Seven Cincinnati Reds storylines to watch in the final two months of the season

·7 min read

Now that the trade deadline passed and the Field of Dreams game is in the rearview mirror, there are no major events left on the Cincinnati Reds’ schedule.

Playoff hopes faded when the Reds opened the season with a franchise-worst 3-22 record and a large chunk of the roster is filled with young players auditioning for spots on next year’s team.

For people who aren’t scoreboard watching the third-place battle in the National League Central among the Reds, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, here are seven storylines to watch throughout the final two months of the season:

1. Will the Reds lose 100 games?

The Cincinnati Reds coaching and training staff watch as Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India (6) takes his base after being hit by a pitch during the first inning of a baseball against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.
The Cincinnati Reds coaching and training staff watch as Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India (6) takes his base after being hit by a pitch during the first inning of a baseball against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.

The 1982 Reds were the only team in club history with more than 100 losses with a 61-101 record. The Reds entered Saturday on pace to finish with a 64-98 record, which would be the franchise’s most losses in a season since 2015.

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The Reds, to their credit, have played better since their horrific start to the season. Injuries were a factor in their start, along with trading several key contributors during spring training. Their 41-45 record since May 7 is one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers (41-43).

“I think just getting comfortable,” said Tyler Naquin, asked about the 3-22 start earlier this week. “A couple of new faces. Guys maybe trying to do too much, I’m not real sure 100% what it was. We had a real tough couple of weeks there to start it out but evened it back out.”

Of course, several of the players who helped the Reds play near .500 in the summer months are no longer with the team because of trades or injuries. The rotation doesn’t look the same without Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, and it’s not a surprise the lineup is struggling without Tyler Stephenson, Brandon Drury, Naquin and Pham.

2. How will the trio of rookie starters finish the year?

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Nick Lodolo (40) delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Nick Lodolo (40) delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.

Left-hander Nick Lodolo had an opportunity to showcase himself on the national stage when he started Thursday’s Field of Dreams game. The first inning snowballed on him after he hit a batter with two outs and the bases empty in a 0-2 count, but teammates continue to rave about him.

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“In my opinion, he’s got as much potential as any of the young starters of ours,” Joey Votto said when he was mic’d up in the third inning of the Field of Dreams game.

Hunter Greene is on the 15-day injured list with a right shoulder strain, but he’s expected to return this season. Graham Ashcraft gave up one earned run in his first 14 innings this month (0.64 ERA).

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene arrives to the clubhouse with the rest of the team, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene arrives to the clubhouse with the rest of the team, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.

Ashcraft may reach his innings limit in September, but the other two rookie starters should be OK after missing time with injuries.

“That first two, three years of your career, you see what this league is really about,” Votto said during the Field of Dreams game. “It’s funny, I always say the Major Leagues is the easiest place to play, but you have to be equipped for it. I found when I got called up to the Major Leagues that the balls were better, the stadiums were better, the scouting, everything behind the scenes and the game on the field is built for the players to succeed, but it will absolutely swallow you. It will gobble you up if you don’t have the skill, if you don’t have the talent to be able to handle the rigors of the dailyness of this game, a 0-for-4 turns into a 0-for-24.

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“With Nick, he’s in that phase where he gets to find out what he’s really about. He gets to learn and adapt to the league, change his game because that’s inevitable. You’re going to have to make small and major adjustments in this game. He’s in that window.”

3. Can Jose Barrero prove himself as an everyday shortstop?

Cincinnati Reds shortstop Jose Barrero (2) celebrates a double at second base during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Jose Barrero (2) celebrates a double at second base during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.

After brief stints in the Majors in 2020 and 2021, Barrero is receiving an opportunity to prove himself as an everyday starter. He’s arguably the best defensive shortstop in the organization, but there are questions about his approach at the plate.

These two months won’t determine everything for next year, but it’s a chance for the 24-year-old Barrero to show he’s as big a part of the Reds’ future as the injured Stephenson and reigning Rookie of the Year Jonathan India.

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"Now, it’s like learning to command ABs, learning to be able to put yourself in good hitting counts and stuff like that," hitting coach Alan Zinter said. "That’s what he is trying to accomplish. He’s been a little aggressive when he’s here, maybe putting a little pressure on himself. He’s a human being. There is a lot to deal with."

4. Who will be in next year’s outfield?

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Aristides Aquino (44) stands in right field during a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.
Cincinnati Reds right fielder Aristides Aquino (44) stands in right field during a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.

It’s an important two months to solve next year’s outfield equation. Aristides Aquino was the primary beneficiary of the trade deadline because he’s receiving everyday playing time. Aquino was designated for assignment earlier this year, so this could be his final chance to unlock his potential with the Reds.

Nick Senzel entered Saturday with a .612 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), well below the .709 league average. The Reds are pleased he’s been able to stay healthy this year, but at some point, the conversation will turn into his offensive production when more prospects arrive at the big-league level. His offensive output is near the same level as Albert Almora Jr., who was signed to a minor-league deal.

Jake Fraley returned from the 60-day injured list and looks more like he was advertised when the Reds traded for him. He is one of the team’s best defensive outfielders and he typically hits well against right-handed pitching.

5. Is Justin Dunn the real deal?

Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) reacts after striking out New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (not pictured) to end the second inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) reacts after striking out New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (not pictured) to end the second inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It was an emotional return to the mound for Dunn on Monday, his Reds debut, his first time in the big leagues in more than a year because of shoulder injuries and he was pitching next to his hometown in New York.

Dunn is expected to remain in the rotation for the rest of the year, and it will be an evaluation period for whether he’s a better fit as a starter or reliever in 2023. Dunn, who turns 27 next month, had a 3.94 ERA in 24 starts with the Seattle Mariners from 2019-21, but his high walk rate makes him a candidate for the bullpen.

6. Where will Alexis Díaz finish the year?

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Alexis Diaz (43) delivers a pitch during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Alexis Diaz (43) delivers a pitch during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.

Díaz has been sensational in his rookie season, turning into the team’s most reliable bullpen arm after skipping Triple-A, and he has a chance to finish with one of the best seasons from a reliever in recent Reds history.

Entering Saturday, Díaz had a 1.90 ERA through 42 2/3 innings. The list of Reds pitchers to complete a season with at least 40 innings and ERA below 1.90 in the last 30 years include: Jeff Shaw (1998), Aroldis Chapman (2012, 2015), Jonathan Broxton (2014) and Trevor Bauer (2020).

Díaz has retired 28 of the 33 batters he’s faced since the All-Star break, giving up one earned run while striking out 13.

7. Joey Votto milestone watch.

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) steps out of the batterÕs box and smiles during his at-bat in the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) steps out of the batterÕs box and smiles during his at-bat in the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the MLB Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa.

Votto is approaching 2,000 career games, which he admitted is a stat that carries a lot of weight to him. In the lineup for Saturday’s game, he’ll match Larry Walker for the most games played by a Canadian-born player (1,988).

He’s eight homers from 350 in his career and he’ll need a strong two months to push his career batting average (.298) back above .300.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Seven things to watch in the last two months of Cincinnati Reds season