Rapid Fire: Reds 3.5 Games Up; Chapman Still On Fire; Billy Hamilton Is Really Fast

With their 12-9 field-goal-fest of a win at Houston on Saturday (whoops, wrong sport), the Cincinnati Reds moved to 30-22 on the season and increased their lead in the NL Central to 3.5 games over the second-place St. Louis Cardinals.

The Reds jumped out to an 8-2 lead over the Astros on Saturday, but Mat Latos continued his shaky pitching and quickly gave up the lead. Houston actually took a 9-8 advantage, but the Reds were able to pull back ahead and hold on for their 11th win in their last 15 games.

Eight games over .500 and 3.5 games up in June? Hey, there’s still a long way to go, but things are looking very good roughly one-third of the way through the season. The Cardinals likely won’t go away, but they’re an aging team and have already battled a series of injuries this season.

Speaking of injuries, no one has been hit harder than the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that was expected to contend for the NL Central title all season. Unless the Brew Crew turns things around quickly, they won’t be making a return trip to the playoffs this season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a solid club, but I still don’t consider them a viable threat to win the Central. At the same time, I wouldn’t completely write them off, just like I wouldn’t the Cardinals and Brewers.

However, I’m beyond ready to write off the Astros and Chicago Cubs. They are horrible; two of the worst teams in all of Major League Baseball.

That makes it a four-horse race between the Reds, Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates (in that order, in my opinion) and Cincinnati has to be feeling good about the way things have transpired thus far.

Chapman Not Slowing Down

The amazing season for Reds closer Aroldis Chapman just keeps on truckin’. He struck out the side in each of his last two appearances – and was rewarded with a save each time – and his seasonal stats continue to blow everyone away. Literally.

The 24-year-old Cuban defector has still not given up an earned run all season. In 28 innings, he’s given up just seven hits and nine walks, while striking out a whopping 50. (He has a 4-0 record and five saves.) The 6-foot-4 lefty always been stingy in terms of giving up hits and has always been a dynamic strikeout pitcher during his brief career, but the big difference this season is his control.

Last year in 50 innings of work, Chapman racked up 41 walks (24 hits allowed, 71 strikeouts). He’s come a long way in terms of his command and that’s why he’s been the best relief pitcher in baseball so far this season.

Hamilton A Blaze On The Basepaths

Reds minor-league shortstop Billy Hamilton already has 61 stolen bases on the season and it looks like he’s easily going to top the 103 he posted last year if he stays healthy. The 21-year-old Hamilton is playing for high-A Bakersfield Blaze and has a .329 batting average (.874 OPS) in 216 at-bats. In addition to his ridiculous stolen base total, he has seven triples.

With Zack Cozart seemingly entrenched at shortstop for years to come, the question is whether Hamilton will stay at shortstop long-term. Some have opined he will move to centerfield one day. Then there are those that aren’t sold on Cozart and believe Hamilton is the Reds’ SS of the future.

That will all take care of itself. The bottom line is the Reds have one of the top-25 prospects in all of minor league baseball according to ESPN.com (Hamilton is ranked 25th) and at the very least he’s good insurance in case things don’t pan out with Cozart.

Cingrani A Stud?

The Reds’ third-round pick in last year’s draft, left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, is having a tremendous season for Bakersfield. Through 10 starts, Cingrani is 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA. In 56.2 innings, he has given up just 39 hits and 13 walks, while striking out 71. This all while pitching in a notorious “hitter’s league” – the California League.

Last season in rookie ball with the Billings Mustangs, Cingrani was also lights out. (3-2, 51.1 IP, 35 H, 6 BB, 80 K.) In fact, MLB.com named him the Short-Season Starting Pitcher of the Year.

Chances are good Cingrani will be given a promotion to Double-A Pensacola soon. What an absolute steal he was in the 2011 draft.

Speaking of the MLB draft, this year’s version will begin Monday. The Reds have the No. 14 overall pick, and also have two picks in the supplemental round (between the first and second rounds). That gives the Reds a total of three selections among the first 57 picks, which will give them a chance to replenish the farm system that was pillaged by the Latos trade.

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