With the losses of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips to the disabled list, the Cincinnati Reds are in search of additional production to stay in the heat of the NL Central playoff race. While much has been written and discussed regarding who the Reds should trade for to replace the injured All-Star, perhaps the biggest wild card surrounding the Reds’ ability to move forward despite the injuries lies within one of their own healthy players – Jay Bruce.
While losing Votto and Phillips undoubtedly hurts the Reds, it isn’t like the team is losing their two biggest offensive producers (neither are in the top three). Picking up the offense all season has been Todd Frazier, Billy Hamilton and Devin Mesoraco. However, we cannot assume such production will be sustained, especially without the protection of Votto and Phillips in the lineup.
For the Reds to continue their success while adjusting on the fly, their winning doesn’t rely on making a trade to secure a new second baseman or first baseman. It relies on Jay Bruce. The first half of the season has been anything but memorable for Bruce. Despite recently breaking out of an 0-26 slump, Bruce is hitting just .233 on the season with a .315 OBP, 10 home runs and 41 runs batted in. In order for the Reds to make a play on the NL Central, they will need more from Bruce. Much more.
Bruce was plagued by injuries for much of the past three months, but his swing has also looked troubling at times. With 82 strike outs in just 266 at bats, Bruce is striking out at an alarming rate of almost 31 percent. To put that into perspective, he is reaching base as often as he is striking out this season — unacceptable for the Reds’ “power hitter”.
The importance of Bruce returning to form is about more than just the numbers he would produce, it is about the protection he would bring in the lineup to players such as Frazier and Mesoraco. What the Reds desperately need while missing Votto and Phillips is stability within their lineup. Without Votto and Bruce to protect Frazier, pitchers can be more aggressive to he and Hamilton. It’s a ripple effect that has lasting ramifications.
With a more consistent Bruce, who is able to instill even a little more fear in opposing pitchers, the Reds can continue to rely on their young stars to keep the team afloat until the team is healthy again. If Bruce is unable to regain his 2013 form, the Reds could be in trouble.
An optimistic sign for the Reds would be to look at Bruce’s numbers with runners in scoring position: .277 AVG, .342 OBP, three home runs, 28 RBI. If he can find a way to maintain those numbers throughout the next three months, the Reds will find themselves in playoff contention when October arrives.