By Hal McCoy
Pete Rose might be saying with that impish grin, “So, how am I looking now?”
Folks near-and-wide scoffed at him when he was afforded the chance to make the first wager when sports betting was legalized in Ohio.
He bet, probably facetiously, that the Cincinnati Reds would win the World Series.
The Reds are closer to that goal than the 100 losses and last-place finish most people believed.
The Atlanta Braves and Tampa Rays appear to be baseball’s first class citizens, but the Reds have stood up to the Braves in head-to-head battles and early in the season they took a game from the Rays in Tropicana Field, 8-1.
And most of those games were before the arrival of a carload of the Reds’ high-performing rookies.
So, after four days off for the All-Star break, the Cincinnati Reds pick up their bats and gloves Friday night in Great American Ball Park, wearing their black City Connect uniforms with a post-game fireworks display.
What the Reds need to do, though, is display some fireworks on the field, the way they do against most every opponent except the Milwaukee Brewers.
After losing two of three in Milwaukee before the break, the Reds host the Brewers Friday night for the start of a three-game series.
The Reds begin the second half with a one-game lead over the Brewers, but have lost five of the first seven against their No. 1 contender.
After Milwaukee leaves town National League West opponents San Francisco and Arizona visit GABP, then it is back to Milwaukee and a three-game series.
And it would behoove the Reds to crank it up against fellow National League Central opponents. They are 12-14 against the NL Central while Milwaukee is 17-9.
While the Brewers have outscored the Reds in the first seven games, 33-26, most of the games have been tight and exciting. Four runs have been the widest margins, 5-1 and 7-3 Brewers wins. The Reds won one game by 8-5.
The Brewers have beaten the Reds twice by one run, 5-4 and 1-0, and are adept in one-run games with a 16-7 record. The Reds are 20-16.
What do the Reds need to do in the second half, other than beat Milwaukee?
They surprised everybody in the first half, sneaked up on unware teams. Las Vegas pegged them for 65 wins. They already have 50. Las Vegas can be wrong, too, but not often.
What the Reds need to do is continue to play their old-school style baseball. Continue their all-out aggressivenes, continue to steal bases, continue to play hard until the last out, continue to play nose-to-the-dirt defense, continue to mix in well-timed home runs.
Will the rest of the league catch up to rookies Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Spencer Steer and pitcher Andrew Abbott?
It is doubtful, espcially with the balanced schedule that means there are a lot of teams the Reds have yet to face, a lot of teams that haven’t faced the pressure the Reds apply.
If there is one flaw, it is the pitching, particularly the rotatation that is still without Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo.
Manager David Bell has patched the void with bailing wire and duct tape. The team earned run average is 4.87. Only three last plce teams, Colorado, Kansas City and Oakland, have higher ERAs.
Cincinnati’s starters rarely make it past five innings, mean Bell has to wear a path from the bullpen to the mound nearly every game. The Reds lead all MLB teams with 332 relief appearances. Next closest is 317 by the injury-riddled Los Angeles Dodgers staff.
The Reds have worn a groove in I-71 between Louisville and Cincinnati shuffling pitchers. They have used 33 different pitchers, 24 out of the bullpen.
They lead MLB in bullpen innings pitched and the danger is fatigue. Closer Alexis Diaz was a strikeout machine up until a couple of weeks ago. He is still 26 for 27 in saves, but his strikeouts are down and he consistently puts runners on base lately.
In his last five one-inning closing appearances, he has give up at least one hit each time and two hits in last two appearances. But he escaped each time with no damage.
It brings up a major question as the August 1 trade deadline approacches.
Are the Reds in it to win it? They certainly are as proven by their willingness to not only call up rookies, but to play them every day.
Does that make them active on the trade market in seach of starting pitchers and relief pitchers?
Do they mess with success? Do they mess with karma? Do they take the attitude that if it isn’t broken, leave the tools in the box?
With Greene and Lodolo expected back shortly after the trade deadline, that would be like adding two starting pitchers, and two very good ones.
And the bullpen has been unexpectedly good on most occasions lately, with a hiccup here and there.
The decision, of course, is up to Nick Krall and so far Krall Ball is working.
Except against the Milwaukee Brewers. . .so far.