The Reds were 34-32 on June 11 last year, so where is the improvement that Reds fans were promised after the winter transactions? So far all the Reds have to show for sacrificing their farm system, and hamstringing its big league club with two enormous long-term contracts, are two more victories than they had at this point last year.
Sure, the Reds are tied for first place, and it's fitting that the team sharing the lead is Pittsburgh. The Pirates, like the Reds, have eked out wins in spite of a poor offense.
No team has a lower team batting average than Pittsburgh's .224, nor has any team scored fewer runs. They have just one player batting over .275, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting .325 and leads the club in both homers and RBI.
Cincinnati's offense is not much better, 11th in team batting average and 10th in runs scored. Take Joe Votto out of the Reds' batting order, and the two lineups are basically the same.
Both teams have succeeded because of their bullpens, which rank one and two in team E.R.A. The starting rotations of both clubs have been decent, but they have had to rely too often on their relievers.
The biggest difference between the two clubs who play home games on the Ohio River is in expectation. Pittsburgh had pretty much the same young lineup from last season, so their fans could expect modest but encouraging improvement over last year's competitive club.
Cincinnati, however, made headline deals over the winter that persuaded several publications to predict that the Reds would advance well into the post season. That projection was intended to exceed just the mere two game improvement over last year.
Those deals have been busts for the Reds so far. Free agent Ryan Madsen, signed to be the closer, is out for the season. Sean Marshall, Madsen's replacement as closer, was removed from that role after just a half dozen saves. Cincinnati has very little to show for the top prospects and left-handed starter they squandered to get Marshall from the Cubs.
Another trade that has left the Reds on the short end is the deal with San Diego for starter Mat Latos, who cost Cincinnati former number one starter Edinson Volquez and three of its best prospects. Latos has won a few games, but he has not been anywhere near the number two starter he was hyped to be.
"The way it's worked out, the Reds' Mat Latos and the Padres' Edinson Volquez have made their starts on the same day five straight times now, making it hard not to compare the two," said Matthew Pouliot of hardballtalk.nbcsports,com. "It's a comparison Volquez is winning hands down."
Volquez has a 3.42 E.R.A., compared to Latos' 4.91. Opponents have just a .231 batting average against Volquez, but they are hitting .267 against Latos.
Unfortunately, the numbers cannot be attributed to the fact that Latos pitches half of his games in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Latos' E.R.A. is 4.10 at home but 6.12 in road games. Volquez' E.R.A. in pitcher-friendly Petco Park is 3.17, yet it is a very respectable 3.97 on the road.
"The Reds gave up an awful lot of talent to get the supposed upgrade from Volquez to Latos, parting with first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal and reliever Brad Boxberger in the trade," Pouliot stated. " It won't necessarily doom their chances in the NL Central - they didn't really have room for Alonso or Grandal this year anyway - but it would be a bitter pill to swallow if Volquez remains the superior pitcher the whole year through."
Just as bitter would be sharing the N.L. central, as the Reds do now. The records of the Reds and Pirates are identical, but the Pirates did not jeopardize their future to get their 32 wins.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan, three customers who have made him a lifelong fan of the Reds.