Brandon Phillips is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment on Friday night with hopes of returning to the Major Leagues in time for a pennant drive. Regardless of those aspirations, Phillips’ return isn’t enough to ensure that the Cincinnati Reds will still be playing in October.
When Phillips went down with a torn thumb ligament on July 10, the Reds were baseball’s hot item, charging hard toward first place as the All-Star break beckoned. Whether because of injures to Phillips and first baseman Joey Votto, or because the Minneapolis diversion simply iced the Reds’ momentum, the magic wand rand dry coming out of the break.
After a two week slide, Cincinnati recovered enough to hang onto the fringes of contention but fell back to .500 on Wednesday. Through it all, one key element has remained a constant bugaboo for the Reds: sickly, disappointing offensive production.
While Phillips has enjoyed some fine offensive seasons in the past, his gradual power decline in his 30s left him as a slightly below-average hitter in the first half of 2014. If he were able to pick up where he left off in July, and continue his pace over the course of the Reds’ last 40 games of the season, we might expect Phillips to produce something like half of a win above replacement (WAR).
On the other hand is Kristopher Negron, one of the guys who has filled in for Phillips. Negron, 28, had accumulated just five Major League plate appearances before this season and was shaky when first recalled this summer, but he has settled in to a slash like of .258 BA/.313 OBP/.468 SLG in 20 games. Those aren’t world-class numbers, but they have been good for 0.8 WAR,, which would project to 1.6 more over the next 40 games.
Of course, Negron probably won’t continue that kind of production into September. Baseball players generally don’t reach the age of 28 with less than a dozen big league at-bats if they’re destined for stardom.
Even if Phillips returns, though, it’s a near certainty that HE won’t make even a game’s worth of difference to the Reds in the standings. Considering that they continue to teeter around .500, they need a BIG shot of offense to make a real difference.
Having Brandon Phillips back in the fold to end the season would give the Reds and their fans a few warm-and-fuzzies, but the aging second baseman won’t do much at all to propel the team into the playoffs.