The Cincinnati Reds had everyone buzzing last week. Six straight victories, their longest winning streak of the season by two games, put them in the thick of the National League Central Division and wild-card races.
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After taking 3-0 leads in the first inning on their way to victories against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday and Friday, the Reds had a 3-0 lead in the first inning Saturday, too, and appeared on their way to winning a series on the road against one of the top teams in the division.
However, starting pitching, the team’s strength, failed the Reds two straight days in 6-5 and 7-5 losses, and they find themselves right back in the spot they have occupied most of the season: last place in the division, albeit tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates at 36-40.
The Reds had an off day Monday as they traveled to California. They start a two-game series against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday. They will reach the midpoint of the 162-game season Sunday in the finale of a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park.
For fans frustrated about the team’s inability to get back to .500, here are three reasons to think they might get there in the weeks ahead:
1. Help on the way: Although Reds starters rank third in the National League with a 3.76 ERA, one starter could lose his job soon when or if Alex Wood returns to the big leagues. Wood, who the Reds acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in December, will start for the Triple-A Louisville Bats on Thursday.
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Wood is expected to throw a bullpen session Tuesday and then begin his rehab stint two days later against Toledo at 7 p.m. in Louisville. He has been on the injured list all season with a lower back strain.
Wood threw 21 pitches in live batting practice Monday at Great American Ball Park and threw 42 pitches in another live batting practice session Saturday in Milwaukee
2. Division is winnable: Through Sunday, the Chicago Cubs had the worst record (42-35) of any first-place team. They had a half game lead on the Brewers (42-36). The Reds and Pirates were tied for last place, only 5½ games back.
In any other division, the Reds would be at least eight games out of first place, and in most divisions, they would be in even bigger holes. A year ago at this time, the Reds were 44-57 and 14½ back.
3. Joey Votto heating up: In the last month, the Reds first baseman has raised his average from .208 to .260. He went 3-for-4 Sunday with a three-run home run.