15 June 2004

Are the Reds for Real?

How the heck are the Reds doing it?

The team is currently 14th in the majors in runs scored, 5th in the National League. The team’s OPS ranks 16th in MLB, and is tied for 7th in the Senior Circuit. So it must be the pitching, right?

Wrong. The Reds’ pitching is even worse than their hitting. The team ERA is 16th in the majors, and 13th in the NL, which means that only San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado are worse right now, and Colorado is always at the bottom of this list. So after playing 56 games, and only scoring four more runs than they’ve allowed all season, how in the world are the Reds standing atop the NL Central with a 34-22 record?

You guessed it: Luck.

The Reds have played way over their heads so far this year, getting timely hits and clutch relief pitching exactly when they needed it almost every time. Their #16 ranking in total OPS jumps way up to No. 4 with runners on base, meaning that they’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits and walks with runners on base, which has helped them score runs. That kind of disparity, from No. 4 to No. 16, doesn’t usually last all season. There’s no such thing as a predictably “clutch" hitter, especially a clutch team. Eventually they’ll come back toward the average, missing a few much-needed hits, and end up being just a decent offensive team.

Meanwhile, the starters have been only decent overall, and outside of Paul Wilson’s 7-0 record and 3.18 ERA, they’ve been mediocre at best. The bullpen’s not spectacular, but it’s been better than the starters, with a 3.86 ERA 27 saves and 15 wins, which both lead the majors. Eventually that bullpen will give up a few homers, blow a few saves, and lose a few games, and when they do, the Reds will go back to struggling for .500. The Reds’ main competition, St. Louis and Houston, both have similar or better bullpens and much better starters. They just haven’t gotten the kind of luck from which Cincinnati has benefited all season. In addition, both the Astros and the Cardinals have better offense than the Reds, whose offensive success depends on Ken “I think I Pulled Something” Griffey staying off the DL, a 40-year old Barry Larkin staying both healthy and productive, and Sean Casey continuing to hit 200 points above his career OPS.

Don’t hold your breath.

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