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At 18-to-1 to win the World Series, the Cincinnati Reds could be a decent investment based upon how well their team has come together over the last two weeks. In the month of May, they have gone 16-10. Since taking two of three at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, everything has jelled perfectly for the Reds who have won eight of their past 10 games through Monday, good enough to take over first-place in the NL Central.
Their biggest question mark -- pitching -- coming into the season has been turned into a strength while their best asset -- hitting -- has taken things to a new level. Their five-man rotation is getting the job done. Not only has Johnny Cueto put up Cy Young worthy numbers (5-2, 2.53 ERA), but the other are starting to get comfortable. Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Mat Latos have settled down after slow starts, while Bronson Arroyo has limited serving up the long ball.
When the starters can give five or six good innings, the Reds can go to their strength -- the bullpen, which has the lowest ERA of all NL pens (2.48). Aroldis Chapman’s 103 mph fastball has been moved to the closers role and has been perfect thus far. In 26 innings this season, Chapman has still yet to allow an earned run.
But the Reds real strength is their hitting and they are on fire during their recent streak. After hitting four home runs on Sunday, the Reds have hit 20 homers in their last nine games. One of the main keys has been moving Drew Stubbs to the No. 2 slot in the lineup just ahead of Joey Votto. Because of the move, Stubbs is getting better pitches and has limited his strikeouts.
Perhaps the best reason to back the Reds would be the division they play in. The Brewers aren’t the same squad we’ve been accustomed to. The Pirates and Astros have played amazing ball, but it’s doubtful that they’ll contend for the division. And then you have the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, who have shown they have some major issues between pitching and keeping players healthy.
The Reds have the look of a team that will be in the playoffs and that’s half the battle when betting futures.
Wait Till Next Year
One of the NL Central teams the Reds certainly won’t have to worry about is the Chicago Cubs; always lovable but rarely this bad.
When Theo Epstein took over as president of baseball operations for the Cubs, there had to be a little glimmer in his eyes about the possibility of taking the Cubs to their first glory in 103 years, similar to what he had done in Boston. If he took the Cubs to a championship, he would be immortalized forever in baseball history as one of the best GM’s ever.
However, he probably never expected his team to be as bad as they are right now, which is dead last in the NL Central with the worst record in baseball (15-32). On Sunday, the Cubs lost their 12th straight game in what could be considered their most uninspiring all-around team performance of the year, a 10-4 loss to the weak hitting Pirates.
Epstein’s situation in Boston was a little bit more stable and comfortable when he took over the reins prior to the 2003 season. Matt Garza and Darwin Barney aren’t exactly Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez in their prime.
Between young players trying to learn the majors on the fly and dead weight veterans who don’t seem to care, there really isn’t any reason to be optimistic for Cubs fans. Alfonso Soriano (.255, 5 HR) should be required to wear a burglars mask to bat every game because of the $19 million he’s stealing from the Cubs this year.
Red Hot Angels
After sweeping the Mariners on Sunday, the Angels have now won six straight games and are close to getting back to .500. They’re still 6 ½ games behind the Rangers in the AL West, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism with Albert Pujols finally hitting the ball well. The starters have been performing at the level which they should be and the bullpen has been amazing, but the major component has been Pujols. After no home runs in April, Pujols has gone deep seven times in May with 22 RBI’s.
After guiding the Giants to three straight losses in April, Tim Lincecum looked as though he had turned the corner by winning his next two starts. Then May came and the Giants lost all five of Lincecum’s starts. He’s given up four runs of more in each of his last four starts and has a gigantic 6.41 ERA. His velocity is down a little, but he still has crazy movement on his pitches. It seems like in every game he has one key inning that he manages to not bear down.
Ian Kennedy started 2012 in the same fashion he closed out 2011 by being 3-0 in April during his first four starts. Since then, the D’Backs have lost their last six games with Kennedy on the mound and the righty getting tagged for the loss in the last five. Kennedy hasn’t pitched all that bad, which is evident by his rating that still makes him a large favorite in games. The real problem has been the D’Backs inability to score for him. In Kennedy’s last six starts, Arizona’s bats have produced only nine runs.
The Phillies were 24-8 last season in Roy Halladay’s starts, but are 4-7 this season. Halladay started the season 3-0 and the Phillies have gone 1-7 since. This isn’t about lack of hitting by the Phillies offense. Halladay has always been able to weather that storm and battle like few ever have in the game. Halladay left Sunday’s game against the Cardinals after two innings with soreness in his shoulder that will be examined Tuesday.
Ryan Dempster is having one of the best seasons among all MLB pitchers, but he’s 0-3. He currently has an ERA of 2.14, but the Cubs have gone 1-7 in his eight starts. In his last start on Friday at Pittsburgh, he allowed only one run in seven innings and lost 1-0. In five of his starts this season, he’s given up one run or less and the Cubs lost all of them. The only game the Cubs won while Dempster was on the mound was a game in which he gave up four runs, but wasn’t involved in the decision.