Jul 12, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier (21) is congratulated by shortstop Ramon Santiago (7) after hitting a home run during the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park. The Pirates defeated the Reds 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
With the 2014 All-Star Game behind us, the Cincinnati Reds are set to open the traditional second half of the season tonight in the Bronx against the New York Yankees. Like the Yanks, Cincinnati is hoping that a strong stretch run can propel them into the playoffs; but, also like New York, the Reds are struggling with injuries and face some uncertainties as the pennant chase heats up in earnest.
With that as our backdrop, here are the big questions that the Reds must answer in the second half of the 2014 Major League Baseball season if they hope to still be playing in October.
Will general manager Walt Jocketty make the right moves?
If there was ever a year for Jocketty to make a deadline deal, this is the one.
Maybe the more appropriate question here would be, “Will Jocketty make ANY moves?” With two weeks left until the non-waiver trade deadline, we (fans, bloggers) have all been speculating about which players the Reds might grab, but we haven’t heard much in the way of actual rumblings regarding Cincinnati. Jocketty generally does not make big splashes on the trade market, and he can always lean on the big payroll as the reason this year.
Still, it’s uncomfortable at best to think about the Reds trying to make the playoffs with the same limping offense they’ve deployed through the first half, and now without Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. If there was ever a year for Jocketty to make a deadline deal, this is the one.
Will (and should) Brandon Phillips or Joey Votto return this season?
Phillips is out for a couple of months with a torn thumb ligament, and Votto is out indefinitely. If Phillips can legitimately return without risking further damage, then he can be a valuable backup, pinch hitter, and spot starter if the team is ramping up for a playoff run. In that case, he might be able to play his way back into form and the starting lineup by the time of the postseason.
As for Votto, it sounds like his quad won’t heal until it gets some prolonged rest, and the Reds’ best bet is to just keep him shut down.
Can Johnny Cueto Hold Up Until October?
Through 95 team games, ace Johnny Cueto has started 20 games and pitched 143+ innings. He’s on a pace to eclipse his career high in both categories, set in 2012 with 33 and 217, respectively. Just a year removed from a nagging lat injury that limited him to 11 starts, Cueto has to be seen as one of the Reds’ risks in the second half and the playoffs. Manager Bryan Price may have to get creative to keep his rock on the mound.
Can Devin Mesoraco and Alfredo Simon continue their breakout seasons?
Mesoraco and Simon are two of the biggest reasons the Reds have been able to hang so close to the division lead this far. Mesoraco is performing at an offensive level (.984 OPS) that is rare for a catcher, and Simon is leading the league in wins despite entering the season, at age 33, as a middle reliever. A falloff for one or both seems inevitable, but the Reds desperately need them to keep up their magic acts.
Will Billy Hamilton Continue to Improve?
Hamilton entered the season with the reputation of being fast and exciting, but undisciplined enough that he might never develop into a big-league hitter. As David Clark details at Cincinnati.com, though, Hamilton has improved his OPS every month this season, hitting .817 in June and looking even better in July. He is already the odds-on favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year, and if he continues to get more comfortable in the batter’s box, the Reds might have leadoff and center field covered for years to come. And that would bode well for the second half of 2014, too.
The Reds are in a really good position heading into the dog days of summer, but they need some breaks to go their way if they hope to parlay their mid-season standing into post-season success. Answering these questions in a favorable fashion would go a long way toward making this a truly special season.
(All stats taken from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.)