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The Reds Rotation: Achilles' Strength or Achilles' Heel?

Usually, rainouts are a bummer, but considering what the Brewers have done to the Reds over the past two days, maybe it’s for the best that this four-game series won’t conclude until late August.  Losing two of three to your division rival is a reality-check; losing three of four is a gut-punch.  Mercifully, today’s steady rain gave the Reds a much-needed breather.

It’s safe to say this series didn’t go how most of us expected – especially after the Reds opened with a 10 - 8 win on Monday night.  The three pitchers the Reds were set to face were Aaron Ashby (missed all of 2023 with a shoulder injury), Joe Ross (making just his second appearance in the MLB since 2021), and Wade Miley (making his first start of the season).  Not only were the Reds fortunate to miss Brewers ace Freddy Peralta, but they were also fortunate that their two hammers, Frankie Montas and Hunter Greene, were both set to start games two and three, respectively.  The Reds were set up for major success after their win in game one.  Sadly, that optimism was short-lived.

Montas and Greene both struggled in their starts against the Brewers, particularly Greene.  It’s frustrating.  After looking like potential All-Stars following their first two starts, both Montas and Greene fell back to Earth hard.  The Brewers have a good lineup, sure, but they aren’t Murderer’s Row here.  They aren’t even as threatening as the 2024 Yankees, but they made Montas and Greene look pedestrian.

Maybe this shouldn’t have been surprising.  The Reds’ recent history against the Brewers isn’t pretty.  Montas and Greene had looked pretty good to start the year, but two games is a wildly small sample-size.  The Brewers have an underrated lineup too.  Christian Yelich is a former MVP, William Contreras is one of the best hitting catchers in the Bigs, and Willy Adames broke Robin Yount’s Brewers record for home runs in a single season by a shortstop in 2022.  But let’s face it: if the Reds are going to do anything this year, they have to put up more resistance against divisional opponents.  The past two days were not encouraging in that department.

There’s still plenty of season left.  They play the Brewers ten more times (including a double-header on August 30).  In four months, this series could look like an absolute aberration.

The Reds starting pitching is their greatest strength.  Montas has pitched like an ace in the past, and Greene has the kind of stuff that Cy Young winners have.  These two at the top of the rotation should give the Reds a chance against anyone. At the same time, their inconsistencies (Montas with his health and Greene with his command), could derail the Reds’ long-term hopes.  For as powerful as the Reds rotation could be, it’s also their Achilles’ Heel.

This volatility extends to the rest of the rotation as well.  Nick Martínez would be better off in the bullpen, but right now he’s the Reds’ number three starter.  Andrew Abbott is a bulldog on the mound and looked like a stud in 2023, but opponents might be catching up with his less-than-spectacular stuff.  Graham Ashcraft is as liable to throw seven, one-hit innings as he is to allow seven runs in one inning.  The inconsistency isn’t just at the top – it’s everywhere.

Nick Lodolo’s return to the rotation can’t happen soon enough.  The Reds need a jolt of high caliber starting pitching, and even though Lodolo has struggled to stay healthy during his short career, his array of pitches are as electric as anyone on the Reds roster.  Ideally, he replaces Martínez, who moves to the ‘pen to reinforce an already-beleaguered unit, but even if Lodolo replaces Abbott or Ashcraft (or if the Reds adopt a six-man rotation), his presence is an extremely welcome addition.  Outside of Montas and Greene, there really isn’t anyone in the rotation with sit-the-hell-down stuff.  Lodolo fixes that.

The Reds lineup has looked strong so far, but they’ve had their ups-and-downs too.  The bullpen looks far more vulnerable this year than last.  The Reds need their rotation to come through.  It’s possible, but it’s not a comforting notion either.

Of course, context is everything.  Montas pitched in one game last year before losing his season to injury.  The fact that he's been this good after so much time off is reassuring.  And for as frustrating as Greene’s start against the Brewers yesterday was, this has also been the best start to a season of his career.  He’s gone six innings in two starts, currently sits at third in the MLB in strikeout rate and has showcased significantly better control of his slider (at least, he did against the Nationals and Mets).  Things aren’t peachy-keen, but it definitely hasn’t been a disaster either.

There’s a long way to go from now until playoff-time, but the Reds will need their rotation to take another step forward if they have any intention of usurping the Brewers for supremacy in the NL Central.  They have the players.  They have the talent.  They have to improve.  Otherwise, the Reds season could be undone by the very thing that made it so promising.

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