Many preseason predictions called it, but no one on the Reds believed they'd be mired at the bottom of the standings this season.
The reality matched the perception. At the All-Star break, that's exactly where they are. Cincinnati co-owns the worst record in the National League.
"I just want us to play better," closer David Weathers said. "I can understand where the fans get frustrated. We're frustrating."
"Our record is not what you want it to be," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "What more can you say?"
Not surprising, Jerry Narron was a casualty of the poor results and lost his job as Reds manager on July 1 when the Reds were a big league worst 31-51. Interim manager Pete Mackanin is in the dugout for an undetermined amount of time.
While one eye will be on Krivsky and the candidates for the permanent skipper's job, the other should be on the bevy of potential moves that could be made during the three weeks between the All-Star break and July 31 non-waivers trade deadline. The GM has a policy of remaining mum about potential moves, but reports from other cities have surfaced in recent weeks that Krivsky has called clubs looking to sell.
If the second half is anything like the first half, the Reds will be flirting with a 100-loss season for only the second time in a franchise history that goes back to 1869. The 1982 Reds went 61-101.
To avoid that dubious distinction, there must be course correction in the second half and it must begin with the bullpen. As the closer, Weathers has been the master of the save that requires more than three outs this season.
Complete coverage > That's been by necessity, not choice.
Coming off a breakout 2006, Todd Coffey has often struggled. Likewise for Mike Stanton, who was signed to a two-year, $5.5 million free-agent deal over the winter. Kirk Saarloos was demoted to Triple-A Louisville and returned last week. Veteran lefty Rheal Cormier was let go despite being owed $2.25 million in salary this year.
Of the two relievers acquired from the Nationals coming out of last year's All-Star break, Bill Bray has yet to pitch this year because of finger and shoulder injuries. Gary Majewski, who had shoulder issues last season and the Reds claiming damaged goods, started the year hurt. He was ineffective when he joined the club and is also back at Louisville.
The middle to late innings often fell to a large contingent of rookies or inexperienced pitchers like Jon Coutlangus, Brad Salmon, Jared Burton, Marcus McBeth and Michael Gosling.
The bullpen has taken the brunt of the criticism but there have been other accomplices. The rotation hasn't been consistent as a unit and the lineup has performed poorly in clutch run-scoring situations.
It has the Reds seeking to change both reality and perception -- and quickly.
"Any way you slice it, that's a bad record, especially for what we have in this room," Weathers said. "I mean, I think we all have got to look in the mirror and say, 'What can I do to make this a better ballclub?' Not 'What can I do to have a better season for myself? What can I do to have more RBIs, or more wins or more strikeouts? What can I do to make this a better ballclub?'
"Until we get to that point where you can say, 'No matter what, today I'm going to give my one-ninth,' we'll continue to struggle. We've got to forget individual stuff and try to come together as a team."
The Reds will have to climb a few stratospheres in the National League Central standings to catch the first-place Brewers. As it is, they'll have to play .700 ball just to reach .500 for the season.
"We've played as bad as we could possibly play or anyone could play," said left fielder Adam Dunn. "Any other division and we'd be 27 games out. Anything can happen. We still have half a season left. I don't think we're out of it until we're mathematically eliminated. We're a really good month from getting back into it -- not from taking over the lead -- but right back in it."My thoughts on the 1st half:No one would want trade places with the Reds this season, except maybe in one regard.
If you're going to struggle, do it in the National League Central, the weakest division in baseball this year. Cincinnati shares the National League's worst record. In any other division, the basement would feel more like an underground bunker at the Earth's core. That's why the Reds feel they have a chance to rise up.
"You have to stay positive and go out there and have fun," Reds rotation ace Aaron Harang said. "Once this game is not fun, it's hard to want to do it anymore. There are still a lot of games left. You can't give up yet. If you get to where we are now with a month left, it's a little different story. Anything can happen still."
For the record to improve, Cincinnati needs to find some sort of traction in the second half. Too many series slipped away in the third and deciding game during the first half. There were few winning streaks and none of more than three games.
Too many bullpen leaks, not enough clutch hitting and struggles by starting pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Kyle Lohse have all played a part in the club's woes this season. The Reds, who were surprise contenders last season before finishing 80-82, will try to keep from sinking deeper in the second half.
"Just win as many games as we can," general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "Nothing has changed in that regard."
Club MVP: Ken Griffey Jr. has been mostly healthy and has thrived offensively during his first season as a right fielder. He remains capable of being a game-changing clutch hitter at any time. Honorable mention must go to closer David Weathers, who has essentially been a one-man band from the Reds bullpen.
Call him 'ace': A 16-game winner last season, Aaron Harang has been the lone Reds starter that can claim consistency this season. If he continues on the current pace, his wins and strikeouts total should again be among the NL leaders.
Greatest strength: There is no shortage of home run power. There are six players with double-digit homer totals, with Griffey and Adam Dunn among the league leaders. Brandon Phillips, Josh Hamilton, Alex Gonzalez and David Ross are the others.
Biggest problem: The bullpen has hemorrhaged runs this season and helped speed the decline to the bottom of the standings. Other than Weathers, no one has stepped up -- especially in the seventh and eighth innings. The club often relies on rookies to handle the job and none has secured a foothold of reliability.
Complete coverage > Biggest surprise: Did anyone see Josh Hamilton on the radar screen when he was acquired in last December's Rule 5 Draft? After nearly four years out of baseball because of drugs and injuries, the former 1999 overall No. 1 Draft pick emerged as the Reds' starting center fielder and ranks among rookie leaders in every offensive category. He's been stellar defensively, too, and his left arm is gaining the reputation as one of the best outfield cannons around.
Team needs: Bullpen help, bullpen help and more bullpen help.
Oh, doctor: The most significant first-half injuries were to Ryan Freel and Hamilton. Freel missed over a month with a concussion and contusions because of a May 28 outfield collision with Norris Hopper. Hamilton missed two weeks from May 22-June 4 because of gastroenteritis. Starting pitcher Eric Milton has been out since May 9 and will miss the rest of the season because of reconstructive elbow surgery.
He said it: "Everybody is working hard to improve themselves. You're not going to find a quitter on this team." -- Krivsky
Mark your calendar: The Reds play the first-place Brewers 13 times in the second half, including July 23-26 and Sept. 7-9 at home and Aug. 17-19 and Sept. 14-16 at Miller Park. The Dodgers and Padres visit from Aug. 7-12 and the Mets are in town from Sept. 3-5.
Fearless second-half prediction: Look for the Reds to try to sell assets in the next three weeks before the July 31 trade deadline. That should clear the way for prospects and could mark the arrivals of first baseman Joey Votto and pitcher Phil Dumatrait, among others.
Everything that can go wrong did. The Reds started the season 4-1, but then went 27-50 to fall to 31-61 before Jerry Narron was fired and McKanon won 5 of the last 6 going to the break. Ross and Arroyo regressed, Gonzalez dissapointed with the glove, Edwin didn't spring off a great freshman campaign (although he has recovered as of late), and the bullpen was simply awful. Loshe was inconsitent, as was Homer, and Belisle has been bleh. Junior, Dunn, Harang, and Weathers are the only 4 players that did not struggle. All those reasons are why the Reds are 36-52 coming out of the break.
2nd half preview:
The Reds find themselves 13 games back of the Brewers, and it probably should be more. Somebody who is optimistic might say the Reds still meet the Brewers 13 more times this year, and if the Reds can rip off about 8 in a row coming out of the break would find themselves back in the race at 44-52. Even that's a stretch and I'm not that optimistic.
I am looking forward to the 2nd half though. The 2nd half can bring you some hope for 2008. It gives us the chance to restock the farm systems by trading guys like Dunn, Weathers, Hatteberg, and maybe Griffey. It also presents the chance to see the likes of Joey Votto, Phil Dumatrait, Pedro Lopez, Chris Dickerson and others. We can continue to see the young guns like Phillips, Hamilton, Bailey, and Encarancion develop.
The only thing that could make me upset in the 2nd half is if the Reds stand pat and don't at least seel a few things. Lets see the young kids.