Back in April, if you would have told me that this team would be 49-41 at the All-Star break and in first place, I would have asked for some of whatever goofy gas it was that you were inhaling.

Not that I didn’t think that the Reds were on the rise. The strong finish to last season, coupled with the promising youngsters and gamer vets on this team, had to give fans reason for optimism.

Long gone are the days where Jimmy Haynes and Elmer Dessens were the “staff aces,” and it was up to guys like Willy Taveras, Brandon Larson, and Corey Patterson to deliver at the plate.

Still, even with the better talent in place, I figured teams like Milwaukee and Chicago would hang around, but as it stands right now, it’s a two-team race: us and the hated St. Louis Cardinals.

So what has gone right so far? I think first and foremost there are a lot of guys who have exceeded expectations—Mike Leake being the most surprising. Here was someone who wasn’t given much of a chance to crack the starting rotation, but he did, and he has delivered.

In sticking with the pitching staff, Bronson Arroyo has done what Bronson Arroyo does, which is eat innings. No shocker there, as Arroyo is as solid as they come. Beyond that, though, the success of Johnny Cueto, the recent success of Travis Wood, and the solid work by Aaron Harang are all very pleasant surprises.

In sticking with this “surprise” theme, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, and Jonny Gomes are performing better than many people thought. Joey Votto’s play last year suggested that he was ready to take the next step, which he has taken, but the numbers posted by the aforementioned names exceed what many people thought they could deliver.

Phillips batting over .300? Gomes near the top of the leader board in RBI? Rolen with 17 home runs already? Incredible.

As a team, you have to like their overall resiliency, with a bevy of come from behind wins. When things were looking bleak, such as a botched 10-game home stand, followed by a sweep at the hands of the Mariners, they bounced back.

Of course, it’s not been all good news. The bullpen, outside of Arthur Rhodes, has been shaky at best. Francisco Cordero inspires confidence in no one. With the trade deadline coming up, moves need to be made.

Should the Reds address other areas at the deadline, perhaps the bullpen solution lies within. Edinson Volquez and Harang are set to return. Arroyo/Leake/Wood/Cueto all deserve to keep their jobs, so something has to give. Further down the road, Homer Bailey will probably return, and then there is the question of when they will bring up Aroldis Chapman.

So many arms. Really, a nice problem to have, but how the Reds handle it will be key.

As for the offense, when you are atop the leader board in several offensive categories like they are, there aren’t many problems. Not to say that they don’t exist, though. Orlando Cabrera hasn’t gotten the job done at shortstop, and Drew Stubbs has had some painful growing pains. I’d like to see more consistency out of Jay Bruce, and with the return of Ryan Hanigan, overall production out of the catcher spot should improve a notch. 

To stay in first, and in the playoff race, the Reds will need the names I mentioned to keep outperforming what the back of their baseball cards indicate. Rolen, Phillips, and Gomes are all scuffling a bit. Is it just general fatigue that will be cured with the four days away from the game, or is it them regressing back to the mean?

Meaningful baseball in July, and in the second half? I like this concept. I’m not quite ready to start chanting “Who Dey!” quite yet.

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