Pressure points: Reds can't pull through

Pressure points: Reds weren't clutch

CINCINNATI -- There are certain indicators that help gauge whether a team is going places during a season. To this point, the Reds haven't shown well in many of them and aren't where they want to be.

For there to be a glimmer of hope that there could be a meaningful second half in Cincinnati, there's some work to be done. The Reds haven't played well within the National League Central Division, haven't fared well on the road and haven't taken advantage of playing against teams with losing records.


"I knew it would be tough when I got here," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You don't inherit [seven] losing seasons and not know it's going to be tough."

The one issue that seems to cause most of the others is offense. The Reds rank near the bottom of the league in team batting average, runs scored, hitting with runners in scoring position or the bases loaded, and during two-out scoring chances. They're off the pace in all of those categories since the 2007 season where there weren't juggernauts offensively, either.

The biggest struggle seems to be getting a baserunner down the final 90 feet with less than two outs. Potentially big rallies have a knack of consistently fading without really hurting opposing pitchers.

"I think when we have a runner on third base and less than two outs, sometimes we have to realize the pitcher is in trouble," said infielder Jerry Hairston Jr., one of the surprise offensive bright spots this season. "We have the advantage. Sometimes guys take it upon themselves that, 'I've got to get it done.' You might try too hard, but it's better than not trying at all."

Some of the scoring issues are a result of a team that's gotten younger quickly. Rookies Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are playing well under high expectations but are still prone to mistakes of the inexperienced. Brandon Phillips and Edwin Encarnacion are in their mid-20s.

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Veteran players like Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn have yet to take off at the plate. Other issues have hurt production, including a rash of injuries to players like Hairston, Jeff Keppinger and Ryan Freel. An attempt to use Corey Patterson as the leadoff hitter flopped. The Reds batted .218 in June, the team's lowest average for a month since May 1996.

Baker, always a hitter at heart, hasn't been thrilled with what he's seen from his lineup. But he said it wasn't unexpected. During his year away from managing in 2007, he was a television analyst at ESPN and saw similar issues.

"When you look at where we were last year in scoring [seventh], I think it was a bit overstated how much offense we had," Baker said. "They see home runs, but they didn't see runs scored. It's frustrated me but when I look at stuff last year, it was similar last year. You take Josh Hamilton's numbers out and it'd be pretty close to the same."

After his rookie season in Cincinnati, Hamilton was traded to the Rangers last winter for pitcher Edinson Volquez, who emerged as an unexpected NL All-Star following a superlative first half. Hamilton is also an All-Star. Both could compete for the Triple Crown in their respective categories.

Volquez has been one of the brightest of bright sides for the Reds this season. Another Dominican pitcher, Johnny Cueto, has been inconsistent but has shown flashes of his great talent. No one expected ace starter Aaron Harang to have double-digit losses already, but he has time to turn it around.

If the lineup can do likewise on its end, the Reds could make waves in the second half.

"We just need to get everything working," Hairston said. "Sometimes it seems that we pitch well and don't hit. Sometimes we hit well and don't pitch. If we could just get that together consistently, then we've got something. The talent is here."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.