Since I wrote nearly three weeks ago that the Reds “shouldn’t be sellers in 2019, not now, not ever,” the team has gone 8-9. It’s not horribly, but it’s not exactly inspiring the “this team can contend” sentiment I would have hoped for. And to make things worse, the Reds grace period is closing fast.

Over the next two weeks, the Reds will play 12 straight games against teams over .500. They have the Indians, then the Rangers, Astros, and Brewers. Between now and the trade deadline, the Reds will play 33 of their 42 games against teams currently over .500. Of the nine games against supposed “weak” competition, four are against the Cardinals and three against the Pirates, both teams ahead of the Reds in the standings.

This next month and a half is the crucible for the 2019 Cincinnati Reds. It’s a gauntlet of put up or shut up, an opportunity for the club to show our early season optimism wasn’t misplaced. And if the Reds are to avoid the fate of being sellers at the trade deadline, the next two weeks are the most crucial. Between now and the start of the two-game Angels series, the Reds must prove their contender status. Nothing short of 9-3 will cut it.

Of course, there are causes for optimism. Just as Derek Dietrich is slowing down, Scooter Gennett is scheduled to return from injury, shipping off to Arizona today to start getting at-bats. Alex Wood has finally thrown a baseball without a subsequent setback, so the Reds rotation might see some reinforcements soon as well. And more than anything, Joey Votto has heated up, hitting .412/.446/.529 since May 24th.

But the Reds need more than just Votto, and neither Gennett nor Wood will touch the major league field in the next two weeks. Whether we like it or not, three Reds will define the next two weeks for the Reds, and subsequently, the tone for the rest of the season.

First and most obviously, Yasiel Puig. The Reds most high-profile offseason acquisition just hasn’t panned out so far in Cincinnati. The right fielder has a 60 wRC+ at the moment and his .630 OPS sits over 200 points below his prior career average. Last week, David Bell supported the right fielder, saying Puig is and still will be a big part of the Reds lineup. “He’s definitely shown signs and had some stretches where you think that could happen and it will,” Bell told the Enquirer. “I think he is a hot streak away from being right where he needs to be.”

What more opportune time for a hot streak than the most important part of the schedule for the Reds playoff hopes. If Puig can start hitting like himself or, even better, like Votto for the next couple of weeks, the Reds might just go on a tear.

Second, until Alex Wood can begin making starts, Tyler Mahle’s role remains absolutely critical. Other than a tough start against the Cubs a couple weeks back in which he gave up six runs, Mahle has been phenomenal this year. He’s more than halved his walk rate per nine innings, and his groundball rate has increased nearly six percentage points over last year. In a league where home runs have become disproportionately the main method of scoring, that second shift becomes all the more important.

The Reds shouldn’t have to worry about Sonny Gray or Luis Castillo, and Tanner Roark and Anthony DeSclafani have been just about what they’ve always been this year, so much of the pressure on the rotation over the next two weeks falls to Mahle. He’s the young guy in danger of losing his spot once Wood comes back, so two, maybe three, starts of lights out baseball would go a long way toward helping his case.

Finally, I’m going to cheat a little bit with a two-fer, but Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali. Barnhart, the Reds primary backstop, has started 41 games behind the plate and recorded a 62 wRC+. Meanwhile, Casali has started 23 games behind the plate and recorded a 110 wRC+. Maybe the importance here actually comes down to David Bell’s decision making, but Curt Casali should be playing more over the next 12 games. And when Tucker does play, he needs to start hitting.

It’s incredible how much less menacing the Reds lineup looks in the games where Barnhart starts and Dietrich and Jesse Winker sit. Instead of the team’s one through seven hitters challenging the pitcher with displayed hitting prowess, Bell has Jose Iglesias batting in the five hole and it only gets worse from there. So much of the rest of the Reds season depends on Tucker proving he’s not a defense-first catcher who isn’t really that great defensively by the advanced metrics. For the next two weeks though, the Reds season rides on Bell starting the hot-hand in Casali over the supposed first man up in Barnhart.

Puig, Mahle, and Casali: Not the names you thought would end up needing to prove their mettle for the Reds to convincingly contend. The time for the Reds to prove this season is meaningfully different from the last four is the next 12 games. After all, if you can hang with big boys in the regular season, who’s to stop you from doing it in October too?

19 Responses

  1. Big Ed

    After seeing that a new Statcast feature lists a Puig as below-average reaction time in the outfield, and watching him be unable to catch up to any better-than-average fastball, I wonder if his eyesight hasn’t slipped.

    He’s starting to remind me of JIm Rice, who had almost unbelievably fast hands as a young man, but his eyesight betrayed him.

  2. TR

    As the season midpoint approaches, now is the time for the Reds to make their move to third place since they’re only 3 games back of the Cards. Reaching at least .500 and out of last place would be a successful season for me. I doubt contention is in the books this year unless the Reds pull a Boston Braves 1914 miracle.

  3. Lawrence Bastion

    Reds should be big sellers on or before July 31st. When you are and will remain in fifth place not getting something for short term players is mismanagement of the roster.

    There are players sitting at Louisville who need chances to show their skills before 2020. Cheap players that may well outperform the veterans not playing.

    Its a tough but real message that may hurt attendance, but who knows.

    • CaptainHook

      Who do you see at Louisville that needs to be called up? No pitchers jump out at me, and most of the offensive guys are AAAA types. Ervin deserves more playing time but that is all that comes to mind.

    • jbonireland

      Just remember it takes two to trade, someone must want your players first………………..

  4. C Holbert

    I would agree, with maybe the exception of Mahle. I would argue DeSclafani has been the least effective of the starters. I remember a young pitcher, Castillo, who developed the longer he pitched in the majors. I think Mahle should only improve the more big league work he gets.

  5. Jack

    It’s obvious this team has a lot of problems offensively. Extend Scooter, we need the offense, he will have little trade value and I don’t see any immediate help in the minors for the next year or 2. I don’t see a lot of immediate pitching help in the minors either, the top prospects have been meh at best or are in the lower minors. If Wood shows he is healthy maybe he would be open to an incentive laden contract extension. Roark is just too risky at his age to extend, try to trade him before the deadline, same for Puig who won’t be here next year anyway. Dietrich is who he has always been, a hitter with power who will struggle to make consistent contact long term. Trade Rasiel and install Garret as closer. This team still needs a lot of talent added and is years away if they rely on their minor league system alone.

    • Doc

      Assumes Gennett is different from all the others and doesn’t miss a beat after more than two months away from the game. Big assumption.

  6. Amarillo

    I was between C and D. This season has more or less gone as I expected except for Puig hitting about .200 OPS lower than I thought he would and Schebler mysteriously forgetting how to hit a baseball. The pitching is better than expected but I expected it to be miles better than last year so this wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

    It’s ridiculous how unlucky we got earlier in the season. So combine a team that is naturally a .500 team and add all that horrendous early season luck and you end up with the record we have now.

  7. Big Ed

    Barnhart has pretty much been average for a catcher, though. He’s not this year.

    I think his swing is getting too long, and should try for better contact and less power than he appears to be trying for now.

  8. Big Ed

    That is interesting data.

    They routinely make bad pitchers look like Sandy Koufax.

  9. C Holbert

    With he pitching performing as it is, I do not see any defensive drop-off, between TB and Casali. The need for offense is so great, that at this point DB really needs to go with who can do something at the plate. When Jose Ig is batting fifth, the other team is in no danger.

    • David

      I fully expect Trevor Bauer to shut them down pretty good tonight. And Bauer is not pitching nearly as well as he was last year. The Reds will, in my opinon, be lucky to escape Cleveland with one win out of three.

  10. David

    No, he is struggling at AA ball. Don’t ruin a possible very good prospect by jamming him in before he is ready.
    Siri was also in some hot water over remarks made to an umpire, and don’t know if he is playing again.
    I think Siri and Trammel are still a couple of years from being ready for the ML.

    • Doug Gray

      Siri was suspended for a week to begin June.

  11. Jack

    Why look for something you might not find when you have it already? Senzel is fine in CF and Scooter can handle second.

  12. Lwblogger2

    WV, I don’t recall, how did you feel about the trade when it was made? Yes, in hindsight it isn’t looking so good. It’s looking like the Reds should have just punted Bailey and been done with it. That said, at the time, I was pretty high on this trade. Puig was a solid player with a high profile and was in a walk year. I thought he might tear it up at GABP. Kemp? Yeah, nothing expected there. I thought wood was a bit of an injury risk but thought 20-25 starts with #2 or #3 starter kind of production was realistic. I thought Farmer was a nice piece as a throw in. I wasn’t upset about losing Downs but thought Grey was a kind of tough one. Still, I thought the trade was a net positive and could mean some more games in the win column for the Reds in 2019.

    How did you see it as a disaster from the start?