Here at the unofficial and technically inaccurate midpoint of the Major League Baseball season, the team up Interstate 75 just over the Ohio River sits in last place in the National League Central, at 10 games under .500.
And yet there are really, truly, honest-to-goodness reasons to be optimistic about the Cincinnati Reds heading into the season’s second half. Here we offer five:
1. Homer Bailey and Luis Castillo
The Reds’ starting pitching has been indisputably beyond bad, but something old and something new peeked through the darkness just before the break.
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The old was Homer Bailey, the 31-year-old veteran from Texas, coming off multiple arm surgeries, who didn’t make his 2017 debut until late June. First two starts, Bailey was bashed. The last two, against two of the better clubs in the NL in Colorado and Arizona, Bailey was brilliant, allowing just two earned runs in 12 2/3 innings for a 1.42 ERA. He won both.
The new is Luis Castillo, the 24-year-old flamethrower whom the Reds acquired in the off-season from Miami for Dan Straily. Castillo made his MLB debut June 23 but appeared to find his stride last time out, last Saturday at Arizona, where he blanked the Diamondbacks on three hits over 6 2/3 innings. Castillo’s fastball hits 100 mph. He is, in the estimation of Reds TV analyst Chris Welsh, the team’s best pitching prospect in years.
2. Joey Votto
Never mind the Reds’ record. Never mind the rebuild. Never mind Pete Rose. Instead, focus on the here and now and this: We are watching quite possibly the greatest hitter in Reds franchise history in one Joseph Daniel Votto.
At the All-Star break, Votto, 33, leads the National League in OPS at 1.058 and slugging percentage at .631. He’s tied for the NL lead in home runs with 26. He’s second in bases on balls with 62, third in on-base percentage at .427, third in RBI at 68 and eighth in batting average at .315.
3. Better play on the road
Currently 23-20 at Great American Ball Park, the Reds are an abysmal 16-29 on the road. Only Oakland (15-29) and Philadelphia (13-33) have fewer road wins. If the Reds were just 21-24 on the road, they would be 44-44 overall and in second place in the NL Central behind Milwaukee.
Yet Bryan Price’s club finished the first half by going 4-3 on a road trip to Colorado (52-39) and Arizona (53-36). It took two of three from the Diamondbacks, the Reds’ first road series win since taking two of three from the lowly Phillies in late May.
4. The everyday eight
Poor pitching aside, the Reds’ regular starting lineup has been at the very least respectable. The team hit the break second in the NL in slugging at .451, third in OPS at .778, fourth in home runs with 125 and fifth in batting average at .260.
Along with Votto’s 26 homers, Scott Schebler has hit 22 and Adam Duvall 20. There’s also Scooter Gennett, picked up on waivers before the start of the season, who has 15 homers and 47 RBI. And don’t forget NL All-Star Game starting shortstop Zack Cozart, who’s hitting .316.
5. Future stars
Last Friday, the Reds announced that they had signed No. 2 overall pick Hunter Greene to a $7.2 million signing bonus, the largest in the history of the draft. So owner Bob Castellini is spending money and has reason to think that past investments are close to paying dividends.
Third baseman Nick Senzel, 22, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, has hit .308 in 15 games since being promoted to Double-A Pensacola. He was one of two Reds in Sunday’s Futures Game in Miami, along with closer Jimmy Herget, a 2015 draftee who already has 20 saves between Pensacola and Louisville this season.
Starting pitcher Sal Romano allowed just two runs over five innings at Colorado last week. Outfielder Jesse Winker is hitting .305 at Louisville. At No. 78, pitcher Tyler Mahle was one of four Reds along with Senzel (8), Greene (30) and Castillo (82) on Baseball America’s mid-season list of top 100 prospects. Better days ahead.
Nationals at Reds
When: 7:10 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Ohio