The Jay Bruce Approach: Why the #Reds Right Fielder Has Regressed in ’14

We haven't seen this pose much in 2014.

We haven’t seen this pose much in 2014.

The question on my mind, your mind and most Reds fans’ minds is this: What the hell has happened to Jay Bruce this season?

It’s July 20, and Bruce is hitting .224 with only ten home runs (in 80 games). Not only is the former first round draft pick’s batting average lower than his career clip (.254), the slugging percentage is way, way down–it’s actually under .400 heading into play today vs. the New York Yankees.

To put that into perspective, the following hitters have a higher slugging percentage than Jay Bruce: Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Trevor Plouffe, Erick Aybar, Jose Reyes and Nick Markakis.

It’s a real mind boggler how a guy can be entering his so-called prime (Stat Grandfather Bill James estimates Age 27 is the peak for most ballplayers, and Jay is 27 this year) and be going backwards at a miserable rate. Just last season, Bruce put up numbers worthy of MVP consideration: .262 AVG, 30 HR, 43 2B, 109 RBI and stellar defense in right field. Heading into 2014, there was no reason whatsoever to expect Bruce’s production to dip. He’s young, he stays in tip-top shape and he’s had well over 3,000 plate appearances at the major league level.

I expected Number 32 to be battling for that MVP award this season and the next number of seasons. But it hasn’t happened. Instead, Bruce has looked like a rookie at the plate in ’14.

So what’s the problem?

My theory is simply this: Jay Bruce is making hitting way too complicated while ignoring an easy way out of his season-long slump.

At the beginning of the season, Bruce mentioned to Reds beat writers how he had studied hitting, and how he wants to be more selective, only swinging at the strikes he wants while taking more pitches. Here’s what he told Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty back in March:

“I’m homeruns and doubles. I’m not sitting here saying I’m going to go up there and walk. But if I swing at less pitchers’ pitchers, there are going to be better counts, and more times I’ll have the opportunity to get on base. I just need to take a level-headed approach every day.’’

In the early going, the new approach did result in more walks, as Bruce realized pitchers rarely throw him anything to hit. So he was content to get on base and patiently wait for the mistake pitches he routinely blasts over the outfield walls.

But then, as they tend to do, pitchers got wise. Hurlers started to realize that Bruce likes the ball middle-in, belt high to chest high. If it’s on the outer half, or if it’s anywhere in the zone at the knees, “The Beaumont Bomber” would be content to keep the bat on his shoulder. So those wise pitchers began peppering the outside part of the zone and the low part of the zone early in the count, which in turn left Bruce facing 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts more often than not. And, if you take a look at batting averages in those types of counts for any major league hitter, well, as you can imagine, it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a table with some past data:

Count 2000 2007 2008 2009
First Pitch .336 .344 .337 .338
1-0 .343 .341 .339 .340
2-0 .360 .350 .355 .368
3-0 xxxx .396 .370 .395
0-1 .324 .324 .339 .317
1-1 .325 .327 .329 .332
2-1 .340 .339 .339 .339
3-1 .344 .368 .350 .352
0-2 .160 .164 .160 .156
1-2 .178 .170 .179 .171
2-2 .195 .191 .194 .189
Full .234 .230 .227 .23

As you can see in the table, you have a much better chance of getting a good pitch to hit early in the count or when the count is in your favor. But if you go up there and take a first pitch strike, then foul one off or chase a curveball in the dirt, your chances of success drop exponentially.

And this pretty much sums up why Bruce has not produced in 2014. When we watch Bruce hit, what do we often see? He takes a belt high fastball on the outside corner for strike one. He then chases a breaking ball that starts out in the zone but finishes low and in. He’s down 0-and-2. So now, according to the numbers, he’s about a .160 hitter. He’s at the pitcher’s mercy. The pitcher has three or four chances to get Bruce to swing at a piece of shit outside of the strike zone. And when Bruce is struggling, and he’s trying to do too much, he’ll eventually chase one of those pieces of shit.

Fangraphs.com is a terrific site where we can take a look at very in-depth analysis of a hitter’s approach. Here is Bruce’s fangraphs page. That link will get you directly to his ‘Plate Discipline’ page, which breaks down the percentage of balls he swings at, the percentage of strikes he doesn’t swing at, etc. When you look at these stats, you can immediately see that his Swing Percentage is down from a 48.4% career mark to 45.7% this season; and Bruce did say he intended to be more patient this season, so that number checks out. Now, look at his O-Swing %, which stands for Swing Percentage on Pitches Outside the Strike Zone. He’s on par with career numbers in that category (30.9% career, 29.7% in 2014).

With me so far? Bruce is taking more pitches and he’s been a tad better at swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.

However, we need to look at his Z-Swing%, which is the Percentage of Pitches INSIDE the Strike Zone Jay Bruce Swings at. His career mark in this category is 73.9 percent. Bruce has never been below 72% in this category. But in 2014, he’s way down at 68.8 percent. That means he’s taking more strikes, and by the looks of his batting average, he’s taking more strikes early in the count…

Which brings us back to that first pitch fastball on the outside corner. In order for Bruce to turn his season around, he must begin to attack this pitch. Why?

1) He pretty much has to know it’s coming.

Pitchers routinely get ahead in the count with that pitch, as Jay is content to let it go by. And hitting a baseball is hard enough, especially when you have no clue what pitch is coming. But in this scenario, you DO know what pitch is coming. Be ready for it. Go after it. Be looking for that pitch and that pitch alone, on every first pitch AND every non-two-strike pitch from here on out. When you get it, blast it.

2) “The Jay Bruce Shift.”

For the past few seasons, nearly every opposing manager shifts his infield to take away any hard grounder or line drive Jay hits up the middle or through the right side by moving the second baseman into shallow right field and the shortstop and third baseman toward the middle of the diamond. That leaves nearly the entire left side of the infield WIDE OPEN. And guess which pitch is most likely to go in that direction if you time it and square it up? Yep, that outside heater.

3) If you want to get opposing teams out of that shift, you’ve got to start routinely smashing the ball against the grain.

If you start hitting it where the fielders aren’t, the managers will move their fielders, opening up the middle and your pull side. The result: You get lots of hits to get them out of the shift, then once the shift is lifted, more balls become hits that would have been swallowed up by the shift.

4) Bruce has opposite field power.

He can take a page out of former Red Shin-Soo Choo’s book and start to pile up the opposite field home runs.

Further, if you stay with the opposite field approach, keeping your hands back and allowing the ball to travel, you’ll have an extra tick to be able to identify good curveballs to crack and bad curveballs to lay off of.

This is an adjustment Jay Bruce must make in order to become more productive. He’s making it too complicated on himself right now. If you know a certain pitch is coming, take advantage of that knowledge. You can’t keep waiting around for a pitch in your wheelhouse when pitchers will never ever throw it there (unless it’s a mistake). What’s the saying? Don’t work harder, work smarter. That’s your answer, Jay Bruce.

Buckle Up For A Two and a Half Monthlong Cincinnati Reds Pennant Race

Major League Baseball is set to resume regular season play on Friday, and that team in Cincinnati sits just one and a half games out of first place in the National League Central.

Now I’d like you to rewind your brain back to May the 15th, two thousand and fourteen. The Cincinnati Reds sat seven games out of first place with an 18-21 record.

On that day, I published a post on bergonsports.com entitled “6 Reasons to Still Bet on the Cincinnati Reds Reaching the 2014 World Series.” Click here to re-read that post.

Seriously, click here and re-read it…it may be interesting for you to see what I predicted then and what has actually happened in the past two months.

From seven games out and absolutely NO offense to 1.5 games out and a noise-making offense coming out of the all-star break. And Joey Votto has had nothing to do with the of-late noise-making. Two starting pitchers (Johnny Cueto, Alfredo Simon) and the closer (Aroldis Chapman) on the all-star team. Young mashers Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco also appeared in the midseason classic.

And rookie centerfielder Billy Hamilton has demolished all expectations in his first full season in the bigs.

Add it all up, and what have you got? A PENNANT RACE. A TWO AND A HALF MONTHLONG PENNANT RACE.

You know what THAT means. Every day, every game, every pitch matters A LOT. Every run knocked in by the Reds is worth a Randal “Thrill” Hill-esque celebration with your friends or family.

Oh, and one other thing. In the interest of staying consistent and also in the interest of acting on a feeling, I’ve placed a couple of little wagers in Las Vegas, Nevada…

IMG_2738

 

Potential Gigantic #Reds Blockbuster Trade Proposal

At this very moment, Jay Bruce is breaking his professional baseball cherry at first base, while former MVP Joey Votto is out with a bum left leg. By all accounts, Votto will not be 100% at any point the rest of this season.

What should the Reds do?

I was scouring through every MLB team to see if any veteran bats would be attainable via trade. I saw mostly washed up guys or guys really struggling. Then I landed on Texas. The Rangers are nowhere near the race, and their pitching is beyond awful (29th or 30th in most categories).

Proposed Trade

Rangers get LHP Tony Cingrani, RHP Ben Lively (probably Reds #2 pitching prospect in system) and a relief pitcher TBD

Reds get Adrian Beltre (.333/.380/.518 this season)

Move Frazier to 1B, put Votto on DL, insert Beltre at 3rd, batting in the middle of the order. When/if Votto gets healthy, move Frazier to LF. 
Beltre is owed $17 mil this year (get Rangers to pick up some if possible, but it’s only about $8 left this year) and then $18 mil next year. I know the $18 mil next year obviously brings up the “Oh my God, we’re not a big market, we can’t afford that!” radar that Cincinnatians love to focus on…but hey, this ownership group wants to win. They might be willing to pay it, if it gives em a cleanup hitter/RH bat/veteran leader.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Imagine THIS lineup:
CF Billy Hamilton
1B Todd Frazier
3B Adrian Beltre
C Devin Mesoraco
RF Jay Bruce
2B Brandon Phillips
LF Skip Schumacher/Ryan Ludwick
SS Zack Cozart
…………………………………………………………..
It’s either that or a lame Votto, Brayan Pena or some other scrap heap hopeful in the lineup.
I’d rather have Beltre.

Reds Have Hot June…You On Board With The World Series Prediction Yet?

Mat Latos = BEAST

Mat Latos = BEAST

The Cincinnati Reds just posted an 18-10 month of June, restoring interest in the club as the summer sun cooks our skin like spaghetti.

My question to you: Thinkin’ World Series?

I am. I have been since Day One, as you may remember: http://bergonsports.com/2014/03/02/2014-world-series-cincinnati-reds-versus/

As we stand on July 1, the Reds are seven games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central; the oldest professional baseball team is also right in the running for a wildcard spot.

And guess what: It’s still 80 games left on the schedule.

Let’s get into three reasons this team will make it to the franchise’s first World Series in 24 years…and then, at the end of this post, I’ll show you how I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

1) This is the Most Complete Cincinnati Reds Ball Club Since it Swept the Oakland A’s in the ’90 Fall Classic

A) Best defense in MLB. Fewest errors, best metrics stats, and these homeboys make the spectacular plays, too.

B) Best Starting Rotation Since…? Do some research…can you find a more complete fivesome in this franchise’s history?

* Here’s how you know this rotation is THAT good: Each day, before the Reds take the field, take a look at the pitching matchup. I feel good about Cincinnati’s chances regardless of who it trots out there and regardless of who the opponent hands the ball to.

C) This Offense Ain’t So Fuckin’ Bad After All, Ay?

Okay, so Joey Votto has had a disastrously frustrating 2014 season. Injuries over the past few years have the former MVP relegated to a punch ‘n’ judy hitter nowadays. When he swings, you can feel the pain in YOUR knee. Not only that, Jay Bruce has been rough to watch for most of this season. 31 RBI at the halfway mark ain’t what we’re lookin’ for.

Shin-Soo Who? Billy Hamilton's hitting over .275 with 30+ steals at the halfway mark.

Shin-Soo Who? Billy Hamilton’s hitting over .275 with 30+ steals at the halfway mark.

BUT…that said, how about the emergence of three young Clydesdales: Todd Frazier (.287 AVG, 17 HR, 12 SB) and Devin Mesoraco (.310 AVG, 14 HR, .631 SLG) should be all-stars, and rookie Billy Hamilton has changed the entire complexion of this team’s offense with his wheels and, quite surprisingly, his ability to spray line drives from either side of the plate (and be “clutch” sometimes, too!).

That means that even if Votto and Bruce don’t do a whole lot, it’s three run producers surrounding them–and, with a dynamite defense and stingy pitching staff, give me four runs and you can book that W (and, sometimes two or three runs are plenty).

2) Tremendous Amount of Adversity Faced: Tremendous Amount of Adversity Smashed

Look man (or girl), every single thing possible that could go wrong DID go wrong during the first two months of this season. Injuries ‘o’ plenty, excruciating one-run losses galore…you name it, it’s happened. But you know what? Here this team is, right in the mix for the NL Central, not scared one bit of the Brewers, packin’ a lunch every single day.

And through it all, first-year manager Bryan Price has remained steady and calm. Now that the guys are putting wins together and feeling good, and they’re seeing the fruits of Price’s aggressive style of baseball, confidence levels couldn’t be higher heading into the second half of the 162-game schedule.

When he was hired as manager, Price said he wants the Reds to “be a team that nobody wants to play.” For the first two months, it was a team nobody wanted to watch. But now, it’s ass kick time.

3) Who’s Really THAT Good in the National League This Year?

The Cardinals aren’t what they’ve been. The Pirates’ pitching has been a disaster. The Brewers have the best record, but come on. Once Milwaukee’s bats cool off, they’ll fade. The NL East doesn’t have anyone that is a real threat. Out west, you’ve got the Dodgers and the Giants, sure, but Cincinnati has shown it can play with those clubs.

I look at each team objectively, and I see holes/weak spots on all of the NL contenders. With the Reds, it’s really only bench production that needs to be addressed (and it can and will be). When you have the best pitching and defense, the nastiest closer ever (not to mention a set-up man with a sub-1.00 ERA), and your offense has some rising stars that are producing, you’ve got a heckuva chance to get to the Promised Land.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I’m rolling with my original prediction, and I’m rolling with big Alfredo Simon.

One of my best friends is headed to Vegas in a couple weeks. I’m giving him a couple stacks to place on the Reds winning the NL Pennant, and an extra stack to win the World Series. If the current odds hold, that’s a $300 bet that could turn into seven grand.

Alfredo Simon should make the All-Star team...wait, what?? Yes, it's true.

Alfredo Simon should make the All-Star team…wait, what?? Yes, it’s true.

But I’m really taking a gamble, because my friend is among the all-time leaders in lost items (cell phone, keys, etc). So what are the odds he gets my cash to the window AND gets the betting slips all the way back to Cincinnati to me? Quite long, I’d say.

Either way, I like the Reds’ chances.

 

 

A Month Later: The Same 6 Reasons to Bet on the #Reds Reaching the World Series

Alfredo Simon should make the All-Star team...wait, what?? Yes, it's true.

Alfredo Simon should make the All-Star team…wait, what?? Yes, it’s true.

I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been landscaping my hide off in the scorching Midwest summer sun, and really, it hasn’t been much to write about with the Cincinnati Reds this season.

Lately, though, this team is starting to:

1) Get healthy
2) Answer back when the opponent puts runs on the board
3) Score late in games
4) Have things go its way

Here’s what I wrote a month ago: http://bergonsports.com/2014/05/15/6-reasons-you-should-still-bet-on-the-cincinnati-reds-appearing-in-the-2014-world-series/

And really, it still holds true. Also, change the ‘defense’ section to “Best defense in baseball.”

As I see it right now, this team is in a good spot to reach the playoffs. Why? Because:

1) 90+ games left on the schedule and only 6 games out of first
2) Law of averages (Jay Bruce included) should be tilting in the Reds’ favor in the 2nd half of the season
3) Pitching and defense is about as good as it gets, and the offense is not as bad as we thought
4) BILLY HAMILTON!
5) Raise your hand if you’re actually worried about the fuckin’ Milwaukee Brewers

It was a long, slow, frustrating (Cole Hamels up our butts twice, a couple of those Dodgers games, etc) climb back to .500, but, the team has made the climb. First-year manager Bryan Price has had everything that could go wrong go wrong, and has remained calm and steady as the team has fought to keep its head above water.

BUT, as I see it, General Manager Walt Jocketty has four roster spots to upgrade. In other words, it’s four fellas on this team that need to be axed and replaced with more effective fellas:

You already know who these four are, but I’ll list ‘em anyway: Chris Heisey, Roger Bernadina, Ramon Santiago and Logan Ondrusek.

(J.J. Hoover was teetering close to that list until he just found that slider–that makes him effective again, especially because nobody’s faced that pitch from him yet, and he can throw a 93-95 mph fastball and a curve for strikes.)

Jocketty will need to stock the bench with three better bats. I’d love to be able to bring one guy up from the minors and then make deals to find two more veteran bats. Guys like Santiago and Heisey are necessary as defensive replacements in the NL…but that only matters in the regular season. The Reds need real threats in the postseason at those bench spots.

And then of course, it’s no way in hell-ass hell you can put Logan Ondrusek on the mound in any sort of important situation late in the season or in the playoffs. I’d like to either see Tony Cingrani in that 6th-7th-ish type of role, or bring someone up from the minors (Jumbo Diaz has a sub-2.00 ERA at AAA with 17 saves) that National League hitters haven’t seen 800 times already.

If Walt can make those moves and cut ties with the weakest links of this roster, then look the fuck out, National League.

Order your World Series tickets now, Reds fans.

The All-”This Guy Kills The #Reds” Team

Cole F***in' Hamels

Cole F***in’ Hamels

Yet another dominating Cole Hamels performance against my Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night; Hamels is now 8-0 all-time vs. Cincy. If you’re a Reds fan, when you see or read about or think about Cole Hamels, you no doubt say out loud, “God damn him.” You’re sick of watching the Reds whiff at his change-up and take his fastball for called third strikes. You’re sick of looking at his face as he carves up your team.

He’s not the only guy in the National League you feel that way about either. It’s multiple guys that always seem to feast on Reds pitching, or make great defensive plays, or shut the Reds down.

Without further ado, The All-”This Guy Kills The Reds” Team:

Leading off and playing center field, St. Louis Cardinal Jon Jay.

Oh my Lord, Jon Jay burns my ass. This guy, from the first time we saw him, has been laying ropes against the Reds. In 50 starts against Cincinnati, Jay has a .370 on-base percentage, 14 doubles, six homers and 25 RBI. Even when he’s mired in a prolonged slump, this a-hole will smack two rally-furthering singles in a game–a jam-shot blooper into shallow left-center and a seeing-eye bouncer up the middle. You know he will, too. That’s the irritating part.

Batting second, San Diego Padre outfielder, Will Venable.

You may not have noticed this guy as much because the Reds only play two series against San Diego per season. Well, Will Venable kills the Reds, plain and simple. In 26 starts vs. Reds pitching, Venable has a .384 on-base and a .541 slugging percentage (5 doubles, 2 triples, 5 HR). The Reds held Venable in check (1 for 7) this past week, but generally, he murders them.

In the three-hole, from the Colorado Rockies, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.  

This guy kills everybody–but he especially kills the Reds. In 34 career starts, Tulo has a .346/.412/.691 slash line, with 13 long balls and 30 runs batted in. Translation: Quit pitching to this fella!

Batting clean-up, from the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the catchers, Yadier Molina.

Do we even need to look at the statistics? Yadi owns the Reds. Yadi toys with the Reds. I’ll look the numbers up anyway…oh my Lanta…Molina has 14 career bombs and 27 career doubles against Reds pitching. And I bet 90-percent of those came on first-pitch “why did you throw him a fastball in that spot??” offerings. Stop giving this guy anything to hit, Reds. He owns you.

In the five-spot, former-Brave and current New York Yankee catcher, Brian McCann.

Brian F***in' McCann

Brian F***in’ McCann

Thank God this guy’s in the AL now–although the Reds will still have to face him this season. In his career vs. Cincinnati, McCann has a .318/.405/fuggin’ .671 slash line. He’s clubbed SEVENTEEN HOME RUNS in 170 career ABs. Good God. I don’t know if there’s ever been a hitter kill the Reds this much since the team formed in 1869.

In the six-hole, one of the second basemen, Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley.

This guy’s a phenomenal hitter. Short, sharp swing. He lashes the Reds. In his career, Utley has 14 doubles, 17 home runs and 46 RBI against Cincinnati. He also homered and drove in four in Philly’s three-game sweep of the Reds in the 2010 Divisional Playoff. Any time he comes to the plate against the Reds, you’re nervous–you know you are.

Batting 7th, the other second baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates’ hometown kid, Neil Walker.

Son of a bitch, this guy is the proverbial thorn in the Reds’ proverbial scrotum. He always seems to hit home runs. He always seems to do damage late in games (walk-off single in a game this year). He’s just not the guy you want to see come to the plate when the Reds are trying to nurse a lead.

In his four-plus year career, Walker’s batting .300 with a .380 on-base and a .500 slug versus Cincinnati. This dude has 62 career homers–and 11 have come against Reds pitching. Hate that guy.

Batting 8th, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

This guy. God. Ever since he was called up to the majors, Lucroy has hit rope after rope against the Reds. He hit a home run off of Aroldis Chapman last year, you may remember. He’s an asshole, basically. Overall, Lucroy only has 7 doubles and 4 homers against the Reds–but it seems like they’ve all been back-breakers. I’m sick of him.

* Splitting the catching duties with Lucroy and McCann and Molina: Former-Pirate/current-Rocky Michael McKenry and long-time Philly Carlos Ruiz.

McKenry is listed at five-foot-ten. Yeah, right. If this guy’s 5’10″, then I’m eight-foot-six. His numbers against the Reds are very shabby at first glance (.190 batting average), but he has three dingers and three doubles–including a double this year for Colorado. And he always battles Aroldis Chapman hard. Done with him.

Ruiz is another short, stocky asshole. He broke up Travis Wood’s perfect game attempt with a double in the 9th back in 2010, he ripped a curveball into right-center Saturday night for an RBI…he doubled in a run and drew three walks in that 2010 Division Series…he’s just a dick. Strangely, Ruiz has never hit a ball over the fence against the Reds (which means he probably will today, now that I’ve pointed that out), but he’s batting .327 with a .395 on-base and has hit 12 doubles and drawn 10 walks. Tired of him.

And, of course, on the mound for the All-”This Guy Kills The Reds” Team, Philadelphia’s Cole God Damn Hamels.

After last night’s 1-run performance, Hamels now stands at 8-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts–all of which Philly has won. Not only that, Hamels shut the Reds out in Game 3 of that NLDS in Cincinnati. In other words, this assbag is the ultimate “This Guy Kills The Reds” performer.

But one of these days, oh yes, one of these days, Cole Hamels will get his. All of these shitheads will get theirs. I don’t know when and I don’t know by whom, but mark my words, justice will be served on all of these fools.

 

6 Reasons You Should Still Bet on the Cincinnati Reds Appearing in the 2014 World Series

Jay Bruce bombs away

Jay Bruce bombs away

The Cincinnati Reds in the World Series this year? Am I out of my mind? Am I on a pile of drugs?

(Well, I’m probably a little bit out of my mind–but I always have been. And, define “pile”…)

Here’s the dope. This is the most stacked Reds ballclub I have seen since 1995–the last time Cincinnati advanced to the doorstep of the World Series (lost 4-0 to Atlanta in National League Championship Series).

Stacked? This Reds team? Seriously?

Seriously.

I already know what you’re thinking. The hitting. The bats. The leaving men on base. The leadoff doubles that never ever ever score (or so it seems). That bench full of non-threats and re-treads. I mean, come on, Jux, how can a team that struggles to score runs get to the f***ing World Series?

Here’s how:

1) Starting Pitching

Take a look across the National League, and tell me which team’s starting pitching staff you’d rather have. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Oh, you don’t feel like looking at everybody’s pitching staffs? Okay, then you’re going to have to take my word for it.

Johnny Cueto (1.43 ERA) has been Cy Young Master every single time he’s pitched this year. His command is video-game-like, his MPH is top qualified, his cutter and change-up are pure filth. Then you’ve got Mike Leake (3.09 ERA), who is quickly turning into Greg Maddux Lite. Lefty Tony Cingrani (3.34 ERA) looks like a dynamo. Homer Bailey has been up and down, but I’d bet on him being up when it counts down the stretch. And Mat Latos, the team’s most imposing starter, hasn’t made his season debut yet. That is a nasty five-some. Plus Alfredo Simon (2.89 ERA) has filled in like a yeoman; and when Latos comes back, Simon makes the team’s bullpen even stronger.

It’s nearly impossible to have a starting staff this strong and not make the playoffs.

2) Young Guns III

Three young fellas in the lineup will play pivotal roles. Havoc-wreaker Billy Hamilton in the leadoff spot, while he won’t get on base as much as you want, is dynamic and can turn anything he puts in play into him standing in scoring position. Catcher Devin Mesoraco just might be the best hitting catcher in the game–at least he has been when he’s been healthy this year. Small sample size, yes, but his approach, discipline and strength appear to equate to a Mike Piazza-like scenario. And then you’ve got third baseman Todd Frazier, “The Toddfather.” Frazier is sure-handed in the field, and, after some offseason tweaks to his batting style (lowered hands, went from big leg kick to simpler step-and-twist action), the kid from Tom’s River, NJ looks like a potential All-Star. Todd can hit a ball 485 feet; he can also hit the ball hard to all fields and work a walk.

3) Defense

Say what you want about Shortstop Zack Cozart’s hitting ability; you can’t dispute the kid is slick and reliable in the field. The whole team is reliable in the field. The Reds have been at or near the top in the NL in fewest unearned runs allowed. Playing in a lot of one-run ballgames, that’s a big key to pulling those nailbiters out.

4) Law of Averages

The Reds have been pretty bad in one-run games so far in 2014. Okay–really bad. They’re 6-12. But..BUT..let’s take into account the fact that A) The bullpen hasn’t been healthy (set-up men Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton as well as closer Aroldis Chapman have all missed time) and B) It’s been key injuries to position players: Jay Bruce (torn meniscus), Billy Hamilton (bunch of little shit) and Devin Mesoraco (hamstring).

It’s tough to win one-run games when you don’t have five or six of your best ten guys.

Might as well get your losses in these games out of the way early in the season, so that the old Law of Averages can even out and then you’ll win those ballgames late in the season and into the postseason (and in the World Series, right??).

5) Skip Schumaker

Okay, you’re saying, now Jux really is on a pile of drugs. How can he say that SKIP SCHUMAKER, by himself, is a reason to bet on the Reds to get to the World Series this year…especially when he was about to quit rooting for the Reds because they signed him! (I’ve always hated Skip Schumaker.)

Here’s the thing, buddy. Skip’s one of those fellas that you hate when he’s on the other team, but you like when he’s on yours. He’s a pesky hitter. He’s one of those guys that will foul off a bunch of pitches and draw a walk, or punch a tough pitch into the outfield somehow to knock in a big run. And he is competitive as hell, something a lot of the Reds players haven’t seemed to be. When he struck out on Sunday, he slammed his bat down and split it. That’s something new for this team. That’s something I believe this team needs. Enough already with the happy-go-lucky “we’ll get ‘em next time” type of stuff. Get pissed and hold yourself and everyone else accountable. This is a guy who hates to lose; and a guy who’s been on a World Series winner. Not only that, he’s versatile–he can play infield and outfield–and he’s a tough left-handed bat off your bench late in games, versus right-handed and left-handed pitchers.

He’s the type of guy that can change the attitude of a team. And this team needs the shit out of a change of attitude, especially after last year’s passive (pussive) meltdown.

6) This lineup is not as bad as you think

We’d all love to have a lineup like the 2011 Texas Rangers or some shit like that–but it’s not realistic. We’re all sick of stranding leadoff doubles. We’re tired of seeing Cozart seemingly ALWAYS come up in important spots. I get it. It’s frustrating. But just take a quick trip with me to August, when this team is healthy and General Manager Walt Jocketty has made a deal or two at the trade deadline…

Here’s what we’ll be working with:

CF Billy Hamilton
1B Joey Votto
3B Todd Frazier
RF Jay Bruce
C Devin Mesoraco
LF Ryan Ludwick
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Zack Cozart

Bench: Skip Schumaker, Brayan Pena, Ramon Santiago, NOT CHRIS HEISEY, NOT ROGER BERNADINA, NOT NEFTALI SOTO

That lineup may be a spot or two off since somehow Brandon Phillips is assumed to be a top of the lineup hitter no matter what (even though his numbers strongly suggest the 6- or 7-hole) and because it seems like Mesoraco will be lower down in the order even if he mashes like Yogi Berra. Either way, that’ll be your eight bats. And while a lot of those guys are streaky, you’ve got to admit it’s a pretty decent lineup. Much better than the Giants’ lineups have been for their World Series runs, that’s for sure.

As for the bench: Jocketty is no fool. He saw Heisey’s unstellar performance on Monday night..and he’s seen that unstellarness for years now. He will find a better option somewhere. Bernadina’ll be gone ASAP. Neftali Soto, a.k.a. “Chief Longswing,” will not be on this bench come playoff time. I don’t know who the replacements will be, but you can bet they’ll be better options than Heisey, Bernadina and Soto.

So now you’re healthy at the right time, you’ve got a starting pitcher on the mound ever single day that can get you to the 8th inning, you’ve got a filthy Sam LeCure-led bullpen, you’ve got a fairly strong lineup and you’ve got a guy steering the ship (Bryan Price) that these players all love to play for.

That’s World Series right there. Easily.