The next three weeks are critical for the Reds.
Between today and July 31, the Reds have only three home games.
Factor in that the Reds are 21-24 on the road and one can see why this stretch of playing 14 of 17 games on the road is vital to the Reds staying within sight of first-place St. Louis.
Starting Thursday, the Reds have a four-game set at Atlanta. After the All-Star break, they play three at home with Pittsburgh. Then comes the nightmare swing to the West with three in San Francisco, four in Los Angeles and three in San Diego to end the month.
Itís easy to see why Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is keeping his phone handy as the July 31 trading deadline approaches.
The Reds stand 51-40, five games behind first-place St. Louis entering Thursday night. The pitching has been solid, as the Redsí team ERA of 3.39 ranks fourth in the league.
The problem has been getting consistent hitting from someone besides Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. The team batting average of .249 ranks ninth in the league.
The Reds are ninth in hits and fourth in runs. Speed is almost non-existent, as well, as they rank 14th in the league in stolen bases with 26.
Jocketty is looking for help in the outfield and possibly third base. The problem is most teams start trade prattle by asking about prized prospect Billy Hamilton, who stole 155 bases in the minors last year. Heís hitting .245 with 50 stolen bases at AAA Louisville this year. Teams also inquire about lefty Tony Cingrani, who has stepped into the rotation for Johnny Cueto and gone 3-1 with a 3.30 ERA.
Right now the Reds donít want to part with Hamilton or Cingrani.
Another possible trade chip is right-hander Robert Stephenson, who throws high 90s and is 5-3 with a 2.82 at Class A Dayton. The first-round pick in the 2011 draft has 88 strikeouts in 70 innings.
Hereís a quick look at the Reds in the first half:
Even with ace Cueto going on the disabled list for the third time, the rotation has been steady.
Mike Leake (8-4, 2.69) has turned the corner, much like Homer Bailey did a year ago. Mat Latos (8-2, 3.18) has deserved at least five more wins.
Bailey (5-7, 3.70) continues to show heís grown in his command and control. Arroyo (7-7, 3.55) is a master of his off-speed repertoire. Cingrani appears to be for real.
Overall, the starters have a 3.34 ERA.
The pen has had its share of hiccups, with 10 blown saves, but has performed well of late. There was an adjustment period, as roles were juggled with Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton both going on the disabled list.
The penís ERA has dropped to 3.51, thanks to closer Aroldis Chapman (2.45, 20 saves), Alfredo Simon (2.93) and Sam LeCure (2.10). J.J. Hoover (3.79) and Manny Parra (3.97) have pitched well the last few weeks.
Marshall is expected back at the of this month, which would give this group a huge boost.
Vottoís power numbers are down from his MVP season of 2010 when he hit 37 home runs. But heís still hitting .318 with 15 home runs with an on-base percentage of .431. Brandon Phillips took a nose dive when he was hit with a pitch, hitting .209 in June. He appears to have recovered and is hitting .264 with 67 RBIs.
The left side of the infield has been strong, defensively, but not much with the bat. Shortstop Zack Cozart is hovering around .230. Todd Frazier shows occasional signs of life, but is hitting .241. Getting Frazier back his .273 average of a year ago is critical.
Ryan Hanigan has been banged up and is back on the disabled list with a wrist injury. He was hitting only .193. Devin Mesoracoís bat hasnít been a lot better at .238.
Hanigan has a great arm and is very underrated behind the plate. Heís throwing out 52 percent of runners who have tried to steal. He led the league in throwing out baserunners (45 percent) last season. Mesoraco is throwing out 22 percent.
Left field has looked like a Chex cereal mix since Ryan Ludwick went down with a dislocated shoulder on Opening Day. Xavier Paul (.248) and Derrick Robinson (.258) are both fill-in types with little power.
Shin-Soo Choo hit .337 in April, but his average has tumbled down to .277. Part of Chooís issue is that heís hitting only .165 against lefties.
Bruce is close to All-Star status at .272, 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.
The pitching has carried the team in the first half, but itís past time for the offense to pull its share of the rope.