coming-out-party against the Bengals." Giving up 27 points and 439 yards of total offense to the Browns at home is a joke. And it's another reminder that we're watching a bad football team.
But one that is in first place. And really, the Bengals could make things interesting for a while as their schedule the first half of the season is relatively easy. We'll see how they fare in a very-winnable game at Washington this Sunday.
PS: Leon Hall might be even worse than the "rapper" from Linkin Park. They should all go to Applebee's together and revel in their awfulness. I'm so glad the Bengals gave Leon Hall big money and allowed Johnathan Joseph to leave. Joseph was/is clearly better. But the Bengals thought he was injury prone! Ironic that it was Hall who went down with a second-ending injury last year. And now he's even worse than ever. He used to be a small corner with some decent athletic ability. Now he's a small corner.
The Cincinnati Bengals will kick off their 2012 season one week from tonight in Baltimore against the Ravens on Monday Night Football.
While the Bengals made the playoffs last season as a wildcard with a 9-7 record and return a young, talented team, I expect a small step backward this season. The team lost 40 percent of its starting offensive line during the preseason when left guard Travelle Wharton was lost for the season and center Kyle Cook was saddled with an injury that will keep him out until the latter part of the season at best.
That said, the offense should be even more efficient than it was last season with this being coordinator Jay Gruden’s second year at the helm. It’s also the sophomore campaigns for a pair of Pro Bowlers in quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver AJ Green. Green is simply one of the rising stars in the NFL. He has everything you’d want in a WR with his size (6-foot-4, 207 pounds), speed, hands and body control. He’s also the rare star wideout that isn’t interested in being a diva in his spare time.
Speaking of non-prima-donna WRs, Mohamed Sanu was a good pick in the third round and I think he’ll be a solid starter from day one in the NFL. The Bengals also have a good trio of tight ends with Jermaine Gresham, Donald Lee and rookie fourth-rounder Orson Charles.
And while the O-line has been decimated with injuries, they still have a good tackle combo with LT Andrew Whitworth and RT Andre Smith. I also liked the pick of right guard Kevin Zeitler with the Bengals’ second of two first-round picks (27th overall).
I’m a bit concerned at running back, although I don’t think it will be a huge weakness. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was banged up during the preseason, but is expected to be fine for the opener in Baltimore. Bernard Scott’s status is still questionable, but the Bengals have Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman they can turn to if Scott isn’t ready to go as the backup. (In fact, Leonard will play no matter what as the third-down back.) Peerman had a very-impressive preseason as a running back and on special teams, and beat out sixth-round pick Boom Herron for a spot on the roster. Herron was signed to the practice squad.
So, while the offense won’t be a juggernaut by any means, it will still be good. And my has Gruden been a breath of fresh air after watching Bob Bratkowski attempt to calls plays for a decade.
Defensively, the Bengals should be very good under coordinator Mike Zimmer. They were seventh in the NFL in total defense last year (316.3 yards-allowed per game) and it’s reasonable to expect them to be as good or better this year. I love their defensive line and the best player might be third-year pro and former fourth-round draft pick Geno Atkins. He’s one of the quickest defensive tackles in the league, yet is sturdy enough to stand up to the run at 6-foot-1, 300 pounds. The Bengals’ D-line is dripping with depth and talent, and I liked the second-round pick of DT Devon Still. He looked good in the preseason.
This is a make-or-break year for fourth-year middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and I’m optimistic the former second-rounder will play well. If not, they’ll be in for a world of hurt as the backup is undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict. He has talent, but he’s not ready to be a starting middle ‘backer in the NFL. Therefore, Maualuga will need to rise up and lead the linebacking corps.
The secondary is a bit suspect considering cornerback Nate Clements is near retirement and fellow starting corner Leon Hall is coming off a torn Achilles from last season (although was moving well in the preseason). Free safety Reggie Nelson is solid and new starting SS Taylor Mays had moments of brilliance in the preseason. He’s never going to be great in coverage, but he’s a wrecking ball when he comes flying in from the secondary at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. He has a linebacker’s frame and a corner’s speed. Now it’s about harnessing that athletic ability.
This will be a Bengals team that find themselves in a lot of close games. They’ll be a “tough out” so to speak. The problem for the Bengals is they face an absurdly-tough schedule – especially in the second-half of the season – and it’s going to be difficult for them to make a repeat trip to the playoffs.
I have them pegged at 8-8 this season … and to be honest I would be more apt to go 7-9 than I would 9-7. I just don’t see the Bengals being able to rack up enough wins against this daunting schedule. However, the good news is they are a young team with what appears to be an extremely bright future. They definitely have a chance to match or best what they accomplished last year, I would just bet against it.
Here is the Bengals 53-man roster:
2012 CINCINNATI BENGALS
QB: 14 Andy Dalton (6-2, 220)
RB: 42 BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5-11, 220)
FB: 36 Chris Pressley (5-11, 260)
WR: 18 AJ Green (6-4, 207)
WR: 12 Mohamed Sanu (6-2, 210)
TE: 84 Jermaine Gresham (6-5, 260)
LT: 77 Andrew Whitworth (6-7, 330)
LG: 65 Clint Boling (6-5, 311)
C: 62 Jeff Faine (6-3, 291)
RG: 68 Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 315)
RT: 71 Andre Smith (6-4, 335)
DE: 96 Carlos Dunlap (6-6, 280)
DT: 97 Geno Atkins (6-1, 300)
DT: 94 Domata Peko (6-3, 322)
DE: 93 Michael Johnson (6-7, 270)
OLB: 53 Thomas Howard (6-3, 245)
MLB: 58 Rey Maualuga (6-2, 265)
OLB: 99 Manny Lawson (6-5, 240)
CB: 29 Leon Hall (5-11, 195)
CB: 22 Nate Clements (6-0, 205)
FS: 20 Reggie Nelson (5-11, 210)
SS: 26 Taylor Mays (6-3, 230)
K: 2 Mike Nugent (5-10, 190)
P: 10 Kevin Huber (6-1, 212)
KOR: 19 Brandon Tate (6-1, 200)
PR: 19 Brandon Tate (6-1, 200) or WR: 16 Andrew Hawkins (5-7, 180)
LS: 46 Clark Harris (6-5, 255)
QB: 7 Bruce Gradkowski (6-1, 220)
RB: 28 Bernard Scott (5-10, 198)
RB: 40 Brian Leonard (6-1, 225)
RB: 30 Cedric Peerman (5-10, 211)
WR: 19 Brandon Tate (6-1, 200)
WR: 16 Andrew Hawkins (5-7, 180)
WR: 82 Marvin Jones (6-2, 195)
WR: 85 Armon Binns (6-3, 210)
WR: 88 Ryan Whalen (6-1, 200)
TE: 80 Orson Charles (6-3, 250)
TE: 86 Donald Lee (6-4, 248)
C: 64 Kyle Cook (6-3, 315) – Out for at least half the year with ankle injury
OT: 73 Anthony Collins (6-5, 315)
OT: 74 Dennis Roland (6-9, 322)
C/G: 66 Trevor Robinson (6-5, 305)
DE: 91 Robert Geathers (6-3, 280)
DE: 92 Jamaal Anderson (6-6, 280)
DT: 75 Devon Still (6-5, 305)
DT: 79 Brandon Thompson (6-2, 320)
DE/OLB: 52 Dontay Moch (6-2, 245) – Suspended first four games
LB: 51 Dan Skuta (6-2, 250)
LB: 57 Vincent Rey (6-2, 250)
MLB: 55 Vontaze Burfict (6-1, 245)
CB: 27 Dre Kirkpatrick (6-2, 190)
CB: 23 Terence Newman (5-10, 192)
CB: 25 Jason Allen (6-1, 200)
CB: 24 Pacman Jones (5-10, 185)
S: 45 Jeromy Miles (6-2, 210)
S: 43 George Iloka (6-4, 225)
LG: 70 Travelle Wharton (6-4, 320) – Out for season with knee injury suffered in first preseason game (third offensive play of game)
S: 31 Robert Sands (6-4, 215) – On season-ending IR
CB: 38 Shaun Prater (5-10, 192) – On season-ending IR
DT: 90 Pat Sims (6-2, 335) – PUP list; out for first six weeks
RECORD PREDICTION: 8-8
Sept. 10: @ Baltimore (Monday)
Sept. 16: Cleveland
Sept. 23: @ Washington
Sept. 30: @ Jacksonville
Oct. 7: Miami
Oct. 14: @ Cleveland
Oct. 21: Pittsburgh
Week 8: BYE
Nov. 4: Denver
Nov. 11: NY Giants
Nov. 18: @ Kansas City
Nov. 25: Oakland
Dec. 2: @ San Diego
Dec. 9: Dallas
Dec. 13: @ Philadelphia (Thursday)
Dec. 23: @ Pittsburgh
Dec. 30: Baltimore
Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A affiliate has racked up 147 stolen bases on the season, eclipsing Vince Coleman’s professional record of 145. Coleman was also a minor-leaguer at the time and set his mark in 1983.
Hamilton accomplished the feat on Tuesday when he swiped four bags for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
Hamilton, who stole 103 bases in 2011 with the single-A Dayton Dragons, is also having a fine year at the plate. His combined stats (including his time with high-A Bakersfield Blaze) this season include a batting average of .317, an OPS of .852 and 14 triples in 473 at-bats.
Now the question is whether the Reds will call him up before the end of the month, so he can be on their playoff roster if they make the postseason as expected. Per MLB rules, a player has to be added to a team’s 25-man roster prior to September in order to be eligible for said team’s postseason roster. Rosters expand in September – and Hamilton will likely be called up to be a pinch-runner if nothing else – but will he be called up in time to be on the projected playoff roster? That remains to be seen.
But we should leave that discussion for another day anyway. This is all about celebrating an excellent accomplishment. Hamilton is going to be fun to watch in future years as he wreaks havoc on the basepaths ahead of Joey Votto in the Reds’ batting order. This is a kid that knows how to get on base. You don’t steal 147 bags with a Drew Stubbs approach at the plate. Hamilton has 80 walks on the season and an on-base percentage of .417.
He doesn’t have much power and never will, but he does have room to put on muscle on his skinny frame. The 6-foot-1 Hamilton tips the scales at just 160 pounds. So, he’s sure to add a little more pop as he gets older and adds strength, but he’s always going to be a slap hitter. And that’s exactly what he should be. With his ability to get on base and his elite speed, trying to hit for power would be the worst thing he could do.
As for that “elite speed” … scouts are unanimous Hamilton is the fastest player by far in professional baseball right now (including MLB and all levels of the minors). I would love to know what he could run in the 40 right now (was listed at 4.3 in high school) and the 100.
Hamilton, who hails from Taylorsville, Miss., was a four-sport star in high school (baseball, basketball, football, track) and accepted a football scholarship from Mississippi State prior to being selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 draft.
The MLB record for single-season steals of 130 was set by Rickey Henderson in 1980.
The Cincinnati Reds did make a relatively big move hours before the trade deadline on Tuesday – it just wasn’t the kind of move anyone predicted.
Rather than improving their situation in centerfield and at the leadoff spot in the batting order by trading for a player like Shane Victorino or Denard Span, the Reds decided to deal for relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton.
Broxton was having an excellent season as the Kansas City Royals’ closer and looked extremely impressive during his Reds’ debut on Wednesday when he pitched a perfect 8th inning and recorded a strikeout.
Broxton didn’t come cheap as the Reds gave up a pair of pitching prospects in the trade: left-handed reliever Donnie Joseph and right-handed starter J.C.Sulbaran. I had Joseph ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the Reds’ organization (behind, in order: Billy Hamilton, Daniel Corcino, Tony Cingrani, Robert Stephenson, JJ Hoover, Henry Rodriguez, Didi Gregorius and Nick Travieso). Sulbaran was not considered a top prospect by anyone (I had him ranked 17th in the Reds’ organization) but he’s not chopped liver, either (he’s more like diced liver).
Combined at Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville this season, Joseph, 24, had the following stats: 8-3, 1.72 ERA, 18 saves, 52.1 IP, 35 H, 17 BB, 68 K. Impressive to say the least. He was the Reds’ third-round draft pick in 2009 out of the University of Houston and has a fastball in the mid-90’s.
At Double-A Pensacola this season, Sulbaran, 22, posted the following numbers: 7-7, 4.04 ERA, 104.2 IP, 101 H, 54 BB, 111 K. If he can ever harness his control, the Reds will regret losing him. However, he’s never shown the ability to limit his walks in his brief professional career. The Reds drafted him in the 30th round out of the high school ranks in 2008.
As for Broxton, he’s a big boy and then some at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds. And he’s really not “fat” if you can believe that. He’s certainly not svelte, but he’s not someone you would describe as fat. He’s just a huge man. And happens to be one hell of a reliever with a power arm.
The former closer of the LA Dodgers came to Kansas City this season and revived his career. Broxton, who is only 28 years of age, had 23 saves in 27 attempts for the Royals this year. In 35.2 innings pitched, he gave up 36 hits, walked 14, recorded 25 strikeouts and had an ERA of 2.27. The K totals are a bit low for someone who regularly reaches 96 MPH with his fastball, but he does a good job of keeping the ball down and getting outs.
Broxton was one of the elite closers in all of MLB in 2009 when he put up these crazy stats for the Dodgers: 2.61 ERA, 36 saves, 76 IP, 29 BB, 114 K. Yes, 114 strikeouts in 76 innings. That’s not quite Aroldis Chapman territory, but it still illustrates how dominant Broxton was earlier in his career. And he’s still a young man.
Overall, I think it was a good trade for the Reds. I hate to lose Joseph, but the Reds weren’t going to get one of the best bullpen arms on the market without giving up something valuable. Broxton now gives the Reds a three-headed monster at the back-end of the ‘pen along with Chapman and Sean Marshall.
Reds: Best Record In Baseball
Just has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
And the Reds aren’t merely tied for the best record in MLB any longer; they own the best mark by themselves. They are now 64-41 and stand 3.5 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates for first place in the National League Central division. The St. Louis Cardinals are 7.5 games back of the Reds.
Yes, the schedule has been weak lately, but it’s still amazing the Reds are doing this with Joey Votto on the shelf. (Speaking of Votto, he won’t play in the Pirates series this weekend in Cincinnati, but should be ready by the following weekend. He is coming off of meniscus surgery, which is as minor as it gets when it comes to any type of knee surgery.)
To say the Reds have been hot wouldn't even be doing the situation justice. They have won 13 of their last 14 games, and 20 of their last 23. That's a staggering stretch of top-shelf baseball.
Frazier Emerges As Rookie-of-Year Candidate
Everyone assumed for a while that Washington’s Bryce Harper would win the National League Rookie of the Year award. However, a small problem has arisen for the 19-year-old: He’s not putting up good enough numbers (.261 batting average, .762 OPS, 9 HRs, 29 RBIs, 13 steals in 322 at-bats).
Frazier, 26, is batting .275 with a robust .870 OPS. He also has 13 homers and 40 RBIs in just 247 at-bats. He’s been a savior for the Reds at the plate and in the field where he’s versatile enough to play third, first or left. And play them all well.
I think Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo will win the award if I had to guess. Rizzo, 22, is batting .316 (.916 OPS) with eight homers and 20 RBIs. It’s a small sample size of 117 at-bats, but if Rizzo continues to play well, I expect him to take home the hardware. He plays in a big market and there’s been a lot of hype about him. Not “Harper hype” but there’s still been plenty of chatter about Rizzo and he hasn’t disappointed Cub fans to say the least.
But just the fact we’re talking about Frazier as a legit candidate for ROY speaks volumes since Frazier isn’t even an everyday starter for the Reds.
Another name to keep an eye on is Diamondbacks rookie pitcher Wade Miley. The 25-year-old lefty is 12-6 with a 2.98 ERA.
Cueto Continues To Make Cy Young Bid
Johnny Cueto is by far the best starting pitcher on the best team in the National League. As I blogged about recently, he’s definitely on the short list to win the NL Cy Young award this year and I think he’s suddenly emerged as the favorite. Not the runaway favorite, but the leader thus far.
Following the Reds’ 9-4 win over the Padres Thursday afternoon, Cueto moved to 14-5 with a 2.52 ERA on the season. R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets has similar stats (14-2, 2.83 ERA) but the Mets have quickly fallen out of the race. If the Reds make the playoffs, that will give Cueto an extra boost in the Cy Young voting. I also think Cueto has a better chance at maintaining his numbers than Dickey, although the knuckleballer has made a career out of proving people wrong.
Obviously, a lot depends on what happens from this point forward. But I think Cueto is the man to beat at this point. Others in the mix include: Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Vogelsong, but Cueto has them all topped as of now.
It's just too bad Cueto is getting up there in age. Nope, he's just 26. Feels like he's been around for a while -- and he kind of has after bursting on the scene in 2008 -- but he's still just 26.
With 100 games in the books of the 2012 season, the Cincinnati Reds are 60-40. That’s tied for the best record in all of Major League Baseball along with the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.
Just like you anticipated, right?
Hey, most Reds fans had high expectations entering this season, but no one could have forecasted the Reds would be standing at 20 games over .500 with just 62 contests remaining in the year.
Biggest Pleasant Surprise/Bargain Players
For a team to piece together the kind of season the Reds are having, unsuspecting heroes must rise up and this club has two in particular that stand out from the rest:
*Ryan Ludwick – In just 254 at-bats, Ludwick is batting .252 with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs, and owns an OPS of .850. (OPS is my favorite baseball stat. For those who don’t know, it simply adds a player’s on-base percentage to his slugging percentage. So, if a player has an on-base percentage of .400 and a slugging percentage of .500, his OPS is .900. The stat shows which players not only get on base a lot, but have the ability to drive the ball. An OPS of .700 is considered average/mediocre, an OPS of .800 is considered good, an OPS of .900 is considered great and an OPS of 1.000 or more is considered Votto-like.)
Anyway, Ludwick’s one-year, $2.5 million contract turned out to be one of the best under-the-radar signings across MLB during the offseason. (He can make an extra $500K through incentives this year.) After a platoon situation for the first three months of the season with Chris Heisey, Ludwick won the everyday left field job for the Reds in resounding fashion. He smashed two home runs against the Rockies on Saturday, making it the third time this season he’s had a multi-HR game.
*Alfredo Simon – Released by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training, the Reds gobbled up the right-handed reliever and he’s been lights-out good ever since. Simon, 31, is making the veteran minimum of $487,000, but is giving the Reds maximum production. In 38.1 innings, he’s posted a 1.41 ERA and a WHIP of 1.30. He’s given up 37 hits and 13 walks, and has recorded 35 strikeouts. And although win-loss record is meaningless for relievers, if you care about that, he’s 2-1. You usually don’t find bullpen help like that on the scrap heap. No one expects that Simon will keep up this pace for the remainder of the season, but he’s a power arm that has been one of the most-staggering surprise stories of the season. You think the O’s would like to have him back?
Will A Trade Happen? Who Will It Be?
Those are the big questions, huh? From all reports, the Reds have zeroed in on a pair of leadoff hitters/centerfielders in Denard Span of the Minnesota Twins and Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies. However, the Reds are not prepared to give up a top prospect to get either one of them.
Span is signed through 2014 (he’ll make $4.75 million in 2013 and $6.5 million in ’14), while Victorino will be a free agent after this season.
Span, 28, is batting .286 (.748 OPS) with three HRs, 32 RBIs and 10 steals. The Twins’ 2002 first-round draft pick’s best season came in 2009 when he batted .311 (.807 OPS) with eight homers, 68 RBIs and 23 steals in 578 at-bats.
In his worst season since he established himself as a starter, Victorino, 31, is batting .256 (.711 OPS) with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 23 steals. However, he’s a two-time All-Star (2009, ’11) and there’s no question he still has a lot left in the tank. It would be foolish to write him off at his age because of one poor season (really, a little more than half a season). Victorino has been a very-consistent player throughout his career and has put together many quality seasons. Going by OPS, his best year by a slight margin actually came last season when he batted .279 (.847 OPS) with 17 HRs, 61 RBIs and 19 steals.
Something certainly needs to be done. According to Mark Sheldon of Reds.com, Cincinnati’s leadoff hitters are batting a combined .201 this season. Both Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs are more comfortable in the two-hole, but one of them is always forced to leadoff. The best leadoff hitter on the team – Brandon Phillips – is usually forced to bat cleanup to give Joey Votto some right-handed protection in the lineup. (And now Phillips is batting third with Votto briefly on the shelf.)
Span or Victorino could step right in and be the leadoff hitter/centerfielder the Reds have been looking for. Will it happen? If I had to guess, no, but I still think it’s a strong possibility. I just think the Reds are going to be content to stand pat with Stubbs as the starting CF, even though it’s obvious to many that he’s not the right man for the job. (Except when he’s facing Coco Cordero.)
After being ultra-aggressive in terms of trading prospects in the offseason, if I had to bet, I think general manager Walt Jocketty won’t make a big trade before Tuesday’s deadline. We might see a minor deal, but I’d be somewhat surprised if Cincinnati actually lands Span or Victorino. I definitely hope I’m wrong though.
As for those calling for Juan Pierre, he’s a leftfielder – not a centerfielder – and the Reds already have one of those thanks to Ludwick. Pierre might be a decent leadoff hitter, but I don’t think he’s a good fit on the Reds due to his defensive liabilities. Span and Victorino are both quality defensive players. Oh yeah, and they’re actually centerfielders, not leftfielders.
NL Central Race Still Heated
The Pittsburgh Pirates are not going away as they stand just two games back of the Reds at 58-42. However, it's good to know that the defending World Series champions -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- are now 6.5 games back of Cincinnati at 54-47. The Pirates made a trade to bolster their pitching rotation when they landed Wandy Rodriguez earlier this week. Will the Reds stand pat? Or will Jocketty pull the trigger on a deal?
Cy Young For Cueto?
Johnny Cueto might just mess around and get himself a Cy Young award this season. In fact, right now, I think he's the favorite to win it in the NL. Cueto is now 13-5 with a 2.45 ERA. In 139.1 IPs, he's given up 134 hits, has walked just 34 and has struck out 106. Not bad for a guy that wasn't good enough to make the All-Star team. I suppose he doesn't like HGH enough for Tony LaRussa's tastes.
Speaking Of Crazy-Good Stats
The beat goes on for Aroldis Chapman, who is on pace to destroy the all-time record for K:9 ratio. The Cuban Missile now has 94 strikeouts in 49.2 innings for a K/9 of 17.03. The MLB record for a pitcher with at least 80 innings was set by Eric Gagne in 2003 with a K/9 of 15 (137 Ks in 82.1 IPs). Chapman has also walked just 14 batters all season, has given up just 22 hits, owns an ERA of 1.45 and a WHIP of 0.72. Furthermore, he has 21 saves in 24 attempts since being named the team's closer in late April. (He also technically blew a save when he was the set-up man to Sean Marshall.)
As the Cincinnati Reds approach the All-Star break, they find themselves embedded in a three-team race for the National League Central championship. One game past the midpoint of the season, the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place at 46-37, the Reds are second at 45-38 (one game back) and the defending World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, are third at 44-40 (2.5 games back). And maybe we shouldn’t completely write off the fourth-place Milwaukee Brewers who are seven games back at 39-44, but have a talented roster if they can get somewhat healthy. Just doesn’t seem like the Brew Crew’s year, though.
What Do The Reds Need To Do?
It’s very simple in theory but difficult to pull off: They need to make a trade for an outfielder that is going to be able to step right in and help boost the offense. Either a leadoff hitter, or someone to better protect Joey Votto (which would allow the Reds to move Brandon Phillips from cleanup to leadoff). But the second part of the equation is the complicated part. The Reds need to make said trade without breaking the bank and without giving a king’s ransom of prospects in return.
We’ll get to who the Reds should target on the trade market in a moment.
I think a great candidate for the Reds to trade away is Double-A shortstop Didi Gregorius who unquestionably has decent value on the market. Gregorius, 22, is batting .280 in 304 at-bats for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and has a reputation of being a fine defensive player. Many teams in MLB need a shortstop of the future and Gregorius could be attractive to a few clubs out there.
The Reds have their SS of the future and present in 26-year-old Zack Cozart who is piecing together a fine rookie season offensively and in the field. It’s not unreasonable to assume Cozart will be the Reds’ starting shortstop for nearly the next decade. Is he great? No. But he’s already better-than-average and will only get better with more experience.
It’s one of the reasons I think the No. 1 prospect in the Reds’ organization – speedster Billy Hamilton who already has 103 stolen bases on the season at High-A Bakersfiled – will end up being a centerfielder for the Reds. Another big reason I believe “Slidin’ Billy” is headed for CF is because Drew Stubbs is horribly pathetic, but we’ll get to more of that later.
Anyway, Gregorius is expendable and Cozart is here to stay. Gregorius and another solid prospect could be enough for the Reds to get an outfielder that can help them get over the hump.
Who Could They Get?
Let’s start out with the bad news: The market isn’t that great in terms of outfielders on the trading block. We’re talking San Diego’s Carlos Quinton, Minnesota’s Denard Span, guys like that (or worse). That’s right, there’s no Carlos Beltran-type player openly available this year. Quinton is the best overall OF on the trade market, but Span is a true CF/leadoff hitter, which is exactly what the Reds need.
The good news is it shouldn’t take too much to get Quinton or especially Span (or someone else we’re not even talking about in this space). And if the Padres and Twins are expecting a team to give up a great prospect for one of those guys, good luck with all that. The Reds’ and Pads’ front offices already have a good working relationship after consummating “The Trade” that sent Mat Latos to Cincinnati for Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez in December. So, that’s definitely a situation to keep an eye on.
If the Reds did trade for Quinton, they could move Chris Heisey permanently to CF … which isn’t ideal, but is still a hell of a lot better than running Stubbs’ sorry ass out there (almost) every game. A radical idea (but perhaps a good one) would be to go with an everyday starting OF of Quinton in LF, Jay Bruce in CF and Ryan Ludwick in RF (or Lud in left and Quinton in right, even though Ludwick played RF during his two glory years with the Cardinals). Then Heisey would be the No. 4 OF – which is his best role – and Stubbs would be in Triple-A Louisville – which is where he belongs. Maybe he and Paul Janish could tell fireside stories about how they were actually once starters on a contending MLB team despite the whole sucking at baseball part. Not many can pull that off, you know. It’s a select few.
While the Reds have played frustrating baseball of late, not counting Bronson Arroyo's 3-hit shutout of the Padres on Friday in a 6-0 win, the bottom line is that they are smack-dab in the middle of the race for the NL Central title (or perhaps a Wildcard spot). They definitely need to do something to improve the team, but they have a solid club and it should be a fun race the rest of the way.
UPDATE: ESPN's Buster Olney is now reporting that the Reds are showing interest in Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre. Interesting. If a Pierre trade comes to fruition, that would mean he could bat leadoff and Cozart could bat second where he belongs. The Phillies won't be able to get a top prospect from anyone in MLB for Pierre, so this is something to definitely keep a close eye on.
Pierre, 34, is having a very good season for the Phillies. In 234 at-bats, he's batting .312 with 20 stolen bases. Most-importantly, he has an on-base percentage of .349. Stubbs' OBP is a paltry .287 (.214 batting average).
The Cincinnati Reds took high school pitcher Nick Travieso with their first-round selection (No. 14 overall) in the 2012 MLB draft.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Travieso is a right-hander whose fastball has been clocked as high as 99 MPH, and regularly sits in the 92-95 range.
"I've hit it (99) a few times, not just once," Travieso told Reds.com
Travieso is from McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, Fla. He wasn't projected to go this high by draft experts, but the Reds might have found a hidden gem. According to several reports, the main reason Travieso flew a bit under the radar was the fact that his father was protective of his arm. Travieso didn't attend showcase camps, which is how most high school players get lofty ratings.
Also, it turns out the Reds have been following Travieso for a long time due to a family connection. Travieso is high school teammates with Nicholas Arias, who is the son of Reds director of Latin scouting, Tony Arias.
Travieso is expected to receive a signing bonus around $2.3 million and will likely pitch this season for the Reds' low-rookie ball team (the AZL Reds). Travieso has the option of attending the University of Miami on a baseball scholarship, but has already said he will sign with the Reds.
As for last year's first-round pick, Robert Stephenson, he is expected to begin this season at high-rookie ball playing for the Billings Mustangs. Stephenson, also a right-handed pitcher that was drafted out of the high school ranks (No. 27 overall) didn't sign until extremely close to the deadline last year and still has not made his professional debut.
Staying In The Prep Ranks
The Reds had two picks in the supplemental round (between the first and second round) and with the No. 49 overall selection they took high school outfielder Jesse Winker. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Winker is from the Orlando area, and has signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Florida. Winker (who bats and throws left-handed) was very good value for the Reds, but now the question is whether they can sign him. Chances are good that they will.
With the No. 57 overall pick, the Reds took UCLA outfielder Jeff Gelalich. He's 6-1, 205 and is also a left-handed bat (throws right-handed). That was the Reds' final pick of the first day.
The second day began with the Reds taking shortstop Tanner Rahier from Palm Desert High School in California in the second round (No. 78 overall). Wow, three out of the first four picks from the prep ranks. Hey, I've learned to trust Reds scouting director Chris Buckley. The man knows what he's doing. Rahier (6-2, 205) is already being touted as one of the biggest steals of the draft. ESPN.com's Keith Law had Rahier going to the Atlanta Braves in the first round (No. 21 overall) in his final mock draft. Rahier bats and throws right-handed, and might be a third baseman down the line.
The Rest Of The Picks
The draft lasts 40 rounds (which is actually down a full 10 rounds from previous years). I'm not going to list every player selected, but here's the rest of the Reds' picks within the first 10 rounds.
* In the third round (No. 109 overall), Cincinnati selected Memphis right-handed pitcher Dan Langfield (6-1, 205).
* In the fourth round (No. 142 overall), the Reds took Pepperdine right-handed pitcher Jon Moscot (6-4, 205).
* In the fifth round (No. 172 overall), the Reds returned to the high school ranks to nab left-handed pitcher Mason Felt (6-2, 195). He's from Georgia and is committed to play college baseball at Oregon State.
* In the sixth round (No. 202 overall), the Reds took Notre Dame catcher Joseph Hudson (6-1, 205).
* In the seventh round (No. 232 overall), Cincinnati drafted UCLA centerfielder Beau Amaral (5-11, 180).
* In the eighth round (No. 262 overall), the Reds took Arizona third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean (6-2, 210).
* In the ninth round (No. 292 overall), the Reds selected Florida OF Daniel Pigott (6-2, 205).
* In the 10th round (No. 322), the current National League Central leaders took right-handed high school pitcher Jeremy Kivel (6-1, 200) from Spring, Texas.
So, three of the first four picks were high school players, but six of the next eight were college players. Through the first 10 rounds (12 picks overall), the Reds took seven college players and five high-schoolers.
With their 12-9 field-goal-fest of a win at Houston on Saturday (whoops, wrong sport), the Cincinnati Reds moved to 30-22 on the season and increased their lead in the NL Central to 3.5 games over the second-place St. Louis Cardinals.
The Reds jumped out to an 8-2 lead over the Astros on Saturday, but Mat Latos continued his shaky pitching and quickly gave up the lead. Houston actually took a 9-8 advantage, but the Reds were able to pull back ahead and hold on for their 11th win in their last 15 games.
Eight games over .500 and 3.5 games up in June? Hey, there’s still a long way to go, but things are looking very good roughly one-third of the way through the season. The Cardinals likely won’t go away, but they’re an aging team and have already battled a series of injuries this season.
Speaking of injuries, no one has been hit harder than the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that was expected to contend for the NL Central title all season. Unless the Brew Crew turns things around quickly, they won’t be making a return trip to the playoffs this season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a solid club, but I still don’t consider them a viable threat to win the Central. At the same time, I wouldn’t completely write them off, just like I wouldn’t the Cardinals and Brewers.
However, I’m beyond ready to write off the Astros and Chicago Cubs. They are horrible; two of the worst teams in all of Major League Baseball.
That makes it a four-horse race between the Reds, Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates (in that order, in my opinion) and Cincinnati has to be feeling good about the way things have transpired thus far.
Chapman Not Slowing Down
The amazing season for Reds closer Aroldis Chapman just keeps on truckin’. He struck out the side in each of his last two appearances – and was rewarded with a save each time – and his seasonal stats continue to blow everyone away. Literally.
The 24-year-old Cuban defector has still not given up an earned run all season. In 28 innings, he’s given up just seven hits and nine walks, while striking out a whopping 50. (He has a 4-0 record and five saves.) The 6-foot-4 lefty always been stingy in terms of giving up hits and has always been a dynamic strikeout pitcher during his brief career, but the big difference this season is his control.
Last year in 50 innings of work, Chapman racked up 41 walks (24 hits allowed, 71 strikeouts). He’s come a long way in terms of his command and that’s why he’s been the best relief pitcher in baseball so far this season.
Hamilton A Blaze On The Basepaths
Reds minor-league shortstop Billy Hamilton already has 61 stolen bases on the season and it looks like he’s easily going to top the 103 he posted last year if he stays healthy. The 21-year-old Hamilton is playing for high-A Bakersfield Blaze and has a .329 batting average (.874 OPS) in 216 at-bats. In addition to his ridiculous stolen base total, he has seven triples.
With Zack Cozart seemingly entrenched at shortstop for years to come, the question is whether Hamilton will stay at shortstop long-term. Some have opined he will move to centerfield one day. Then there are those that aren’t sold on Cozart and believe Hamilton is the Reds’ SS of the future.
That will all take care of itself. The bottom line is the Reds have one of the top-25 prospects in all of minor league baseball according to ESPN.com (Hamilton is ranked 25th) and at the very least he’s good insurance in case things don’t pan out with Cozart.
Cingrani A Stud?
The Reds’ third-round pick in last year’s draft, left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, is having a tremendous season for Bakersfield. Through 10 starts, Cingrani is 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA. In 56.2 innings, he has given up just 39 hits and 13 walks, while striking out 71. This all while pitching in a notorious “hitter’s league” – the California League.
Last season in rookie ball with the Billings Mustangs, Cingrani was also lights out. (3-2, 51.1 IP, 35 H, 6 BB, 80 K.) In fact, MLB.com named him the Short-Season Starting Pitcher of the Year.
Chances are good Cingrani will be given a promotion to Double-A Pensacola soon. What an absolute steal he was in the 2011 draft.
Speaking of the MLB draft, this year’s version will begin Monday. The Reds have the No. 14 overall pick, and also have two picks in the supplemental round (between the first and second rounds). That gives the Reds a total of three selections among the first 57 picks, which will give them a chance to replenish the farm system that was pillaged by the Latos trade.no comments
Something had to give eventually.
No one as good as Aroldis Chapman -- or as high-paid -- remains as a set-up man out of the bullpen for long. Chapman was either destined for a spot in the starting rotation (which was my guess) or the closer's role.
Well, 28 months after the Cuban defector signed with the Reds, we have our answer, at least for now: Chapman will be Cincinnati's closer.
The 6-foot-4, 196-pound flamethrower picked up his first save of the season (also had one last year) in the Reds' 5-2 win over the host New York Yankees on Sunday. That victory pushed the Reds' record to 21-19 at roughly the one-quarter mark of the season, and they now trail the St. Louis Cardinals (22-19) by just 0.5 games for first-place in the NL Central. The fact that the Reds went on a tough road trip that included two games against the Braves, two against the Mets and three against the Yankees -- and emerged with a 5-4 record, including a series win over the Bronx Bombers -- was impressive.
Anyway, let's not get away from the news of the week here. Chapman as a closer is going to be fun to watch. There will be nervous moments as he's sure to have a few off nights where he struggles with control. However, thus far this season, Chapman has showcased surprisingly-great command. He's walked just seven in 22.1 innings. That would be solid for any pitcher. But when it's someone who also has 39 strikeouts and has only given up seven hits and zero earned runs (one unearned run), it becomes amazing.
Chapman is already the third pitcher to be slotted as the Reds' closer this season. Ryan Madson was signed as a free agent to lock down the role. However, Tommy John surgery during spring training ended that idea quickly. Then left-handed set-up specialist Sean Marshall was forced into the role. I firmly believe Marshall is an outstanding reliever (not good, but outstanding), however, he's not a closer. He wasn't horrible in that role with seven saves in eight attempts, but two other times he had to be bailed out in the ninth inning (by Logan Ondrusek and Jose Arredondo, respectively). So, in all actuality, Marshall was 7-of-10 in save situations.
Therefore, the decision was made while in New York to make the change to Chapman and I think it was the right move. There's no question it's going to be interesting to see how he performs in the role. If he's able to solidify it, the Reds will have one of the best bullpens in baseball all season with Marshall and Ondrusek as top-shelf set-up men, Arredondo looking good as a mid/late-inning guy, landing JJ Hoover from the Braves in exchange for Juan Francisco appears to have been a shrewd move and Sam LeCure is a nice guy to have in the long-reliever role.
Heisey close to locking down LF job?
It's kind of odd to say this the day after Chris Heisey went 0-for-5 and Ryan Ludwick was 3-for-5 with a home run, but I have the feeling Heisey is somewhat on the verge of being the Reds' "everyday" left fielder. I put quotes around everyday because obviously Ludwick is still going to get his share of playing time, especially before the All-Star break. He still has some pop in his bat and the team is paying him $3 million during his one-year deal. For the season, Ludwick is batting .207 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. He's had 87 at-bats and is sporting an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of .687.
By comparison, Heisey is batting .255 with no homers (after smacking 18 last year in just 279 ABs) and seven RBIs. In 94 at-bats, he has an OPS of .662 (far from his .797 of last year).
So, looking at the numbers, we're still likely to see a platoon situation in left with Heisey and Ludwick for a while. However, Heisey seems to be turning it on to some extent and my money is on him to be the starter eventually. Then again, if both Heisey and Ludwick step it up and play well, a platoon situation wouldn't be a bad thing for this team. I just have the feeling Heisey is about to seperate himself and earn the majority of playing time.
Johnny be bueno
Calling Johnny Cueto "good" doesn't even come close to doing him justice. The 26-year-old right-hander is now 5-1 on the season with a 1.96 ERA. In nine starts, he's pitched 59 innings, given up 55 hits, walked just 12 and struck out 38. As one can tell by his K numbers (which are good but by no means great) Cueto doesn't blow hitters away. He has a good fastball that sits consistently at 93-94 MPH, but no one is going to confuse him with Chapman's heat. However, Cueto has tremendous command and almost every pitch in his arsenal has good movement.
The native of the Dominican Republic is absolutely the Reds' ace. Any questions of whether he could develop into that role have been quickly erased. Actually, with the exception of Mike Leake, the entire starting rotation has been solid this season. How about Homer Bailey going into Yankee Stadium and emerging victorious? And Leake will get a chance to start to turn his year around when he pitches at home against the Braves tonight.