After seven series in April, the Reds have won 13 of their 22 games. They have been at or near the top of the National League central division all month, sharing the lead with St. Louis. Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.
Yet all is not well for Cincinnati. They lost staff ace Johnny Cueto midway through the month, thus ending their historic string of consecutive starts by the regular rotation.
They have had to go extra innings against the likes of lowly Chicago and Miami, forcing manager Dusty Baker to overuse his bullpen. The relief corps is definitely one of the club’s strengths, but at this rate it is likely to wear down long before the post-season.
Likewise the starting rotation has been as impressive as promised, even with lefty Tony Cingrani filling in for Cueto. They have been striking out hitters at a record pace, and their earned run averages are among the best in the league.
There is one number, though, that should cause alarm for both the team and its fans. The regular starting staff has just five wins so far, a pitiful number when one considers that Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright has four by himself.
The embarrassing rate at which Cincinnati starters are winning, one out of nearly every five games, averages out to a total of 37 wins over an entire 162 game season. Johnny Cueto alone won more than half that many last year.
To find the main reason for the lack of wins by the starters, one needs to look at the Cincinnati offense. Outside of two games in which the Reds accumulated double figures, the club has been hard-pressed to score runs.
The club suffered the same problem last year, but they still managed to win 97 games. Such good fortune is not ikely to happen again, and the front office addressed the issue over the winter.
Lead off hitter Shin-soo Choo was brought over from Cleveland to improve the league’s worst average at the top of the lineup. Choo has certainly improved the lead off spot, reaching base in all but one game and hitting at an average that puts him among the top five in the N.L.
Unfortunately, the offense has still not been able to score. Management points to the fact that they lost cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick on opening day, but Brandon Phillips has fared better in that spot than Ludwick would have.
The problem runs much deeper than that. Joey Votto has clearly not been the same hitter he was in the past, evidenced by striking out three times in back to back games against the Cubs. Outfielder Jay Bruce continues to strand runners on base, while Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier are experiencing the expected sophomore slumps. The club’s most consistent hitter last year, catcher Ryan Hanigan, was batting over 100 points lower than he did last season before going on the disabled list.
The solution is an uncomfortable one for Reds management. They must acquire a proven hitter through a trade, which could be easily accomplished. Cincinnati has a surplus of starting pitchers, a commodity most teams are desperately seeking.
Bronson Arroyo, whose contract expires this season, would bring in a veteran bat to push the Reds to the top of the N.L. His rotation spot could be easly filled, if not upgraded, by the left-handed Cingrani.
When the Reds make that blockbuster deal, they can start printing playoff tickets.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, three clients who have made him a lifelong fan of the Reds.