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NL Notebook: Where will Reds end up?

@matthewhleach
June 22, 2019

The Reds have taken a very strange route to get to a place that’s just about where most people figured they’d be right now. The question, then, is where they go from here. And that’s a tough question to answer until you decide what you think of how they got

The Reds have taken a very strange route to get to a place that’s just about where most people figured they’d be right now. The question, then, is where they go from here. And that’s a tough question to answer until you decide what you think of how they got here.

Which, well, is yet another tough question.

The only thing easy to figure about this Cincinnati team is its place in the standings. The Reds are a bit below .500, at least on the fringes of contention in the National League Central and the Wild Card race. If someone had told you in March that that would be the case in late June, you’d probably have nodded, thinking, “Sure, that makes sense.”

But what if that someone had told you they would be there by scoring the third-fewest runs in the NL? And allowing the fewest? That might have grabbed your attention. The Reds’ pitching looked like it would be improved, but not so much as to be the best in the NL. And their offense certainly seemed primed to be more than a bottom-feeder.

The weirdness doesn’t end there. Despite the Reds’ 36-38 record entering Saturday, they have a +51 run differential that better matches a 43-31 mark. It’s the NL’s third-best run differential, a very encouraging sign.

So surely, if they just start winning some one-run games, they’ll be right in it, right? Well, they’re 12-15 in one-run games, not exactly an anomalous number. Maybe they’ve been unlucky by a game or two, but not seven.

So maybe it’s the bullpen. That’s often a factor when a team underperforms its Pythagorean record. And maybe it is. But maybe it isn’t. Because the Cincinnati bullpen, like so many other things about this club, tells two different stories depending on how you look at it.

They have the best bullpen ERA in the NL, and the second-best in the Majors. They have the best bullpen WAR (per FanGraphs) in the Majors. Their relievers have allowed the fewest runs in the NL. That’s all good.

However, they also have the most relief losses in the NL. That’s right, the fewest bullpen runs allowed, and the most bullpen losses, of any team in the NL. Go figure.

So what you should expect from the Reds depends on what you see. If you see a pitching staff that will keep it up and an offense that will benefit from the return of Scooter Gennett, you may very well see a contender. If you see a rotation and a bullpen that will come back to earth, you may expect a seller by the end of next month.

Either way, it’s hard to argue.

Player of the week

Three years ago, Ketel Marte hit one homer and struck out 84 times in 119 games for Seattle. In April of this year, he hit six homers and struck out 24 times.

So far in June? Seven homers. Six strikeouts.

As recently as 2017, Marte was a light-hitting, glove-first shortstop. In mid-'19, he’s a slugging center fielder-slash-shortstop-slash-second baseman with an offensive profile that resembles no one so much as Justin Turner. And he’s taken it to another level this month.

Since the start of June, Marte has a .395/.437/.741 line with seven homers, five doubles, six strikeouts and six walks. He’s combined the plate discipline gains he made in 2017-18 with the power surge he started showing early this year. And he’s done it all while making multiple starts at three up-the-middle positions.

Stat of the week:

Quick: who leads the Majors in home runs against left-handed pitching? Surely it’s Pete Alonso, right? Maybe Mike Trout or Edwin Encarnacion?

Nope.

It’s a left-handed hitter who slashed .226/.305/.376 against lefties last year. It’s Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers' slugger, who’s third in the Majors in plate appearances against southpaws, has absolutely pummeled them. He has a .359/.459/.728 line against same-side pitchers, with 10 homers to lead the Majors, and more walks (18) than strikeouts (16).

Looking ahead: Series of the week

The Braves were hot even before they added Dallas Keuchel to their rotation, and FanGraphs’ playoff odds list them as the NL’s second-best bet to make the postseason at 86.7 percent. Who’s third on that list at 82.1 percent? Why, that’d be the Cubs, who host surging Atlanta for four games beginning Monday.

It’s unwise to get too far ahead of ourselves in June, but at the moment, this looks like a fairly likely Division Series matchup. The Dodgers are threatening to run away with the NL’s best record, in which case they would face the Wild Card Game winner. That would leave the champions of the East and Central to face each other, and right now that looks like Chicago and Atlanta.

Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.