COMMENTARY| The Cincinnati Reds have not been a fast-starting team since their reemergence as contenders just a few years ago. The NL Central division champs of 2010 and 2012 sported mediocre records of 12-11 and 11-11 respectively by the end of April. This year's Reds are toeing the same line in terms of record but are achieving their mediocrity in the most extreme ways.
When a team sports a leadoff hitter who leads the majors in on-base percentage (like center fielder Shin-Soo Choo does for the Reds) and that team's three-hitter is also in the top five in the majors in OBP (like Reds first baseman Joey Votto is), the expectation would not be that the team would score just one or no runs in nine of their first 24 games.
Likewise, when that team's impromptu cleanup hitter rises to the occasion the way second baseman Brandon Phillips has (top 5 in RBIs in the majors) in place of injured cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick, that team should plate runs more consistently than the Reds have so far in 2013.
Call it feast or famine, Jekyll and Hyde, or just hit or miss, the Reds offense has been mired in lack of scoring production far too much during the first month of the season. Part of that has to do with a high strikeout rate (fifth in the majors) and a lack of speed on base (bottom five in stolen bases in the bigs), but eventually the law of averages for a team that can hit the way the 2013 Reds can will pan out.
Before the Reds can fully revive their offense, better production from the two-hole is needed. Shortstop Zack Cozart had just one sacrifice in his first 64 plate appearances in the two- hole. The two-hole hitter he replaced, Chris Heisey, had just one sacrifice in his first 31 plate appearances. Combined, Cozart and Heisey hit just .220 in the two-hole over the first 25 games and also hit into six double plays from that spot in the order.
Likewise the Reds could use increased power production from Jay Bruce, who has increased both his home run and RBI totals during each of his first five seasons in the majors. Bruce was slugging just .353 over the first 25 games of the season and had just one home run.
Fortunately for Reds Country, the starting rotation has offset the inconsistent run production. Reds starters ranked fifth in MLB in ERA (3.20) after 25 games. The Reds starting staff also offset the loss of the team's ace Johnny Cueto to injury on April 13 by allowing just three earned runs or less in 11 straight games, including two or less in 10 straight. Cueto's replacement Tony Cingrani showed he has the stuff of a rotation starter, and Mat Latos posted a 2.16 ERA in his first five starts of the season, which was a marked improvement from the 5.97 ERA for Latos in the first month of the season in 2012.
Likewise, Homer Bailey finally seems to have arrived in earnest. He's shown dominating stuff and looks poised to have a career year.
The struggling offense and the sometimes squandered starting pitching is no more apparent to Reds Country than it is when the Reds play on the road -- eight losses in the team's first nine road games. The 2012 Reds were road warriors with a 47-34 record and the 2010 team was a solid road team (42-39). If the 2013 Reds can't start stringing together wins on the road, the 2013 Reds may start to look a lot more like the 2011 team that fell flat on its face with a losing season and a road record befitting of a losing team (37-44).
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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