Since I wrote nearly three weeks ago that the Reds “shouldn’t be sellers in 2019, not now, not ever,” the team has gone 8-9. It’s not horribly, but it’s not exactly inspiring the “this team can contend” sentiment I would have hoped for. And to make things worse, the Reds grace period is closing fast.

Over the next two weeks, the Reds will play 12 straight games against teams over .500. They have the Indians, then the Rangers, Astros, and Brewers. Between now and the trade deadline, the Reds will play 33 of their 42 games against teams currently over .500. Of the nine games against supposed “weak” competition, four are against the Cardinals and three against the Pirates, both teams ahead of the Reds in the standings.

This next month and a half is the crucible for the 2019 Cincinnati Reds. It’s a gauntlet of put up or shut up, an opportunity for the club to show our early season optimism wasn’t misplaced. And if the Reds are to avoid the fate of being sellers at the trade deadline, the next two weeks are the most crucial. Between now and the start of the two-game Angels series, the Reds must prove their contender status. Nothing short of 9-3 will cut it.

Of course, there are causes for optimism. Just as Derek Dietrich is slowing down, Scooter Gennett is scheduled to return from injury, shipping off to Arizona today to start getting at-bats. Alex Wood has finally thrown a baseball without a subsequent setback, so the Reds rotation might see some reinforcements soon as well. And more than anything, Joey Votto has heated up, hitting .412/.446/.529 since May 24th.

But the Reds need more than just Votto, and neither Gennett nor Wood will touch the major league field in the next two weeks. Whether we like it or not, three Reds will define the next two weeks for the Reds, and subsequently, the tone for the rest of the season.

First and most obviously, Yasiel Puig. The Reds most high-profile offseason acquisition just hasn’t panned out so far in Cincinnati. The right fielder has a 60 wRC+ at the moment and his .630 OPS sits over 200 points below his prior career average. Last week, David Bell supported the right fielder, saying Puig is and still will be a big part of the Reds lineup. “He’s definitely shown signs and had some stretches where you think that could happen and it will,” Bell told the Enquirer. “I think he is a hot streak away from being right where he needs to be.”

What more opportune time for a hot streak than the most important part of the schedule for the Reds playoff hopes. If Puig can start hitting like himself or, even better, like Votto for the next couple of weeks, the Reds might just go on a tear.

Second, until Alex Wood can begin making starts, Tyler Mahle’s role remains absolutely critical. Other than a tough start against the Cubs a couple weeks back in which he gave up six runs, Mahle has been phenomenal this year. He’s more than halved his walk rate per nine innings, and his groundball rate has increased nearly six percentage points over last year. In a league where home runs have become disproportionately the main method of scoring, that second shift becomes all the more important.

The Reds shouldn’t have to worry about Sonny Gray or Luis Castillo, and Tanner Roark and Anthony DeSclafani have been just about what they’ve always been this year, so much of the pressure on the rotation over the next two weeks falls to Mahle. He’s the young guy in danger of losing his spot once Wood comes back, so two, maybe three, starts of lights out baseball would go a long way toward helping his case.

Finally, I’m going to cheat a little bit with a two-fer, but Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali. Barnhart, the Reds primary backstop, has started 41 games behind the plate and recorded a 62 wRC+. Meanwhile, Casali has started 23 games behind the plate and recorded a 110 wRC+. Maybe the importance here actually comes down to David Bell’s decision making, but Curt Casali should be playing more over the next 12 games. And when Tucker does play, he needs to start hitting.

It’s incredible how much less menacing the Reds lineup looks in the games where Barnhart starts and Dietrich and Jesse Winker sit. Instead of the team’s one through seven hitters challenging the pitcher with displayed hitting prowess, Bell has Jose Iglesias batting in the five hole and it only gets worse from there. So much of the rest of the Reds season depends on Tucker proving he’s not a defense-first catcher who isn’t really that great defensively by the advanced metrics. For the next two weeks though, the Reds season rides on Bell starting the hot-hand in Casali over the supposed first man up in Barnhart.

Puig, Mahle, and Casali: Not the names you thought would end up needing to prove their mettle for the Reds to convincingly contend. The time for the Reds to prove this season is meaningfully different from the last four is the next 12 games. After all, if you can hang with big boys in the regular season, who’s to stop you from doing it in October too?

61 Responses

  1. Klugo

    And because we are a Cubs or Brewers hot streak away from being buried. Frankly, we’ve been lucky that everyone has been middling too. We are arms length away, just don’t let go of the rope.

    • Lawrence Bastion

      Reds should be big sellers on or before July 31st. When you are and will remain in fifth place not getting something for short term players is mismanagement of the roster.

      There are players sitting at Louisville who need chances to show their skills before 2020. Cheap players that may well outperform the veterans not playing.

      Its a tough but real message that may hurt attendance, but who knows.

      • RojoBenjy

        Agreed, Lawrence. I would favor this approach if the club falls flat over this prescribed two week period, provided they make wise acquisitions.

        My fear is that instead the team will dawdle away their trade opportunities as they have most of the time since after the 2013 season. I haven’t seen enough yet to allay this fear. What DW and company do with this situation will tell a lot about whether or not this is the same old same old.

      • CaptainHook

        Who do you see at Louisville that needs to be called up? No pitchers jump out at me, and most of the offensive guys are AAAA types. Ervin deserves more playing time but that is all that comes to mind.

      • jbonireland

        Just remember it takes two to trade, someone must want your players first………………..

      • Klugo

        I agree with Cpt Hook. I dont see anyone at AAA that would make me feel any better about this team than what we’re running out there right now. AND I don’t see much on our big league roster than anyone else would want enough to trade anything really helpful anytime soon. No man’s land.
        If this team is going to do anything, then it’s on the core players we have in the clubhouse right now. Or we’re gonna have to hit the FA market in the offseason, imo. OR start trading core pieces and reboot the reboot.

      • RojoBenjy

        Provided that the Reds are out of contention, let auditions begin right away. Give Ervin and VanMeter more at-bats. Let us see what Aquino, O’Grady, and Longhi really have to offer at the MLB level. Give Siri a taste. The worst that happens is that the Reds happily have an earlier draft pick.

        That way, the club knows that much more realistic info about its talent pool, allowing them to be better at selecting what they need in free agency in the off-season.

        If they don’t really have a chance, it doesn’t make sense to me to carry on with underperforming veterans. The best/worst that can happen then is to get a late meaningless hot streak that gives them a later draft position.

      • Klugo

        This IS IT. We have arrived. There really is not much in the form of reinforcements. If this group can’t get it done then we have to look at FA or come to terms with the fact that this is the end result of the “reboot”.

      • RojoBenjy


        I feel ya.

        After I wrote my reply above, I realized that that is what the Reds should have been doing for the last two years, what the fans were desperate for them to do, and they did not do it. So, yes, this is it.

        It seems like a botched rebuild, a botched reboot, a botched retooling.

        A really good screw-up though.

    • Jim Walker

      But the potential good news is that the Reds have 8 with the Brewers and 3 with the Cubs ahead of the ASB. So, they can blunt any hot streak and make some ground at the same time. And yes, that is a huge “potential” that could go the other way. But the opportunity is there.

  2. Big Ed

    After seeing that a new Statcast feature lists a Puig as below-average reaction time in the outfield, and watching him be unable to catch up to any better-than-average fastball, I wonder if his eyesight hasn’t slipped.

    He’s starting to remind me of JIm Rice, who had almost unbelievably fast hands as a young man, but his eyesight betrayed him.

  3. TR

    As the season midpoint approaches, now is the time for the Reds to make their move to third place since they’re only 3 games back of the Cards. Reaching at least .500 and out of last place would be a successful season for me. I doubt contention is in the books this year unless the Reds pull a Boston Braves 1914 miracle.

  4. Pete

    As always, really nice work Wes. I think you hit the nail on the head, this is crunch time. I don’t know what being sellers looks like for the Reds. Even if Puig does not rebound is there a market for his services, will someone be willing to take a flier on him? Roark would seem to have some value in a trade, Wood looks like the obvious replacement if he has no trade value himself. Other than those two I’m at a bit of a loss, maybe one or two of the relievers.

    If the Reds look as if they have no chance to compete in the second half, first thing is to demote, or even release Puig if he has no trade value. Hate to say but playing Pereza full time to see if he sinks or swims may be in the cards as well. Same with Jesse Winker against LHP. Ervin should be brought up to replace Puig as the starting right fielder. If Peraza and Barnhart continue their struggles, I’d personally like to see VanMeter and Casali get shost at starting everyday. Outside of these moves, I really can’t see much to recommend.

    I would hope Turner Ward is under the microscope because IMO David Bell has done a very good job and I would hate to see Ward drag Bell’s long-term prospects down.

    • Jim Walker

      If they trade starting pitchers, we are possibly back to seeing BobSteve and Lorenzen stretched out one more time. Not sure it is a bad thing but wish it would have been done years ago versus giving them a sort of look then pulling back.

    • Jim Walker

      Who else could be traded? Barnhart or Casali might be a good wager to make. Kyle Farmer is there to back up and Juan Graterol is still the “3rd catcher” in waiting at AAA. That should be enough depth to get through the back half of another lost season.

      Problem is as I see it given how Barnhart has played, other teams are more likely to want Casali but if the return is right, the Reds should still do it I suppose.

  5. matthew hendley

    This article is possibly the best of the year.

    Reds have to make moves now. Season isn’t over at this point but could be really soon without an improvement.

    • matthew hendley

      Was flipping through the radio. Caught ‘in the air tonight’ by Phil Collins.

      As such, Dietrich will homer tonight. Just started his walkup music early

      • matthew hendley

        VanMeter with another opportunity tonight. He will be in LF, Winker to DH.

  6. C Holbert

    I would agree, with maybe the exception of Mahle. I would argue DeSclafani has been the least effective of the starters. I remember a young pitcher, Castillo, who developed the longer he pitched in the majors. I think Mahle should only improve the more big league work he gets.

  7. WVRedlegs

    Yes, the Reds need to make some moves sooner rather than later. They should not wait until after the all-star break before determining which direction they take. But that is what I am expecting from this Reds front office.
    A 9-3 stretch against .500+ teams with this current 25 man roster should not be expected. This current group of 25 is a mesh of mostly under achievers. It is inconceivably bad when two of the 3 Reds best hitters were signed on minor league contracts in the off-season. The “plan” of trading for players on 1 year contracts has been an unmitigated disaster. The fall-back “plan” has also been an unmitigated disaster. Just flip these guys at the trade deadline if the Reds aren’t winning. Matt Kemp, a big disappointment and is already gone. Yasiel Puig has been even a bigger disappointment and disaster for the Reds. Alex Wood hasn’t pitched 1 inning yet as he approaches 3+ months on the IL and has been a huge disappointment. Tanner Roark has fared better and been a decent #4 starter.
    There is nobody to trade from the Reds offense, or even that another team would be asking for.
    What contending team out there is going to trade anything for a corner OF in his last contract year that is hitting .207/.252/.378/.630 and -0.6 fWAR???
    What contending team out there is going to trade anything for a starting pitcher that has been on the IL all season and probably won’t get 4 starts in before the deadline arrives??
    What contending team out there is going to trade anything for a SS/2B that is hitting .214/.273/.329/.602 and 0.0 fWAR??
    What contending team out there is going to trade anything for a C that is hitting .197/.294/.331/.625 and 0.0 fWAR??
    What contending team out there is going to trade anything for a corner OF that hit .123/.253/.222/.475 and a -0.6 fWAR at the ML level and .250/.331/.333/.664 at AAA?? The Reds will have to resort to trading pitching if they want to obtain anything of value at the trade deadline. That makes the pitchers in their last contract year that are playing more appealing.
    That makes Roark, Hernandez, Hughes, Duke, and DeSclafani (with 1 1/2 years left) as the more appealing trade targets. The Reds will have to get somewhat creative if they are to trade the under performing offensive players at this trade deadline.
    I’d like to see the Reds be sellers and buyers this trade deadline and getting a jump on shaping the 2020 roster. The Reds have several players to trade (sell) but their trade value is pretty much non-existent on the offensive players.
    Whatever the Reds front office does this trade deadline, it is pretty much guaranteed that it will be under-whelming, unimpressive, unexciting and insignificant. Just like the trade with the Dodgers was back on December 21, 2018.

    • Lwblogger2

      WV, I don’t recall, how did you feel about the trade when it was made? Yes, in hindsight it isn’t looking so good. It’s looking like the Reds should have just punted Bailey and been done with it. That said, at the time, I was pretty high on this trade. Puig was a solid player with a high profile and was in a walk year. I thought he might tear it up at GABP. Kemp? Yeah, nothing expected there. I thought wood was a bit of an injury risk but thought 20-25 starts with #2 or #3 starter kind of production was realistic. I thought Farmer was a nice piece as a throw in. I wasn’t upset about losing Downs but thought Grey was a kind of tough one. Still, I thought the trade was a net positive and could mean some more games in the win column for the Reds in 2019.

      How did you see it as a disaster from the start?

  8. Seat101

    Here’s the problem, Wes: the position players we would like to keep are just abut the only players other teams would want to buy.

    The only position player who might bring back something nice is Jose Iglesias. We have a lot of middle infielders on the 40 man roster. Scooter and Dietrich would be half season rentals and second base is still a glut on the market.

    I don’t pretend to know enough about our bullpen to say definitively who’s expendable for a trade. I believe though, that we have to keep one of Garrett or a Iglesias

    If we pick up the bulk of Puig’s salary perhaps we could get an okay AA player and some international money…or is that wishful thinking?

    Keep in mind that the Reds have a large amount of payroll coming off the books at the end of the season. I think any changes that the front office may make for the rest of this year will be Internal.

  9. Seat101

    I know that they don’t do polls here at Redleg Nation . But I’m interested in seeing who:

    A) Thought the Reds would win the division;

    B) Thought the Reds would clinch a wild-card spot;

    C) Thought the Reds would be in contention for a wild-card spot with two weeks left in the season;

    D) Thought that the Reds would finish at .500 +/- 2

    E) Thought the roads would do better than last year:

    F) Thought the Reds would not improve

    I was D

    • Matt WI

      D for me. I know there’s the argument for “demanding excellence” for those that thought they’d be better… but the game just isn’t that easy. Look at Puig: He has everything to play for in a walk year, talked about wanting to tear it up because of that fact. Probably wants out of Cincy, but would take money wherever the money is. Yet, there he sits, sub-mediocre and losing money off future offers right now.

      • Pete

        I may be closer to C than D but we may have to settle for E. Not a total disaster; however, with the exceptional pitching we’ve observed it is really disappointing.

        I really, really like Yasiel Puig. He is stubborn but seems to have a heart as big as the whole outdoors. Reading his body language, the results to date are killing the guy. he looks very unhappy but I don’t believe it’s the team or its fans. Just very frustrated with his own efforts. God, how I wish he begins to turn it around tonight. To me, it’s just real sad. For the team, fans and himself.

    • Amarillo

      I was between C and D. This season has more or less gone as I expected except for Puig hitting about .200 OPS lower than I thought he would and Schebler mysteriously forgetting how to hit a baseball. The pitching is better than expected but I expected it to be miles better than last year so this wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

      It’s ridiculous how unlucky we got earlier in the season. So combine a team that is naturally a .500 team and add all that horrendous early season luck and you end up with the record we have now.

    • Jim Walker

      I thought they were a marginal .500 team. If things broke just right around them maybe they might squeak into playoffs with Abt 85 wins.

    • doofus

      Me = “F”

      The Dodgers trade was a swap of crappy contracts (bailey/kemp), an expiring contract of an underwhelming player (Puig), who has proved that he is still underwhelming.

      The decent return (Wood) for two prospects (Gray and Long) was the only up side in my opinion. Wood has been a useful pitcher when he is not hurt. Unfortunately he has been hurt.

      the trade has been a wash. A few years from now it might be in favor of the Dodgers.

      • doofus

        I said that this would be another 60+ win team.

        I hope I am wrong.

      • RojoBenjy

        Then the pitching came out of the gate on fire and I got greedy. Which is why it has been so frustrating to watch the pathetic at bats.

  10. Jack

    It’s obvious this team has a lot of problems offensively. Extend Scooter, we need the offense, he will have little trade value and I don’t see any immediate help in the minors for the next year or 2. I don’t see a lot of immediate pitching help in the minors either, the top prospects have been meh at best or are in the lower minors. If Wood shows he is healthy maybe he would be open to an incentive laden contract extension. Roark is just too risky at his age to extend, try to trade him before the deadline, same for Puig who won’t be here next year anyway. Dietrich is who he has always been, a hitter with power who will struggle to make consistent contact long term. Trade Rasiel and install Garret as closer. This team still needs a lot of talent added and is years away if they rely on their minor league system alone.

    • doofus

      But I doubt that Bob C. will allow that.

    • Jim Walker

      The ‘help in the minors” at middle IF is already at the MLB level in the person of Nick Senzel. I believe the Reds are hoping Trammell or Siri can play CF to free up Senzel to move back to the infield.

    • Doc

      Assumes Gennett is different from all the others and doesn’t miss a beat after more than two months away from the game. Big assumption.

  11. doofus

    Either trade Scooter. Do not extend him. Senzel can play 2B.

    Find a CF, either from within from trade or free agency.

    • Jack

      Why look for something you might not find when you have it already? Senzel is fine in CF and Scooter can handle second.

      • doofus

        Scooter is a horrible glove at 2B. Let someone else pay him FA dollars.

        Senzel is keeping CF warm. His CF metrics are sub-standard. He needs to play on the dirt.

        Let’s make the defense up-the-middle stronger. Let’s help attract FA pitchers.

        CF = Trammell, Siri, Siani, Fairchild, Bautista…

  12. doofus

    I want another Lee May for Joe Morgan and others trade!

    With Eugenio Suarez as Lee May!

    I have a couple of ideas.

    • Lwblogger2

      I’d be willing to trade Suarez but the offer better blow me away. Morgan was a pretty good player already. May was a nice power hitter at 1B and comparing May then and Suarez now, I’d rather have Suarez. You also remember that they had Perez, who was defensively challenged at 3B and who’s bat they wanted at 1B. I’m curious as to who your Perez is in this scenario?

  13. Sliotar

    Wes wrote: “So much of the rest of the Reds season depends on Tucker proving he’s not a defense-first catcher who isn’t really that great defensively by the advanced metrics.”

    I don’t think Barnhart is the lynchpin by any means….but if he is, the season is already over.

    2015 – wRC+ 76 / WAR 0.7
    2016 – wRC+ 82 / WAR 0.5
    2017 – wRC+ 90 / WAR 0.7
    2018 – wRC+ 89 / WAR -0.3
    2019 – wRC+ 62 / WAR 0.0

    Barnhart has never been league average in either wRC+ or WAR, and is in his age 28 season.

    But, because he signed cheaply with options through 2022 and we are told often Tuck is a “good guy”…. he will be seen in action, frequently.

    • Big Ed

      Barnhart has pretty much been average for a catcher, though. He’s not this year.

      I think his swing is getting too long, and should try for better contact and less power than he appears to be trying for now.

    • Jim Walker

      Barnhart is the Everyman on this team. He’s a blue collar 10th round (299 overall) pick who has played beyond projections and probably even forced his ceiling higher.

      Probably he was just fine for a team that was a loser anyway. Question is what can he do to help raise a team beyond fringe mediocrity. So, far the answer has not been positive.

  14. doofus

    Is Taylor Trammell a July call up? Other players have made the AA to ML jump.

    • Matt WI

      Given how long it took them to get Senzel up, I doubt it. I can’t remember the last time a hitter in the Reds org didn’t spend some time at AAA. That would have been something to toy with if they were truly tanking and just seeing what sticks. Also… just double checked and he’s not on the 40 man. Maybe if parts get moved.

    • David

      No, he is struggling at AA ball. Don’t ruin a possible very good prospect by jamming him in before he is ready.
      Siri was also in some hot water over remarks made to an umpire, and don’t know if he is playing again.
      I think Siri and Trammel are still a couple of years from being ready for the ML.

      • doofus

        Siri played last night. Does not seem like he has missed playing time recently (.378 BA over last 10 games.)

        Trammell: .270 BA over last 10g. .370 OBP for the season.

        Why not challenge these guys? Why should the Reds not be bold for a change?

      • Doug Gray

        Siri was suspended for a week to begin June.

  15. Sliotar

    Wes raises some good points, but this is a reminder that the Reds play home games in Coors Field East.

    As of today….

    30th in Road wRC+ – 67 (even the Rockies are at 72. Yikes)
    30th in Road wOBA – .274 (Rockies at .283)

    The Reds haven’t been a league average road offense since 2010, but it’s even worse than usual this season.

    There will be some shows of power along the Ohio River as Summer rolls in, but unless the team figures out how to get better on the road, they aren’t contending.

    • Big Ed

      That is interesting data.

      They routinely make bad pitchers look like Sandy Koufax.

  16. C Holbert

    With he pitching performing as it is, I do not see any defensive drop-off, between TB and Casali. The need for offense is so great, that at this point DB really needs to go with who can do something at the plate. When Jose Ig is batting fifth, the other team is in no danger.

    • David

      I fully expect Trevor Bauer to shut them down pretty good tonight. And Bauer is not pitching nearly as well as he was last year. The Reds will, in my opinon, be lucky to escape Cleveland with one win out of three.

      • matthew hendley

        I believe it will be impossible for the reds to get 1 out of three in this series against the Indians. But a singular win will let them split the 2 game series.

  17. Robert Meyer

    I think the Reds have to go 15-5 in their next 20 to have any shot. Anything less than that is going to make it nearly impossible to make the playoffs.

  18. WVRedlegs

    Just a reminder, as some have mentioned September call ups above. Remember, starting this season (2019), MLB teams will no longer be able to call up as many players on the 40 man roster as they wished like in years past. Teams will be limited to a roster of 28 players in September, but any player called up will have to be on the 40 man roster, too.
    As the rosters stand today, the 3 most likely call ups would seem to be Lucas Sims, Cody Reed, and Phillip Ervin. They all could be on the 25 man roster by the time September 1 rolls around, though. And 3 others could get that September call up. With the new rules that aspect will be interesting to watch unfold late in August.

    • Lwblogger2

      I like that rule change and the elimination of the waiver trades. Not a big fan of rule changes in general but both those make a lot of sense to me.

  19. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Simply put, this entire offense has been poor this season. I was wondering why replace the hitting coach. There wasn’t that much wrong with the offense.

    I think we should be traders. I mean, as an example, your don’t have Dietrich or Gennett, one of them, sitting on the bench. But, it’s easy to say who we can trade. The hard part is to who and for what. For, those parts we aren’t in control of.