1) If I somebody told you before the season that Billy Hamilton would lead all rookies in hits & steals and Frazier, Mesorasco and Alfredo Simon would play in the All-Star Game would have believed it? (questions by Colin Gawel)
Kevin) No, not a bit. The only thing I predicted was Hamilton's mastery of the base pads. He's been the biggest surprise by far. This is not to mention his excellent defense in CF and that many of those hits have been for extra bases. There's even some power there at times.
As for Frazier, I always thought he was never playing to his potential, so it's nice to see him have a breakout season. Please keep this up in the second half, dear Toddfather.
Mesoraco has been called the next Johnny Bench since he was drafted, so it's been another surprise to see him play up to that title this quickly. He'll be a stud behind the plate for many years in a Reds uniform.
That Simon is pitching like our Number Two guy is just icing on the cake. It's kind of a too good to be true scenario with him. Hard to believe all of them will post the same numbers in the second half, but with that said they are all still rising. If anything this really bodes well for the Reds of the future.
Ryan) Although I did believe that Hamilton would develop into a solid everyday player, nobody - and I mean nobody - predicted that the dude would become one the best defensive center fielders in the league, or that he would swing the bat with the power that he’s displayed. His home-runs have been bombs. Like I said previously, the comparisons to Henderson were unfair and premature but his play has put him in the running for Rookie of the Year.
I have always loved Frazier, and, like Kevin, I felt he was underachieving mostly due to his complete lack of awareness of the strike zone, but here we are now and Frazier is an All-Star and is currently the best bat on the team…
…Except for Mezz. Last year my brother (a Pirates fan and a big fat jerk) sent me a text saying that Mezz was a bust. I struggled to defend him. Perhaps Mezz intercepted that text because the dude has been huge this year. He calls a great game, his defense is solid and he’s hitting the ball, and he’s hitting it when it matters. I love this guy and I can’t wait to see what he can do now that he has (hopefully) his injuries behind him.
2) Conversely, what would you have guessed to be the Reds record at the break if I told you Jay Bruce was hitting.229, Joey Votto would only have have 23 RBI and Mat Latos 2 wins?
Kevin) Let us not forget the "dream" season of 2012 -- the last time we won the Division -- Votto left the team in July and the team played their best baseball of the season in his absence. For now, we just have put Votto in the rearview and not worry too much about not having him in the line-up. As for Bruce, I think he will make up for a weak first half, especially when the team is playing well. And Latos, well, the pitching staff has been the brightest spot so far, and in his return he's been very consistent, so having him around can only make more ticks in the win column in the second half.
Ryan) I came into the season thinking this team couldn’t hit and part of me still thinks that. I was sure they would compete because of their pitching but with Latos going down and Chapman going down, coupled with Cingrani’s bad start I had all but lost hope. Who knew Simon would do what he’s doing. Guessing them to be .500 based on your scenario would have been foolishly optimistic.
3) So sitting at a very respectable 51-44 at the break, is this Reds glass half full of Hudepohl or half empty?
Kevin) Half Full. This is certainly a team without its core (and half their payroll) in the line-up, but they've been scrappy, full of heart, and able to come back from big deficits -- something that wasn't happening at the beginning of the season. Here are some numbers to ponder -- the Reds are 28-17 vs. NL Central opponents in the first half -- that's best in the Division. We have 30 games remaining against the Central, including most of September which ends with series against the Brewers, Cards, and Pirates. I like those odds when it's crunch time.
Ryan) I’m a fan so I will say half full but there’s a big part of me that worries about their inability to beat the Cardinals, and there’s no way they can continue to dominate the Brewers. I mean right?
The more objective side of me says that glass is half-empty. Can we expect the frail Hamilton to hold up? Bruce is hitting .229. Will Frazier revert back to a strike zone the size of Pangea? And what of Simon? Simon is quickly reaching his high water mark in total innings in a season, and anyone that follows baseball knows that that’s an issue. Dead arm happens to the best of them, except oddly enough Homer Bailey who seems to get stronger as the year goes, there’s no reason to think it’s not going to happen with Simon. Want proof? Generally speaking, a pitcher’s opening day fastball is the fastball we see at the All-Star break: however, Simon’s fastball is -0.6 off his opening day mark (redlegnation.com). Is he getting tired, or is he just learning how to pitch, thus saving his arm? That’s a question that will only be answered as the season progresses. Added to that is the effect Votto’s injury is having on defense. Recently, the Reds put Bruce on first base which means they removed a gold glover from his position and placed him in a position that he’s never played before—and he quickly made a costly error. If Price keeps up that kind of lunacy it will start costing them games.
4)The Reds four game sweep of the Giants in Frisco followed by being swept by the Padres sums up what it has been like to be a fan of the 2014 Reds. What is your first half moment where you felt best about this team? At what point did you wonder if the wheels were going to come completely off?
Kevin) I guess I would have to go with this last home stand and only losing two games. They did this with no Votto and no Phillips -- and with guys like Ramon Santiago and Kris Negron coming off of the bench to produce big. Of course that's not going to happen consistently, but we can dream. I'll have to go with that series against the Padres as the point where I almost gave up and packed it in for the season. Or pretty much any time Homer Bailey takes the mound. That we are talking Reds in the middle of July is glorious.
Ryan) I was sure the West Coast swing was going to do them in—like it does almost every year. I was also sure three or four other times during the first half. Let’s face it, the wheels may not have been off before July but they were close.
5)The team has been ravaged by injuries. Should the front office look to make a move to sure up the line-up for a deep playoff run? What would you like to see added and who do you think is expendable? Or do we stand pat?
Kevin) I think the front office will need to be very aggressive in filling the holes. At the start of the season it was LF and the front of the bullpen -- while those remain, we also need to think about 2B (and 1B for that matter). It was the New Radicals guy who said "You only get what you give" -- so ideally I'd love to see a blockbuster trade. Can I offer this up? How about Brandon Phillips, Alfredo Simon, Sean Marshall, and Tucker Barnhart for Troy Tulowiski? I'm thinking despite the tanking Rockies, Tulo likes the weed in Denver too much to leave. But that's an offer Colorado would be silly to refuse, right?
Starting pitching is something we have plenty of....including our top prospect Robert Stephenson pitching lights-out in the minors and the recently signed Cuban phenom Raisel Iglesias. So I can see the Reds dealing a solid starter like Simon or Leake in order to get something we can use NOW. Trends show us they like to go for guys in slumps looking for a second life (i.e. Rolen, Ludwick, Schumaker). I suspect we will have someone like Ben Zobrist or Josh Willingham (who are already in the trade rumors). I just hope it's not another former Card.
Or what about convincing Adam Dunn to split sometime between LF and 1B for his twilight years? The guy loves hitting HRs in GABP.
Ryan) They should make a move but don’t hold your breath. Jocketty slept through the off-season and, honestly, who’s out there? Stanton? And what do you give up for a Zobrist or Willingham? No way the Rockies take that trade, Phillips’ salary is too big and his best days are behind him, Simon is still unproven at this point, and Marshall is ALWAYS hurt, but I guess it never hurts to ask.
I mostly look for the Reds to stay pat save a small move here or there. I don’t like it, but it’s what I’ve been conditioned to believe.
6) The Reds win the division if…
Kevin) We dominate the Central for the remainder of the season. Especially in September, with a healthy Votto and Phillips and a "just getting hot" Bruce putting in most of the work. Remember, as I type this, we are only 1.5 games out of 1st place. We could be in 1st with a sweep of the Yankees this weekend. Hold on hope. It's definitely possible, especially if Milwaukee and St. Louis take a well-needed dive.
Ryan) This question is as easy to hit out of the park as an Ondrusek fast ball…To win the division you have to figure out a way to beat the Cardinals. Easy peasy.
7) The Reds sneak into the wild card if…
Kevin) The current situation holds. I can't see THIS team, the one currently on the field, as going too far in the playoffs, but can see them winning just enough to sneak in. That would be a triumph. This is the scenario I likely see. With our pitching staff healthy, it's hard for us to lose too many games. I'll take a wild card given all this team has been through. Oh, and give Bryan Price the NL Manager of the Year for making it so.
Ryan) No question the Reds have the best rotation in the division, so I agree with Kevin on this one. Even if Simon comes back to earth a little (which he will) and Cueto coming back to earth a little (which he will), I see this rotation keeping them in most games. The Reds formula must be to stay close and let the back end of the bullpen shut teams down.
8) The Reds are golfing the first week of October if..
Kevin) We lose any of our starters to injury and/or don't make a move before the trade deadline. I have faith this team has been dealt the ungrateful hand of fate too much already this season, so I don't see this last scenario happening. We will be playing October baseball. But if it does come down to this, my wish is that the Pirates are the only team from this Division that survives.
Ryan)They don’t win the division. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if a wild-card does come out of this division it will be the Cards or Brewers.
Ryan Haye and Kevin J. Elliott are both widely respected musicians and writers. More importantly, they know a shit ton about baseball and specifically, the Cincinnati Reds.