BY CHRIS HAAS
The Cincinnati Reds are finally healthy and ready to strike. Joey Votto has returned from a strained knee injury and co-ace Mat Latos is back in the fold. The Reds now have their full projected opening day lineup for the first time all season.
Latos made his first start of the season at Milwaukee on June 14th. He looked sharp as ever, throwing 6 shutout frames while allowing a paltry 2 hits. Latos replaced Tony Cingrani in the rotation. Cingrani has scuffled at times in his sophomore campaign and will pitch as the long man out of the bullpen for the time being. Latos will enhance an already solid starting rotation. The Reds 4th and 5th starters are now Alfredo Simon and Mike Leake. Simon has been a pleasant surprise and leads the National League in wins, right ahead of perennial all-stars Zack Grienke and Adam Wainwright. Leake has a sub 4 ERA out the Reds 5th spot. If this were 2002, the Reds would be happy to have Leake as their ace. The Reds have an enviable starting rotation and one less excuse for this club to continue to hover around .500.
The rotation has not been the problem though, it is the Reds offense that has been the downfall of this club so far in 2014. The Reds have compiled a measly 266 runs this season. That ranks them 28th out of 30 teams in MLB. Ouch. Some of the underachievement can be attributed to injuries. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Devin Mesoraco have all missed time on the DL. They have all since returned so the Reds offense can no longer blame their mediocrity on injuries.
Nor can they blame lead-off hitter Billy Hamilton. Billy had some growing pains in the start of his first full season. He hit just .245/.280/.330 in April and .260/.301/.351 in May. In June? He’s hitting a blistering .356/.391/.576. He looks more comfortable by the day and is developing into the spark plug the Reds need atop their lineup. His defense has been outstanding since day one. Fangraphs has pegged Hamilton at 10.5 defensive runs saved, making him the best defensive center fielder in baseball thus far in 2014.
Who is the problem then? Its certainly not third baseman Todd Frazier, he’s hitting .279 with 16 homeruns. Frazier deserves to join Johnny Cueto on the National League All-Star team. The Reds offensive woes can’t be placed on the shoulders of catcher Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco has a batting average north of .300 with 10 homeruns. The Reds holes have come from unlikely players: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce. Bruce is hitting .211 in limited time, Phillips has an On Base Percentage of .307, and Votto is hitting an un-Votto-like .273 batting average. They have hit a combined 16 homeruns, the same number Frazier has hit by himself. These guys get paid (extremely well) to carry the club. They have not carried their weight so far in 2014.
The good news is baseball statistics tend to regress to the mean. In the case of Phillips, Votto, and Bruce they each have track records that suggest they will hit and hit well. The early-returns on Votto since his return from the DL are encouraging. He has hit 10 for 32 (.313), demonstrating he’s a more than capable hitter at even 90% health.
Expect to see Votto, Phillips, and Bruce ease toward their career norms, which the Reds offense will welcome with open arms. If the offense picks up, the now- healthy Reds are capable of a tear right here and right now.