Revived Reds aren’t playoff material yet

CINCINNATI — The bases are loaded, there are no outs in the eighth inning and the Reds are clinging to a one-run lead. The near-capacity crowd rises not once, not twice but several times as Arthur Rhodes stares down the Rockies’ hitters.

When Rhodes throws a 92-mph fastball past Carlos Gonzalez to end the threat, he pumps his left fist and the place erupts. The Reds go on to win, 3-2. 

Veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes made his first All Star team this year.
Veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes made his first All Star team this year.

And it feels like October at Great American Ball Park — as much as possible on a steamy July night, anyway. 

McNeal: Which of the NL’s surprise teams has staying power?

After a decade of disappointment, Cincinnati is sensing a special season from the Reds. They lead the NL in offense. Their rotation is overflowing with candidates. Their defense has been superb.

The Reds have the easiest second-half schedule of any contender. They have been in first or second place since early May, have lost once since the All-Star break and trail the Cardinals by just a half-game in the NL Central. A nice turnaround for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since Ken Griffey Jr. arrived in town 10 years ago.

The Reds have assembled a roster that can hang with the Cardinals. First baseman Joey Votto, 26, is having a breakout season to match St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols. The Reds have a decided edge around the rest of the infield with second baseman Brandon Phillips, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and third baseman Scott Rolen. The Reds don’t have Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to lead their rotation, but they have greater depth. Neither club has a rally-proof bullpen, though the Reds have an All-Star, Rhodes, in theirs.

But sorry, Cincinnati. You should keep those "Hunt for Red October" banners in storage for now. The Reds’ run of consecutive losing seasons will end in 2010, but they will have to wait until next year to knock the Cardinals from the NL Central’s perch.

On one hand, the Reds are just too young. And on the other, too old.

They haven’t been there

As solid as Cincinnati’s rotation has been, no one knows what to expect down the stretch because of its inexperience in these situations. Bronson Arroyo is the only Reds starter who has pitched in the postseason, or even in a pennant race.

Four rookies have made at least two starts, and Aroldis Chapman, who remains in the minors to develop better command of his 95-mph-plus fastball, hasn’t been one of them. Of the youngsters, only Mike Leake and Travis Wood figure to stay in the rotation when it reaches full health. And that is only if the Reds stick with Wood, who has dazzled in his first four starts, once injured veteran Aaron Harang (5.02 ERA) is ready. Edinson Volquez’s return last week from Tommy John surgery could not have gone better, but manager Dusty Baker knows "he’ll be better next year than this."

Scott Rolen has battled injuries and illness in recent weeks.
Scott Rolen has battled injuries and illness in recent weeks.

Arroyo even admits the starters’ success has been "part luck" and the last two months of the season could be a roller-coaster ride. "There’s going to be a point where we slide downhill a little between now and the end of the season," Arroyo says. "Our hope is that we can weather that storm enough when the Cardinals go through the same thing and we don’t fall too many games behind." 

Age matters

The club brought in Rolen and Cabrera as what Baker calls "foundation guys" because of their postseason experience and clubhouse presence. Problem is, Rolen can’t help from the bench. After failing to play in more than 128 games in any of the past three seasons, Rolen made the All-Star team thanks to a first half when he played like he did as a mainstay in the powerhouse Cardinals’ lineup of the mid-2000s. Baker says Rolen looked as good as the old days but "the difference is, he could play more then."

Since the break, Rolen has been sidelined by a stomach virus and a hamstring injury that might land him on the disabled list.

To steady an up-and-down bullpen, general manager Walt Jocketty recruited a couple of aging relievers, Russ Springer, 41, and Jason Isringhausen, 37, whom he had on his side when he was running the Cardinals. Neither has pitched in the majors since last season, and might not this year.

Springer debuted at Class AAA last week while Isringhausen had yet to accept the Reds’ contract offer after a Tuesday tryout. Both would bring considerable postseason experience to a bullpen that ranks 13th in the NL (4.37 ERA) with a closer, Francisco Cordero, who ranks among the league leaders with six blown saves.

At the least, the old guys would give Rhodes, a first-time All-Star at 40, some clubhouse company around his age.

At best, they could return to pitching in the postseason—if they stick around until next year.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

CINCINNATI — The bases are loaded, there are no outs in the eighth inning and the Reds are clinging to a one-run lead. The near-capacity crowd rises not once, not twice but several times as Arthur Rhodes stares down the Rockies’ hitters.

When Rhodes throws a 92-mph fastball past Carlos Gonzalez to end the threat, he pumps his left fist and the place erupts. The Reds go on to win, 3-2. 

Veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes made his first All Star team this year.
Veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes made his first All Star team this year.

And it feels like October at Great American Ball Park — as much as possible on a steamy July night, anyway. 

McNeal: Which of the NL’s surprise teams has staying power?

After a decade of disappointment, Cincinnati is sensing a special season from the Reds. They lead the NL in offense. Their rotation is overflowing with candidates. Their defense has been superb.

The Reds have the easiest second-half schedule of any contender. They have been in first or second place since early May, have lost once since the All-Star break and trail the Cardinals by just a half-game in the NL Central. A nice turnaround for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since Ken Griffey Jr. arrived in town 10 years ago.

The Reds have assembled a roster that can hang with the Cardinals. First baseman Joey Votto, 26, is having a breakout season to match St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols. The Reds have a decided edge around the rest of the infield with second baseman Brandon Phillips, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and third baseman Scott Rolen. The Reds don’t have Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to lead their rotation, but they have greater depth. Neither club has a rally-proof bullpen, though the Reds have an All-Star, Rhodes, in theirs.

But sorry, Cincinnati. You should keep those "Hunt for Red October" banners in storage for now. The Reds’ run of consecutive losing seasons will end in 2010, but they will have to wait until next year to knock the Cardinals from the NL Central’s perch.

On one hand, the Reds are just too young. And on the other, too old.

They haven’t been there

As solid as Cincinnati’s rotation has been, no one knows what to expect down the stretch because of its inexperience in these situations. Bronson Arroyo is the only Reds starter who has pitched in the postseason, or even in a pennant race.

Four rookies have made at least two starts, and Aroldis Chapman, who remains in the minors to develop better command of his 95-mph-plus fastball, hasn’t been one of them. Of the youngsters, only Mike Leake and Travis Wood figure to stay in the rotation when it reaches full health. And that is only if the Reds stick with Wood, who has dazzled in his first four starts, once injured veteran Aaron Harang (5.02 ERA) is ready. Edinson Volquez’s return last week from Tommy John surgery could not have gone better, but manager Dusty Baker knows "he’ll be better next year than this."

Scott Rolen has battled injuries and illness in recent weeks.
Scott Rolen has battled injuries and illness in recent weeks.

Arroyo even admits the starters’ success has been "part luck" and the last two months of the season could be a roller-coaster ride. "There’s going to be a point where we slide downhill a little between now and the end of the season," Arroyo says. "Our hope is that we can weather that storm enough when the Cardinals go through the same thing and we don’t fall too many games behind." 

Age matters

The club brought in Rolen and Cabrera as what Baker calls "foundation guys" because of their postseason experience and clubhouse presence. Problem is, Rolen can’t help from the bench. After failing to play in more than 128 games in any of the past three seasons, Rolen made the All-Star team thanks to a first half when he played like he did as a mainstay in the powerhouse Cardinals’ lineup of the mid-2000s. Baker says Rolen looked as good as the old days but "the difference is, he could play more then."

Since the break, Rolen has been sidelined by a stomach virus and a hamstring injury that might land him on the disabled list.

To steady an up-and-down bullpen, general manager Walt Jocketty recruited a couple of aging relievers, Russ Springer, 41, and Jason Isringhausen, 37, whom he had on his side when he was running the Cardinals. Neither has pitched in the majors since last season, and might not this year.

Springer debuted at Class AAA last week while Isringhausen had yet to accept the Reds’ contract offer after a Tuesday tryout. Both would bring considerable postseason experience to a bullpen that ranks 13th in the NL (4.37 ERA) with a closer, Francisco Cordero, who ranks among the league leaders with six blown saves.

At the least, the old guys would give Rhodes, a first-time All-Star at 40, some clubhouse company around his age.

At best, they could return to pitching in the postseason—if they stick around until next year.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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