Sunday, July 23, 2006

Reds Remain Contenders; Division, Wild Card in Reach

After a phenomenal season start that saw the Cincinnati Reds post a franchise-best month of April for wins (17-8), the succeeding months proved to be a dose of reality. May was a shock to the system, seeing the team post 12 wins versus 16 losses in bringing the overall record closer to .500. Despite the critics that seemed to be surfacing after May, June was tolerable, if not respectable, at 15-12, raising the overall record back to eight (8) games over the .500 mark by the start of July.

The record at the start of today (7/23/2006) is 52-46, six games over .500 and four games behind frontrunner St. Louis in the NL Central. The Reds are the NL leaders for the one NL Wild Card spot, 1 1/2 games ahead of a few contenders (Diamondbacks and Padres from the NL West) as well as familiar names across the league (Dodgers, Brewers, Braves, Phillies, Rockies, and Astros) who are all within six games of the Reds for that spot. Interestingly, the Braves have been surging despite a horrible season start to put themselves into contention once again, despite being a distant second to the NL East-leading Mets (with the NL's best record at 59-38).

July has been the good, the bad, and the ugly for this ballclub. The good: eight (8) wins in the month, seven (7) since the All-Star break, and looking for their second home series sweep versus the Brewers this Sunday (the other was a four-game sweep over the Rockies last weekend). The bad: six straight losses to start July, a 1-8 record before the break in the month, and a trade that saw two offensive weapons (Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez) traded away for relief pitching. The ugly: the return on that Kearns-Lopez trade with the Washington Nationals hasn't yielded much, particularly with reliever Gary Majewski blowing leads and losing games since arriving with the club.

The better? Eddie Guardado has been a welcome presence in an easy trade from the Seattle Mariners that has seen "Everyday Eddie" return to his familiar role of closer. The team needed Guardado more than anybody, and the added presence of Bill Bray (a hard-throwing lefty) and Royce Clayton (a veteran shortstop) from that same Nationals-Reds trade has been a net positive. This team has had many come-from-behind wins, with a decent number from bad relief pitching performances, but the difference now is the late innings have seen the bullpen hold more scores than let things get out of hand.

My "prognostication" for the club is that the playoffs are still within reach, and the upcoming series versus division rivals Houston and Milwaukee could seal the deal. With a critical St. Louis series looming in early August, the club has an "easier" September within reach if it can survive the remainder of July on the road and then a tougher schedule with NL West rivals throughout August at home. The improved performance at home is certainly a breath of fresh air for loyal fans who have been attending these many home games to date and seen the Reds post a better road record than a home record.

Stay tuned, Reds fans ... this ride isn't over yet!

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