Don’t look now but your Cincinnati Reds have scored 5.2 runs/game in August.
Yes, it’s partly about facing mediocre pitching. Yes, it’s partly a product of improbable home runs. Yes, it’s just six games.
But remember the last two weeks of July when the Reds hit .191/.242/.287 and scored an average of 2.1 runs/game?
With Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto sidelined by injuries, it was inevitable that the Reds’ offense would take a step back. Sure, you can complain that Votto (.255/.390/.409, 127 wRC+) hasn’t been himself most of the 2014 season and that BP (.272/.308/.392, 92 wRC+) hadn’t found a way to escape the gravitational pull of aging. The issue nonetheless was the steep drop-off to the replacements.
But it’s not just that Bryan Price has had to write the names Schumaker, Santiago, Negron, Pena and Heisey too many times on the lineup card. A couple of his still-functioning Big Berthas – Jay Bruce (.094/.216/.125) and Todd Frazier (.180/.222/.240) – cratered for two weeks. His lead-off hitter produced .167/.163/.271 over that stretch. So there was plenty of blame to go around, not just the weak bench.
On the final day of July, the Reds seemed destined for a 1-0 loss in Miami, their eleventh in thirteen games. Zack Cozart had just been nailed easily at the plate for the third out of the eighth inning. Then miraculously, after a 6-plus minute video review and a follow-on two-run single by Ryan Ludwick, the Reds came back from the dead and departed to win 3-1.
Cue the runs, and hope, of August.
Of course, the Reds can count on starting pitching. With so much attention focused on the roller-coaster offense, not enough credit is paid to the steady, strong rotation. And there are cautionary positive signs with the hitting beyond improbable home runs. Jay Bruce has batted .296/.345/.407 in August. Todd Frazier doubled last night. Devin Mesoraco has five hits in three games and continues to pound line drives.
With all the twists, turns and tongue-lashings this season has provided, it’s anyone’s guess what the next ten games will offer. But each one is important. After the Reds finish with Cleveland tonight they play Miami and Boston at home, then Colorado on the road. Three teams with losing records and less-than-elite pitching.
After that, strap in. The Reds face the revamped Cardinals rotation in St. Louis and come home for four games against Wild Card rival Atlanta. After three with the Cubs, Bryan Price’s team heads up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh. That finishes August. And it’s about that time when Phillips and Votto may return for the stretch drive.
The Reds start September with three games on the road against the first-place Baltimore Orioles. Then they dive headlong into hand-to-hand combat with the three NL Central teams currently looking down at them. They’ll need every high caliber gun they can find.