Cincinnati Reds at the All-Star break: Votto clear choice for MVP

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Who is Joey Votto: Ten facts about Reds first baseman

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Offense has been good enough for Reds; starting pitching holding them back

On April 1 at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, two days before Opening Day, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price and General Manager Dick Williams gave their final preseason thoughts on the 2017 roster.

“This is kind of the group we’ve been talking about, in particular with the young pitching,” Price said.

“There will be growing pains,” Williams said. “We’re all going into this with eyes wide open, but we feel these players have positioned themselves well to take the next step and learn their next lessons at the big-league level. I think they’re going to surprise some people.”

TOP PICK SIGNS: Greene a Red after deadline deal

Every season brings new hope. The Reds buoyed those hopes in the first five weeks of the season and then dashed them in the next month.

At the halfway point of the season, through 82 games, the Reds were on pace for 70 wins. That would be a two-win improvement over last season and a six-win improvement over 2015. They beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1 on Sunday to reach the All-Star break at 39-49, 11½ games back in the National League Central Division.

HAL MCCOY: Yes, Hunter Greene deserves the hype

The offense looks good enough to compete for years to come. The relief staff has made huge strides since 2016. The starting staff ranks among the worst in franchise history. In short, as usual, there are reasons to be optimistic and reason to be pessimistic. Here’s a recap of the first half:

MVP: This is an easy pick most seasons, as long as first baseman Joey Votto is on the roster — and even easier this season. Slow starts plagued Votto the last two seasons. This season, he broke out of an early slump in the third week of the season, and he has not slowed down. He ranks third in baseball with 26 home runs, second with a .631 slugging percentage and fourth with a .427 on-base percentage. He made the All-Star team for the fifth time in his career and first time since 2013.

WATCH: Ten facts about Joey Votto

Most improved player: Shortstop Zack Cozart is having a career and was rewarded with a starting spot in the All-Star Game. A career .253 hitter, he's hitting .316.

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Who is Zack Cozart: Seven things to know about Reds shortstop

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Best subplot: Votto promised to buy Cozart a donkey if fans voted Cozart into the All-Star Game. He plans to deliver on his promise sometime after the break.

Top starting pitcher (veteran division): The Reds signed free agent Scott Feldman in January. It's hard to imagine where they would be without him. He's the only starter with a winning record (7-6). He's the only starter with an ERA under 4.00 (3.76).

Top starting pitcher (rookie division): Luis Castillo has made only four starts, but it's hard to not get excited about what he's done. He's 1-1 with a 3.13 ERA. He earned his first career victory Saturday by tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Rockies.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Derby steals All-Star spotlight

Best reliever: Raisel Iglesias seized the closing role and has been almost as dominant as former Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. He's 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA and 15 saves in 16 opportunities.

Worst pitching performance (veteran division): Bronson Arroyo returned to the mound after more than two years away and could not recapture the reliability that made him a such a strong part of the rotation from 2006-13. He was 3-6 with a 7.35 ERA in 14 starts before this season was cut short by injury.

Worst pitching performance (rookie division): Amir Garrett looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate in his first three starts, allowing four earned runs in 19 innings. In mid-May, the Reds sent him to Triple-A Louisville because they were worried about his workload. He was never the same after returning to the rotation May 18. He was 3-6 with a 7.41 ERA in 12 starts. He's now back in Triple-A.

LOOKING BACK: Ranking rookie starts by Reds in last three seasons

Most injured: Brandon Finnegan was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the pitching staff. He was limited to three four starts because of three injuries. He suffered the most recent injury, a torn labrum in his right shoulder, away from the field. He required surgery and won't pitch again this season.

Top newcomer: Scooter Gennett delivered the best moment of the season and one of the most memorable in Reds history, hitting four home runs on June 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 5-for-5 with 10 RBIs. He's hitting .317 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs.

WATCH: Gennett’s makes history

High point: The Reds beat the Giants 3-2 on May 11 to improve to 19-15.

Low point: The Reds were 13 games under .500 twice, most recently on June 26 (31-44) with an 8-2 loss to the Cardinals. That was their 13th loss in 16 games.

Longest winning streak: The Reds won five games in a row from May 3-7.

Longest losing streak: The Reds lost nine games in a row from June 9-18.

Trending up: With Devin Mesoraco sidelined again, catcher Tucker Barnhart will return to an everyday role. He's hitting .344 in his last 13 games.

ASK HAL: Firing Price would defy logic

Trending down: Starter Tim Adleman (5-6, 4.71) has not lasted more than five innings in his last four starts. His ERA has jumped almost half a point since June 16.

Outstanding stat: The Reds are tied for fourth in the National League with 125 home runs. Votto (26 home runs), Scott Schebler (22) and Adam Duvall (20) are on pace to break the franchise record for home runs by a trio. Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Lee May hit 119 home runs in 1970.

Ugliest stat: Reds starters have an ERA of 5.91, almost a point worse than the second-worst starting rotation in the National League (Miami Marlins, 4.99).

WAR leaders: In baseball's trendiest stat (wins above replacement), Votto ranks eighth in baseball (4.01). Cozart ranks 30th (2.98). Gennett ranks 84th. Here are the WAR numbers for the other starters: Eugenio Suarez (2.4); Duvall (2.0); Barnhart (1.9); Schebler (1.6); and Billy Hamilton (0.6).

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