The second half of the Major League Baseball season begins for the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.
They finished the first half on a hot streak, but they are still in last place in the National League Central.
A postseason appearance may be out of the question, but there are a lot of things the club can accomplish between now and October.
Here are some thing to keep an eye on.
1. What will Billy Hamilton do?
The speedy centerfielder looked like he was playing himself out of town early in the season, but he has started to turn it around lately — including a .311 batting average and a .373 on-base percentage so far in July.
On the season, his average (.230) and stolen bases (22) are down, but his OBP (.310) compared to his career marks.
Of course he’s still a plus defender no matter what he’s doing at the plate, but it will be interesting to see what his numbers look like when all is said and done.
2. Will the bullpen hold up?
Once everyone was in place, the Reds’ bullpen became one of the most reliable parts of the team in the first half of the season.
Raisel Iglesias has been fantastic as expected as the closer, Amir Garrett found a successful niche as a set-up man and Jared Hughes and David Hernandez both have ERAs under 2.0.
The group has been leaned upon heavily, though, so it is fair to wonder if anyone will break down before the season comes to an end.
3. Will the starters improve?
The Reds rotation continues to be a huge disappointment overall. The group has the lowest WAR (wins above replacement) in the major leagues according to Fangraphs, and that’s not the most alarming part.
The worst three ERAs among Reds with more than five starts belong to arguably the three who were being counted upon most before the season began — Homer Bailey (6.68), Luis Castillo (5.49) and Anthony DeSclafani (5.32) — while the best starter (Matt Harvey) is not likely to be a Red beyond the trade deadline.
Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle have had their ups and downs, which is to be expected from youngsters, but strong finishes to the season could lock down spots for 2019 and give management less to worry about.
Ditto bounce-backs by Bailey (who was good in his most-recent outing for Triple-A Louisville), Castillo and DeSclafani.
4. Who will still be here?
As mentioned, Harvey seems certain to be trade bait because he will be a free agent in the offseason. The team could negotiate a long-term deal with him, but it’s unknown if he would be interested in that or how much it might cost.
There are numerous other trade candidates, though at this point how likely any of them are to be sent out is in question.
Scott Schebler going on the disabled list this week muddles the picture even more, but he and Adam Duvall could both add some power to a contending team looking for more offense.
One or more of the relievers could be moved, too, but the team might decide to keep that group together to build for next season.
Scooter Gennett was thought to be a trade candidate, but he recently said the team has talked to him about being around long term.
Everyone but Harvey is under team control for next year if not longer.
5. Who might be called up?
Robert Stephenson has been coming on lately.
Stephenson, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, is coming on. The righty hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a start since June 6, has won four in a row and lowered his ERA to 3.29.
He seems like a lock to get a look with the big club before the season is out.
As for position players, Dilson Herrera is already here.
Nick Senzel is hurt.
Outfielders Gabriel Guerrero and Phillip Ervin are having solid seasons in Louisville, but Jose Siri (Double-A) and Taylor Trammell (advanced Class A) are better prospects at this point.
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