Cincinnati Reds (7/6/17)

It’s crazy to think that just a month ago, the Cincinnati Reds sat a mere 3 games out of first place in the National League Central. Sure, at the time, the club was still three games below .500, but it marked the first time in four seasons that any Reds team had been remotely close to the top spot through June 6. Oddly enough, that 2013 Reds team was still 3 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals, despite a 36-24 record, and would finish the season in third place. Interesting to note, the Reds 90-72 record that season was only a hair worse than the National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers who finished at 92-70.

This 2017 Reds squad seems unlikely to finish the campaign with 90+ wins, but there are plenty of reasons for fans to be excited in the months and years that follow. After a flurry of moves landed the Reds breakout stars in the form of Scott Schebler, Adam Duvall, and Scooter Gennett, the Reds finally look to be ascending from the ashes of their rebuild. The Reds have also capitalized on their home-grown talent too, as Zack Cozart, Joey Votto, and Billy Hamilton have all put together outstanding seasons to this point.

The Reds offense has been so potent, they rank 11th in batting average (.260), 10th in home runs (119), 12th in runs (406), and 1st in triples (24). While not eye-popping, the numbers do show a team that sits at or near the upper 40% of the league in most key statistical categories. Considering the average age of the entire Reds roster is 27.5, there seems a strong chance for these numbers to hold, if not improve, over the coming few seasons.

Among the most compelling stories out of Cincinnati has been the success of native son, Scooter Gennett. After being cast off from Milwaukee, the Reds claimed Gennett on March 28 and have enjoyed his production. The 27-year-old is batting .317 with 46 RBIs and 14 home runs in 199 at-bats this season, and has played a utility role in the field, seeing time at second base, third base, and at both corner outfield positions.

Gennett’s most amazing feat this season came exactly one month ago when he became the 17th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a single game. The historic output was part of a 5-5, 10 RBI night for the 5’10 Gennett, who also happened to be playing in the outfield for the first time in his four year career. Sports coverage across the country deemed Gennett the least likely to accomplish the feat, only days after weighing in on former Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips criticism of him donning No. 4 (Phillips’ old number). While Phillips’ tenure in Cincinnati was filled with greatness, I don’t recall him ever hitting four home runs in a single game while wearing any number.

The Achilles heel for the Reds has flat out been their pitching. While carrying one of the league’s top bullpens, the Reds have had difficulty putting together a competitive starting rotation. The brightest spot for the Reds has been 34-year-old Scott Feldman. Many scoffed when Feldman was named as the opening day starter this season, but despite leaving his initial outing with a 5.79 ERA, the righty finished the month of April sporting a 3.25 ERA. From that point, Feldman’s season has been enigmatic, posting a 5.08 ERA in May, only to rebound with a 2.97 ERA in June.

The up-and-downs of Feldman’s numbers might as well be an indicator of how the entire Reds rotation has fared too. With the loss of Brandon Finnegan for the foreseeable future due to shoulder injury, and the almost inconsequential loss of Bronson Arroyo, the Reds have relied on a number of young arms and reclamation projects the same. Homer Bailey, the one time Reds ace, has had a disastrous return from a series of injuries and setbacks. In three games, Bailey is 1-2 with 7 strikeouts, and a 12.66 ERA in 10.2 innings. While the case could always be made that the sample size is too small and Bailey is certainly still adjusting back to the majors, the righty’s return to the lineup has done little is anything to keep pressure off of the bullpen.

But there is hope, especially in the arm of Dominican-born right-hander Luis Castillo. Despite an 0-1 record and 4.41 ERA through three games, Castillo’s metrics show he may soon find himself near the top of the Reds rotation. Looking at Statcast data, we see that over the 198 times Castillo has thrown a four-seam fastball, he has averaged a pitch speed (97.64 mph), a perceived pitch speed (96.72 mph), a spin rate (2279 rpm), and an exit velocity (92.91 mph) that are considerably above league average. What’s been more impressive to his teammates and coaches however is Castillo’s composure and demeanor throughout his career progression.

Only time will tell if Castillo and his fellow fresh call up Sal Romano can make the most of this opportunity. It goes without saying that Cincinnati could benefit greatly from the fire-throwing righties. The Reds currently sit 9.5 games out of first after defeating the Colorado Rockies 6-3 in today’s contest. Romano threw 5 innings of 6-hit ball, giving up 2 runs while striking out 6, in route to his first career win. The Reds continue their road trip tomorrow in Arizona, where they open a weekend series against the Diamondbacks. While Arizona is currently locked in a duel for the National League West, the Reds will hope to build on today’s success and enjoy the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field.

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