Mike Leake took his first loss tonight and the Reds bats failed to solve Clayton Kershaw. Add it all up, and the Reds walk away with a 6-2 loss to go with their 12-0 drubbing in the rain last night. The Reds haven't been playing well lately, and they've got to right the ship quick with a tough schedule coming up before the break. Fortunately, St. Louis hasn't been able to take advantage of the Reds' lackluster play. The two teams are currently tied for the division lead, but that says more about both teams failures than their taking advantage of opportunities before them.
The Reds wrap up a ten game homestand tomorrow. During that span, the Reds are 3-6. While it is true that the Giants and Dodgers are playing good baseball right now, good teams need to win their home games. And there's no excuse for dropping two of three at home to the Royals.
Over that same span, the Cardinals have been every bit as bad. They were swept by the Dodgers in LA. (Hopefully the Reds can avoid the sweep tomorrow night.) They lost a series to the lowly Diamondbacks as well. At least they won the series against the Mariners, despite tonight's loss.
The problems appear to be significantly different for the two teams. The Cards scored five runs just three times over that span. They also allowed five runs only three times. The Reds, on the other hand, were able to put up five or more runs in five of their games, but the pitching was terrible, allowing five or more runs in a whopping seven games.
The Reds bullpen has been so bad that the Reds called up Jordan Smith from AA Carolina to make his debut last night. Smith got the promotion despite boasting a 5.08 ERA and a K/9 of less than 4.5 for the Mudcats. Somehow, this was seen as the best move the Reds could make. I believe that Smith got the call because (1) he was already throwing relief, (2) he was on the 40-man roster, and (3) he's been very good in recent outings albeit in a small number of innings. (Had they called up someone not on the 40-man roster, they'd have had to make room for him by releasing someone or designating them for assignment, meaning other teams could claim him.) It's still a puzzling move. (Of course, I thought the Rolen trade was puzzling too, and that worked out well for the Reds.)
Ultimately, I think the Reds are going to have to look at giving Aroldis Chapman, Matt Maloney, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, Sam LeCure, or Edinson Volquez some time in the bullpen. That's six very good arms, and the Reds only need one of them in the rotation. It seems to me that at least one if not two of these pitchers ought to be looked at as relievers in the Cincinnati bullpen for this season. Next season is a different matter entirely, and that bridge can be crossed at an appropriate time. The notion that these pitchers are starters and can't be used in relief is just nonsense. Nick Masset was vying for the fifth starter spot last year and seemingly instantly became a key cog in the bullpen at the start of the season. It can be done. Earl Weaver used to break in young pitchers in bullpen roles all the time. The Yankees (Chamberlain), Red Sox (Papelbon), and Rangers (Feliz) have all employed the approach in recent years with stud prospects. Sometimes the conversion is a permanent one, and other times it is not. With the talent available, it's time to put some of it to use now.
The important point here is that right now the Reds have a golden opportunity to make some noise in the NL Central with the Cards playing poorly. If they're going to take advantage though, they've got to get more from their bullpen. They've got enough good young arms in the system to cover whatever injuries might be in store for the rotation and yet still be able to provide immediate, significant help to the struggling pen. They should send one or two of those arms to the bullpen now, before the Cards turning it around and a tough upcoming schedule leave the Reds in a familiar hole later this summer.