The Cincinnati Reds will play their 81st game of the 2014 season today, and as they polish off the first half, they’re in a better position standings-wise than at any point since opening day. Now just one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race, the Reds can complete the series sweep when Homer Bailey takes on Tim Hudson this afternoon at AT & T Park. On the backs of a wild 7-2 victory in 11 innings Saturday night, as described by Jesse Borek at Blog Red Machine, this team is finally starting to stir some optimism among fans.
One reason for brighter spirits is that the Reds’ bats have warmed up along with the hot summer weather. Mired near the bottom of the run scoring standings for most of the first half, Cincinnati has scored 83 runs over their last 13 games, crafting a 10-3 record in the process. Last night, the Reds had their basic planned lineup intact, which is big news in itself, as injuries have been a major problem all season long. First baseman Joey Votto, for instance, has only played in 56 games this year but knocked a hit and scored two runs against the Giants on Saturday. Votto was bolstered by another strong performance from Billy Hamilton, and Brandon Phillips mashed a homer for a happy 33rd birthday.
An area that remains a concern is the bullpen, which still struggles in the middle innings. In a touch of irony, the Reds’ recent success may also be having a deleterious effect on all-world closer Aroldis Chapman, who blew the save last night in what was his fourth consecutive appearance. The Reds seem committed at this point to Chapman as their ninth-inning man, and to the idea that the designated closer must be on the mound in every save situation. With very few complete games in the offing, that means many successive days of work for closers on winning teams, and it also might mean a tired arm and decreased velocity, at least eventually. The Reds need to get a handle on their bullpen troubles if they hope to keep rolling along and contend in the second half.
Though the Reds have some issues to iron out, the 2014 season is looking up as summer temperatures rise, and they’re giving us fans hope for the second half. When the temperatures fall again, these Reds just might still be playing.