July 15th was a good-news, bad-news kind of night for the Cincinnati Reds. On the one hand, they won their sixth-straight contest. On the other, that was the night they lost their star first baseman, Joey Votto, to a knee injury that would keep him out for at least a month. At that point, it was reasonable to think the Reds might backslide a little. And when Cincinnati lost two of their next three games that seemed like an even more reasonable line of thinking. Then the Reds decided to stop losing baseball games, and their now season-best winning streak stands at 10 games as they begin a four-game set with the lowly Padres this evening.
Actually, never mind season-best winning streak. How about decade-plus-best winning streak? The last time Cincy won 10 straight was June 21st to July 1st of 1999. And they haven’t been just battering opponents either. In six of the first seven games of the streak, Joe Saunders, Marco Estrada, Michael Fiers, Wandy Rodriguez, Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris all tallied quality starts against the team. The seventh game was started by Yovani Gallardo, who came close, allowing four runs in 5 2/3 frames. The Reds have simply found a way to come out on top in each affair. Getting two of the best starts of Homer Bailey’s career (the two best, according to WPA) certainly helped. In fact, Reds’ starters have allowed two runs or fewer in eight of the 10 games in the streak.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the past six games of the streak have come against the two worst teams in the majors. During July, the Astros team wRC+ has been 76, which ties them for 27th in baseball with the Phillies. The Rockies have managed to be even worse than that, as their 72 wRC+ puts them in a tie for dead last with the Cubs. Still, the list of pitchers who have been bloodied by bad Rockies’ teams in Coors Field is an extensive one. And while the ‘Stros didn’t top three runs in any of their three games against Cincy, they twice posted five or more runs over the weekend against the Pirates. So it’s not like those teams are incapable of scoring runs. The Reds simply held them, and the Brewers, in check. In fact, they’ve been on point for the last month. The team’s seven most important pitchers — the five starters plus Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall — all have xFIPs of 3.78 or lower over the past 30 days.
In addition to the great pitching, nearly every Cincinnati regular position player has stepped up their games at the plate. Not everyone, of course. Jay Bruce is going through one of his trademark cold streaks. And Todd Frazier probably picked the worst possible time ever to run cold. Hitting .279/.348/.568 at the time of Votto’s injury, Frazier has proceeded to hit .269/.278/.365 in the 13 games since, which likely assures him of a spot on the bench against every right-handed starter once Votto returns. But much of the starting lineup has been going bonkos. Here’s a look at the wOBA’s of the stalwarts of Cincy’s lineup since the injury:
Earlier the season, Rolen once again looked done, so his latest renaissance is incredibly surprising. Ludwick’s performance all season has been a bit of an upset as well. Since posting a .350 wOBA or better in 2007 and 2008, Ludwick had slipped in the three seasons since. But he has found his power stroke once again in Cincy, and on the road as well — his .246 ISO away from Great American Ball Park is more than respectable. Over the weekend, he bashed two homers in one game at Coors Field, where he has relentlessly tormented Rockies’ pitching in his career. And while Ludwick is still much more proficient against lefties, his 107 wRC+ this year against righties means that he doesn’t need to be platooned.
Now, to be sure, a lot of these performances the past two weeks for the Reds are small-sample nonsense and driven by high BABIPS. Phillips’ BABIP for the period is .381 and Stubbs’ is .406. But what this two-week period has illustrated more than anything is that the Reds have very few holes. Aside from Rolen, the only Reds’ players that see even semi-regular action who are having below-replacement seasons are Logan Ondrusek, Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo. While some teams are scrambling before tomorrow’s trade deadline to acquire players that will immediately become key cogs in their potential playoff machines, Cincinnati has the luxury of not being desperate at the deadline. Sure, they have inquired about some starting pitchers, and Shin-Soo Choo would be a great get if they want to make a splash, but these past two weeks have reinforced that they don’t have to.
Another reason that the Reds can hold steady is that their schedule is going to remain soft until the last week of August. Six of their next seven series are against the Padres, Brewers (who seem to be threatening to set some sort of record for most WAR by a losing team), Cubs, Mets and Phillies. Between now and August 24, the only series that looms large is a three-game set at home with the Pirates. And by the end of the month, Votto may well be back. Contrast that with the Pirates, who in that same time span have to play the D-backs, Dodgers and Cards. In addition to their set with the Pirates, the Cards will have to play the D-backs and Giants. The Reds’ win streak hasn’t yet gained them much separation from their two main rivals, but their creampuffish August slate may help them do so. Even if it doesn’t, it ensures that the Reds don’t need to go crazy trying to acquire star players in the next 24 hours.
Joey Votto is Cincinnati’s best player, and one of the best players in baseball. Without him, it would be fair to think that the Reds would fall flat. Instead, the Reds have become red hot. Manager Dusty Baker is still doing Dusty Baker things like burying rookie Devin Mesoraco, but the Reds are an incredibly deep team that are a force with which to be reckoned, even without their best player.