Reds ‘thinking positively’ as second half begins with another important series

Tyler Stephenson interview (July 11, 2021)

Reds face four-game deficit in division

The Cincinnati Reds erased half of an eight-game deficit in an eight-game span before the All-Star break. They have another chance to climb closer to the top of the National League Central Division standings with a three-game series against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers this weekend.

Three straight victories on the road against the Brewers (53-39), who lead the division by four games, to end the first half couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The team feels really good right now,” starter Luis Castillo said Sunday. “We have a positive mindset. We’re hyping each other up. We’re thinking positively. We’re excited we finished like this and took the series from Milwaukee.”

The Reds (48-42) provided evidence in the first 90 games that they can contend all season and perhaps reach the postseason for the second straight year. Here are five reasons for optimism.

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1. Division success: The Reds are 25-13 against the Central Division. That includes an 8-5 record against the Brewers, who are 19-9 against the rest of the division.

The Reds play 10 of their first 13 games in the second half against divisional opponents. From Aug. 5 to the regular-season finale on Oct. 3, they play the Pittsburgh Pirates (34-56), who own the third-worst record in baseball, 13 times.

2. Favorable schedule: The Reds lost three straight games at home to the Arizona Diamondbacks in April, four straight at home to the San Francisco Giants in May and four straight on the road to the San Diego Padres in June.

The Reds are 10-20 against the Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies but play only one series against that division the rest of the way: Sept. 17-19 against the Dodgers at Great American Ball Park.

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3. Healthier roster: Michael Lorenzen moved closer to making his 2021 big-league debut by throwing a scoreless inning Wednesday for the Triple-A Louisville Bats. He has been on the injured list all season with a strained right shoulder. He has not allowed a run in four rehab appearances.

4. Castillo’s improvement: Castillo pitched into the sixth inning or beyond in his last eight starts after reaching the sixth inning twice in his first 12 starts. His ERA stood at 7.61 on May 23 and has declined in every start since. It stands at 4.65 entering the second half.

5. Outfielder excellence: If the Reds’ playoff odds continue to improve, so will Nick Castellanos’ MVP odds. He leads the National League with a .331 average and 29 doubles. He has 59 RBIs, three off the league lead.

“What he’s done has just been incredible this first half,” catcher Tyler Stephenson said.

FRIDAY’S GAME

Brewers at Reds, 7:10 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410