Right fielder Jay Bruce is only a career .255 hitter, so a drop-off in batting average to just .234 this year isn’t exactly a shock. But the nosedive in power production for Bruce this year is a surprise, and it must change if the Cincinnati Reds have any realistic hope of fighting their way back from their current fourth-place standing in the NL Central to the top of the division.
For each of his first five seasons in the majors, Bruce hit increasingly more home runs in each year, starting with 21 in his rookie year of 2008 and ending with 34 bombs in 2012.
That streak broke for Bruce last year when he hit 30 homers, but he had a career high in RBIs last year with 109. That total enabled Bruce to extend his streak of increasingly more RBIs in each of his first six years in the majors. This year, Bruce has a mere 31 RBIs, which puts him on a pace to finish with his lowest RBI total since he drove in 58 runs in 2009.
Granted, he did have a stint on the 15-day disabled list this year, but even with that missed time, it’s clear watching Bruce that this is shaping up to be the most disappointing season of his career.
Bruce has been a streaky hitter from the start of his career, and this year has proven no different. The slump that he experienced this year was more prolonged than most in his career — he was batting just .197 at the end of May with just three long balls in the 38 games played to that point.
His production did spark in June, and it looked like he was ready to launch into full Jay Bruce mode. Bruce hit .300 with four homers and 17 RBIs in June. His year average hit .249 before dropping back to .234 after Bruce went 0-for-14 with six whiffs in his last four games.
Without Bruce producing his expected power surge, the Reds are going to find pushing runs across the plate as hard in the second half of the season as they did for most of the first half. And that spells a fourth-place finish in the NL Central.