Reds Rockin’ 60-40 Mark After 100 Games

With 100 games in the books of the 2012 season, the Cincinnati Reds are 60-40. That’s tied for the best record in all of Major League Baseball along with the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

Just like you anticipated, right?

Hey, most Reds fans had high expectations entering this season, but no one could have forecasted the Reds would be standing at 20 games over .500 with just 62 contests remaining in the year.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise/Bargain Players

For a team to piece together the kind of season the Reds are having, unsuspecting heroes must rise up and this club has two in particular that stand out from the rest:

*Ryan Ludwick – In just 254 at-bats, Ludwick is batting .252 with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs, and owns an OPS of .850. (OPS is my favorite baseball stat. For those who don’t know, it simply adds a player’s on-base percentage to his slugging percentage. So, if a player has an on-base percentage of .400 and a slugging percentage of .500, his OPS is .900. The stat shows which players not only get on base a lot, but have the ability to drive the ball. An OPS of .700 is considered average/mediocre, an OPS of .800 is considered good, an OPS of .900 is considered great and an OPS of 1.000 or more is considered Votto-like.)

Anyway, Ludwick’s one-year, $2.5 million contract turned out to be one of the best under-the-radar signings across MLB during the offseason. (He can make an extra $500K through incentives this year.) After a platoon situation for the first three months of the season with Chris Heisey, Ludwick won the everyday left field job for the Reds in resounding fashion. He smashed two home runs against the Rockies on Saturday, making it the third time this season he’s had a multi-HR game.

*Alfredo Simon – Released by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training, the Reds gobbled up the right-handed reliever and he’s been lights-out good ever since. Simon, 31, is making the veteran minimum of $487,000, but is giving the Reds maximum production. In 38.1 innings, he’s posted a 1.41 ERA and a WHIP of 1.30. He’s given up 37 hits and 13 walks, and has recorded 35 strikeouts. And although win-loss record is meaningless for relievers, if you care about that, he’s 2-1. You usually don’t find bullpen help like that on the scrap heap. No one expects that Simon will keep up this pace for the remainder of the season, but he’s a power arm that has been one of the most-staggering surprise stories of the season. You think the O’s would like to have him back?

Will A Trade Happen? Who Will It Be?

Those are the big questions, huh? From all reports, the Reds have zeroed in on a pair of leadoff hitters/centerfielders in Denard Span of the Minnesota Twins and Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies. However, the Reds are not prepared to give up a top prospect to get either one of them.

Span is signed through 2014 (he’ll make $4.75 million in 2013 and $6.5 million in ’14), while Victorino will be a free agent after this season.

Span, 28, is batting .286 (.748 OPS) with three HRs, 32 RBIs and 10 steals. The Twins’ 2002 first-round draft pick’s best season came in 2009 when he batted .311 (.807 OPS) with eight homers, 68 RBIs and 23 steals in 578 at-bats.

In his worst season since he established himself as a starter, Victorino, 31, is batting .256 (.711 OPS) with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 23 steals. However, he’s a two-time All-Star (2009, ’11) and there’s no question he still has a lot left in the tank. It would be foolish to write him off at his age because of one poor season (really, a little more than half a season). Victorino has been a very-consistent player throughout his career and has put together many quality seasons. Going by OPS, his best year by a slight margin actually came last season when he batted .279 (.847 OPS) with 17 HRs, 61 RBIs and 19 steals.

Something certainly needs to be done. According to Mark Sheldon of Reds.com, Cincinnati’s leadoff hitters are batting a combined .201 this season. Both Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs are more comfortable in the two-hole, but one of them is always forced to leadoff. The best leadoff hitter on the team – Brandon Phillips – is usually forced to bat cleanup to give Joey Votto some right-handed protection in the lineup. (And now Phillips is batting third with Votto briefly on the shelf.)

Span or Victorino could step right in and be the leadoff hitter/centerfielder the Reds have been looking for. Will it happen? If I had to guess, no, but I still think it’s a strong possibility. I just think the Reds are going to be content to stand pat with Stubbs as the starting CF, even though it’s obvious to many that he’s not the right man for the job. (Except when he’s facing Coco Cordero.)

After being ultra-aggressive in terms of trading prospects in the offseason, if I had to bet, I think general manager Walt Jocketty won’t make a big trade before Tuesday’s deadline. We might see a minor deal, but I’d be somewhat surprised if Cincinnati actually lands Span or Victorino. I definitely hope I’m wrong though.

As for those calling for Juan Pierre, he’s a leftfielder – not a centerfielder – and the Reds already have one of those thanks to Ludwick. Pierre might be a decent leadoff hitter, but I don’t think he’s a good fit on the Reds due to his defensive liabilities. Span and Victorino are both quality defensive players. Oh yeah, and they’re actually centerfielders, not leftfielders.

NL Central Race Still Heated

The Pittsburgh Pirates are not going away as they stand just two games back of the Reds at 58-42. However, it’s good to know that the defending World Series champions — the St. Louis Cardinals — are now 6.5 games back of Cincinnati at 54-47. The Pirates made a trade to bolster their pitching rotation when they landed Wandy Rodriguez earlier this week. Will the Reds stand pat? Or will Jocketty pull the trigger on a deal?

Cy Young For Cueto?

Johnny Cueto might just mess around and get himself a Cy Young award this season. In fact, right now, I think he’s the favorite to win it in the NL. Cueto is now 13-5 with a 2.45 ERA. In 139.1 IPs, he’s given up 134 hits, has walked just 34 and has struck out 106. Not bad for a guy that wasn’t good enough to make the All-Star team. I suppose he doesn’t like HGH enough for Tony LaRussa’s tastes.

Speaking Of Crazy-Good Stats

The beat goes on for Aroldis Chapman, who is on pace to destroy the all-time record for K:9 ratio. The Cuban Missile now has 94 strikeouts in 49.2 innings for a K/9 of 17.03. The MLB record for a pitcher with at least 80 innings was set by Eric Gagne in 2003 with a K/9 of 15 (137 Ks in 82.1 IPs). Chapman has also walked just 14 batters all season, has given up just 22 hits, owns an ERA of 1.45 and a WHIP of 0.72. Furthermore, he has 21 saves in 24 attempts since being named the team’s closer in late April. (He also technically blew a save when he was the set-up man to Sean Marshall.)

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