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Occasionally, my mind lumps in Joey Votto with Mike Trout and Felix Hernandez as superstar players who haven’t had much of a shot at postseason baseball. It’s easy to forget, though, that the Reds made the playoffs in three of the four seasons from 2010-2013. They’ve just been so horrid in the five years since that it feels like Votto’s talent has been wasted in Cincinnati. He’s a unicorn of a hitter, as he’s led the National League in on-base percentage seven of the last nine seasons, including this one. Since 2012, he’s walked 60 more times than he’s struck out. Votto should be a slam dunk Hall-of-Famer but many tend not to think of him in that way, whether it’s because he’s toiling away on a team that’s stockpiling top-5 draft picks or because he takes undeserved flak for drawing ball four rather than lighting up the RBI column.
Attention won’t be flocking to Cincinnati this year, either, as the Reds are basically on pace to replicate their 68-win seasons from 2017 and 2016. This year, a surprisingly potent offense has been undone by a horrid pitching staff that allows home runs by the truckload. The White Sox are scheduled to catch Luis Castillo, Anthony Desclafani, and Sal Romano in this series. Castillo is a very hard thrower that has very good off-speed stuff (particularly the changeup) but not much else. He’s probably the best strikeout pitcher on the staff, but his shaky control means that he has to try to grab strikes with his fourseam and sinker too often, which are both rather hittable despite the velocity.
Desclafani was a respectable (albeit oft-injured) major league starter before missing all of 2017 with a sprained UCL. Since his return, he’s abandoned his cutter in favor of an effective slider. He’s had some homer problems in this small sample, but his velocity is still there and it’s reasonable to assume that he’s still a solid mid-rotation arm. If you’re looking for a punching bag in this bunch, Sal Romano’s the closest thing to it. He’s a hard-throwing fastball/slider pitcher with a low spin rate and shaky control. The lack of a true third pitch probably contributes to the fact that opponents have a .914 OPS against Romano the second time through the order. One doesn’t have to squint too hard to see a potentially effective bullpen arm here.
The lineup has significantly more positives to it, as plenty of guys are having nice seasons in addition to the aforementioned Votto. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez is in the midst of a breakout year. He’s always been a power threat, but now he’s kicking it up a notch in that department while simultaneously cutting back on strikeouts. As of this writing, Suarez leads the National League in RBI. Second baseman Scooter Gennett shocked the world last season by hitting 27 home runs, and not only is he making the power surge look like no fluke, a high BABIP has him among the NL leaders in batting average. At shortstop, Jose Peraza hasn’t brought the same level of thunder as the rest of the infield, but he’s a pest who’s tough to strike out and is a credible base stealing threat.
Speaking of base stealing threats, center fielder Billy Hamilton has just 15 so far this year, which puts him on pace for something far south of his usual 60-ish. Hamilton can glove it in center, but it’s long been no secret that he’s basically harmless at the plate. Another guy who hasn’t been all that effective is slugger Adam Duvall. Duvall’s been a 30-homer hitter in the past, but he’s run into some poor luck this season and his batting average is circling the Mendoza line. Jesse Winker‘s been eating into Duvall’s playing time and he’s provided the offense with a great batting eye, but defensive metrics think he’s such a horrid outfielder that a .381 OBP isn’t enough to compensate.
Scott Schebler rounds out the outfield and the 27-year-old lefty is in the midst of a good 2018 campaign. He’s yet another guy who sat around 30 home runs last year, so the Reds are certainly not starved for power bats. Rounding out the lineup is Tucker Barnhart, who has very good command of the strike zone and a strong OBP for a catcher, so much so that Jim Riggleman has actually been batting him second of late. Barnhart isn’t a particularly strong defensive catcher; he excels at blocking but not much else.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Cincinnati has been comfortably the worst team in the major leagues, and despite the bleak results, they haven’t assembled an elite farm system (though it’d still be considered above-average). Their depth took a big hit when top prospect Nick Senzel was lost for the season with a finger injury, which probably further delays an ascension from these NL Central bottom-feeders. Baseball can be a cyclical sport, but the last time Cincinnati was truly overflowing with success was in the 1970s, which probably makes the current ebb tide all the more frustrating for Reds fans. Still, I can’t imagine anyone’s struggling with it more than Votto, who’s already 34 years old somehow and locked up for the next six seasons. Hopefully the Reds can pick it up soon, because he doesn’t deserve to go out like this.
Probable Starting Pitchers
- Monday, July 2: James Shields vs. Luis Castillo
- Tuesday, July 3: Lucas Giolito vs. Anthony Desclafani
- Wednesday, July 4: Dylan Covey vs. Sal Romano
- Scott Schebler – RF
- Tucker Barnhart – C
- Joey Votto – 1B
- Scooter Gennett – 2B
- Eugenio Suarez – 3B
- Jesse Winker – LF
- Jose Peraza – SS
- Billy Hamilton – CF
- SP1: Tyler Mahle – RHP
- SP2: Anthony Desclafani – RHP
- SP3: Luis Castillo – RHP
- SP4: Sal Romano – RHP
- SP5: Matt Harvey – RHP
- CL: Raisel Iglesias – RHP
- RP1: Jared Hughes – RHP
- RP2: Amir Garrett – LHP
- RP3: David Hernandez – RHP