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Reds Win Ugly; Weather N. L. Central Storm for Second Half Run

Updated on July 8, 2012

Reds Win Ugly; Weather N.L. Central Storm For Second Half Run

by Robb Hoff

July 8, 2012

The Cincinnati Reds finished their 11-game West Coast road trip 6-5 and managed to keep pace with the streaking Pittsburgh Pirates in the N.L. Central despite finding ways to lose games and leave runners stranded.

A gutty performance by Reds ace Johnny Cueto and a rebound effort by the bullpen got the Reds over hump for the 4-2 win road trip finale over the San Diego Padres.

Reds closer Aroldis Chapman regained his footing with back-to-back saves, striking out five of the six Padres he faced. Chapman is once again consistently over 100 miles per hour and working in his slider enough to keep hitters off balance.

Reds slugging rightfielder Jay Bruce clubbed his 18th long ball of the year, ending the first half on a high note as he prepares along with teammates Chapman and first-baseman Joey Votto for the All-Star game.

Hopefully the four days off will give those Reds who aren't All-Stars the opportunity to take some refresher courses on the fundamentals of baseball because the hitters are squandering way to many chances to plate runs.

If the Reds can't start to string together the basics well enough to turn leads into blowouts and close games into wins, they'll have a hard time putting away the rest of the division.

Until the Reds start hitting on all cylinders, they'll have to crutch on their starting pitching to carry them. In all likelihood, the N.L. Central will be decided between the two teams that meet right after the All-Star Game -- the Reds and the Cardinals -- so the Reds will have to come out of the gate strong and build momentum for their post-break, 10-game homestand to separate the wheat from the chaff in the division.

The Cardinals easily have the best hitting lineup in the division with first baseman Lance Berkman coming back, and they'll likely trade for a starting pitcher to bolster their substandard rotation. I would be surprised if the Cardinals aren't the top offer for Cubs ace Ryan Dempster.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are once again an interesting story this year and look most definitely poised to end their 19-year losing streak this year. They have a favorable schedule to help avoid the total collapse that they had last year after a July 19 sole first-place 51-44 record morphed into yet another doormat-caliber finish.

The Pirates do have an outside shot to contend this year if they add the right pieces. Justin Upton would definitely bolster their lineup. Carlos Quentin probably wouldn't add much more than first baseman Derek Lee provided last year. Adding another starting pitcher wouldn't hurt either because the odds are greater that A.J. Burnett and James McDonald won't pitch at quite the elevated level both have in the first half.

The Reds are more likely to rely on the 40-man bump and maybe a lower profile deal than any blockbuster rental. Stolen base extraordinaire Billy Hamilton probably will surface on the 40-man, even though he's now headed to Double-A and reliever J.J. Hoover will be asked to pickup where he left before heading back down to the minors.

Injured relievers Nick Masset and Bill Bray will have to return to form soon or else the Reds might add another bullpen arm. But even then the Reds are more likely to promote Donnie Joseph and Jordan Smith or Carlos Fisher than seek out help at this point.

Now that Mat Latos is looking like the Number Two starter they hoped he would be, it's unlikely that the Reds will enter the sweepstakes for any of the top starting pitchers that will be made available soon.

Should the steadfast rotation crack and one or more of the starters miss extended periods of time like has happened in years past, then maybe the Reds dip their toes in the rental market, but the likelihood remains that they'll still seek to add from within.

However it all pans out, the teams of the N.L. Central have made things interesting and will continue to due so once the All-Star sideshow is over.


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