|Don't be fooled by the team's hot|
play as of late. Veteran Scott Rolen
knows there's a long way still to go.
So, as the Reds continue to win and make a mockery of National League opponents it had me asking this very question: is their recent surge of winning too good to be true? Could it be possible that their recent success may be misleading of how good they actually are? Well, yes and no.
It's hard to argue against what they've done recently. The NL Central leaders have won 21 of 24 games entering Saturday night and 13 of 14 overall. They currently boast the best record in the majors and own a 4.5 game lead over the second place Pirates. And since Joey Votto went on the disabled list on July 16th they have more than held their own by going 15 up and only 3 down.
But in spite of all the good that has transpired lately, I still reserve a few concerns for the remainder of the season. No, not concerning enough to believe they won't make the playoffs, because barring a colossal meltdown they'll be playing in October, but concerns on whether or not they can sustain this momentum for long enough to get to the World Series. Here's why:
Starting pitching wearing down, lack of depth
1. Through 107 games, the Reds have used the same five starting pitchers all year long. That's a modern franchise record and a feat that is nearly unheard of in today's times! While that is certainly a testament to good health and a bit of luck, it could potentially be problematic as the regular season comes to a close and the playoffs begin. That's a lot of innings and a lot of starts to account for, and the fact that they have only been distributed among five arms this season concerns me. Especially when you realize that four of those five guys are all under the age of 26 and may not be accustom to such a heavy workload. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey all have histories of injury problems already.
Furthermore, the starting pitching depth that used to exist as recently as 2011 no longer does. Trades and such have left the cupboard bare in this area. The organization has a solid wave of up-and-coming starters in the low level of their farm system, but outside of their current rotation they have virtually no one to count on should they need them. If they're able to continue to build a big lead in the standings than it may not matter, as they'll cruise into the postseason with relative ease. However, if the injury bug decides to sink its teeth into any one of the current starters, it could spell trouble in Cincinnati.
Soft schedule creating false sense of superiority?
2. Speaking of injuries, the Reds know all about that lately, don't they? They have been without the services of Votto for almost three weeks now and have done surprisingly well without him. The club even managed to absorb a minor injury to Brandon Phillips this week and still managed to keep the streak going. However, what hasn't been talked about much is the cupcake schedule Cincy has been enjoying the past month or so. Obviously, scheduling is nothing they can control, but it is fair to say that they've been playing arguably the softest one in the majors since the All-Star Break. And will continue to play one of the easiest for the foreseeable future.
After this weekend's series with Pittsburgh, the Reds will play their next 18 games against teams with a losing record. This all coming after going a stretch of 13 straight games versus teams with sub .500 records before Friday. You can't deny the fact that the Redlegs are winning at a high rate, but you also can't deny that they're winning games they're supposed to be. Give them credit where credit is due. They're winning without their biggest star in their lineup, but they're doing so against depleted and inferior competition. If you had to choose a time for Votto to be sidelined it would've been now. But how will the team respond when it gets back to facing foes of equal strength and ability? That answer may not come until late September when the Reds play their last 9 of 12 games against formidable opponents (LAD, @PIT, @STL).
Leadoff spot continues to be glaring weakness
3. Sooner or the later the lack of production out of the leadoff spot is going to come back and cost the Reds. There's no "ifs", "ands" or "buts" about it. They're attempt at landing an upgrade by the deadline failed and left them to hope that the two guys who've been struggling there all season will suddenly right the ship. Reds leadoff hitters enter Saturday last in the league in average (.203), hits (94), on-base percentage (.248), RBI (21), and stolen bases (5). Their inability to set the table for those behind them will not prove fruitful in October. Either Drew Stubbs or Zack Cozart will have to bust out and perform, or the club will have to find a viable option elsewhere...perhaps Phillips.
All in all, the outlook on the remainder of the Reds' 2012 campaign looks very bright. Their in a position now to not only get into the playoffs, but to contend for a World Championship as well. Every team has their share of flaws and concerns, and every team has their chance to overcome them. Let's just hope for Cincinnati's case that they're able to avoid or improve upon the three concerns outlined above. Because if they're able to do that, a sixth world title may be coming home to Great American Ball Park in the not-so-distant future.