Raisel rules late frames in Reds' first half

Votto thriving in midst of fifth All-Star season

Raisel rules late frames in Reds' first half

CINCINNATI -- The National League Central standings to end the first half were hardly predicted. The Brewers are in first place, while the defending World Series champion Cubs and perennial contender Cardinals are underperforming. One thing that could be seen coming is that the Reds reside at the bottom.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Although they are 39-49 and 9 1/2 games out of first place, the Reds were 29-30 and two games back on June 8 until a nine-game losing streak and 13 losses in 14 games put lead in their shoes. Manager Bryan Price has been pleased with the effort, despite the losses.

"The quality of our at-bats, not giving in, finding ways to scrap and get ourselves back into games we're behind has really been the calling card of the club, I think, in these close to 90 games of the season," Price said. "That's what I expect. That's the only expectation I have, that guys show up prepared to play and they do that every day."

Cincinnati's lineup, defense and bullpen is strong enough that the club felt it could think less about rebuilding and more about contending in a weak division with parity. Had the rotation -- which owns the Major Leagues' highest ERA and fewest innings pitched -- been slightly more consistent, the Reds would be challenging Milwaukee as one of the surprise teams of the first half.

Cozart's RBI triple

What went right
The regular lineup has shown some depth from top to bottom, and it has kept the Reds in games, even when there are early deficits. There were two 20-plus-home run hitters for the first half in Joey Votto and Scott Schebler, who has broken out this season following a slow start. Shortstop Zack Cozart has been hot at the plate for most of the first half, and he became a first-time All-Star. Pitchers benefited from fantastic defense -- especially Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall in the outfield and third baseman Eugenio Suarez and Cozart in the infield. The waiver claim of Scooter Gennett as a utility player turned out to be a steal. Gennett already has 15 homers, a career high, and 47 RBIs in only 209 at-bats. Raisel Iglesias has emerged as one of the game's best late-inning relievers.

What went wrong
The starting rotation has been woeful throughout the season. Cincinnati has used 13 different starters already, four shy of the franchise record of 17 in 2003. Bronson Arroyo's comeback from 2 1/2 years away was shut down in June because of a return of shoulder soreness. Several of the starting pitching prospects faltered and returned to Triple-A. Relievers were admirably able to pick up the slack for most of the first half, but the rotation's inability to work deep into games finally exposed some cracks in the bullpen.

Garrett's strong outing

What we learned
The Reds hoped 2017 would be the season that their cadre of young arms would show they are not only big league ready, but also good enough to bolster the rotation. That hasn't worked out for the most part, as seven of the starting pitchers have been rookies. Amir Garrett, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis and others had their moments but also their struggles. Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson were in the bullpen earlier this season, but they have not pitched well enough consistently as starters in Triple-A to get back to the big leagues.

Votto's two-run home run

First half top player (non-pitcher)
Unlike both 2015 and '16, there will be no first-half slump for Votto to dig out of in the second half. Batting .315/.427/.631 with 26 home runs and 68 RBIs, Votto has more than 20 homers before the All-Star break for the first time since he won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in '10. He hit 37 that season and 29 last year. Named an All-Star for the fifth time, Votto leads the NL in OPS and is in the top 10 in the league in hitting, homers, RBIs, runs, hits, total bases, walks, on-base and slugging percentage and extra-base hits.

First half top pitcher
It can be none other than Iglesias, who is 16-for-17 in save chances this season while owning a 1.69 ERA in 36 appearances. Price originally went into the season envisioning interchangeable options for the late innings, but Iglesias has emerged as the singular closing choice. From April 28-June 8, he had a 19-appearance and 20-inning scoreless streak. Price also isn't afraid to use the right-hander to get his final six outs.

Peralta strikes out the side

First half top rookie
Lefty Wandy Peralta isn't just a top rookie for the Reds, he's also been one of their more dependable relievers in 2017. Peralta, 25, leads the club with 40 appearances, and he has a 3.10 ERA. Over his past seven appearances, he retired 23 of 25 batters with six strikeouts.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.