Will The Indians Or Reds Heat Up Ohio In The 2nd Half?

The state of Ohio has enjoyed a good sports run recently. They won the national championship in college football with Ohio State, reached the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers and both teams looked primed for a lot more in the seasons to come. Baseball hasn’t gone so well, with the Reds and Indians each sub-.500 as the second half gets set to start tonight. But with the second wild-card in play, both teams are on the radar. Is there any reason to have hope?

I’ll admit to an emotional stake in favor of both teams, which is why I’m including the Reds when, quite frankly, they probably shouldn’t be. Cincinnati is as close as I have to a favorite National League team. I say “as close as I have” because I am a Red Sox fan and I’m not into the whole secondary team thing. I feel like it’s keeping a backup wife and I’m not a sports Mormon.

Nonetheless, in practice, I do tend to cheer for the Reds as long as they’re alive, and my pedigree as a Red Sox fan gives me great affection for Terry Francona in Cleveland. Along with the fact that as a writer, my all-time favorite client lives in the Cleveland suburbs and likes the Tribe.

Let’s start with the Reds, because the answer is the easiest—the answer is that they have no shot and I doubt even the most partisan Cincy fan would disagree. They’re 7 ½ games back of the Cubs for the last wild-card, but there are five teams between Cincinnati and Chicago. Moreover, they appear almost certain to trade staff ace Johnny Cueto in the next two weeks leading up the July 31 non-waive trade deadline.

If the Reds kept Cueto, it would be out of a belief that they could sign him to a long-term deal and still put a respectable team around him. It’s highly unlikely, but if that happened, there would be reason for optimism in 2016. Cincinnati’s been hit hard by injuries—Homer Bailey has been out for the year and Tony Cingrani has been injured, effectively strip-mining the pitching staff. In the everyday lineup, Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart are hurt and Cozart, along with Billy Hamilton simply needs to learn to hit.

Ultimately, Cincinnati is paying the price for foolishly letting Dusty Baker go after the 2012 season. I said when it happened that the Reds would indeed “reach the next level”, which is the justification teams always use for firing successful managers, but it would be the next level down, not up. Which is exactly what’s happened.

Now let’s move on to Cleveland, where prospects are much brighter. To begin with, the Indians are a bit closer to the goal than are the Reds. The Tribe is 5 ½ back of the last wild-card with four teams to jump. There are no trade vultures circulating the team and they have a great manager in the dugout.

Cleveland also has good pitching. After a slow start, Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber has settled into a nice season. Kluber, Trevor Bauer and the promising young Danny Salazar all have ERAs in the 3s. Carlos Carrasco is at 4.07. The Indians are seventh in the AL in ERA even with Kluber’s bad start and I think that ranking is going to keep improving in the second half.

The bullpen could use some depth, but at the very least Bryan Shaw has stabilized the ninth inning, with 11 saves and a 1.71 ERA. This is another area of the team that is going to be stronger in the second half than in the first half.

It’s the bats that have to wake up. Cleveland is only 12th in the American League in runs scored. Jason Kipnis is the best second baseman in the American League, with a .401 on-base percentage/.487 slugging percentage and he deserved to start the All-Star Game over Houston’s Jose Altuve. Although after the Kansas City Machine nearly elected Omar Infante, I’m certainly not going to complain too much about Altuve.

But Kipnis is to the Indians offense what LeBron was to the Cavs offense this spring—a guy who needs some help. Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and David Murphy are all having decent years in their own way, but the Tribe need a lot more depth to the attack and they need Michael Bourne to start getting on base.

It’s worth nothing that Cleveland has played significantly better after the All-Star break in both previous years under Francona. That’s why I see a second-half push coming and am standing by my preseason pick of the Indians as a playoff team.