The Reds have a nice cushion on the Nationals for the second NL Wild Card spot and are only 2 1/2 games back in the National League Central division.
Now comes a potential boost for the rotation.
According to C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, right-hander Johnny Cueto will start for the first time since June 28 this Monday in the Reds’ series-opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Cueto was out for about two and a half months with a strained right lat muscle and did not have the luxury of making a rehab start, so Reds manager Dusty Baker is trying to keep expectations low.
“We’ll see what we can get out of him,” Baker told the Enquirer on Sunday morning. “It’s worth a try, because he’s Johnny Cueto. The more we get out of him (Monday) and the more we get out of him the next time, maybe who knows what he’ll be ready for come playoff time.”
Cueto boasts a 2.67 ERA (151 ERA+) in 421 2/3 innings since the start of the 2011 season, but he’s made three different trips to the disabled list since switching to his Luis Tiant-style mechanics.
The Padres may have some interest in acquiring Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, according to a recent report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. It seems unlikely that the team would deal their starting third baseman with J.P. Crawford (fractured left hand) sidelined through July; to that end, however, they signed infielder Danny Espinosa as minor league depth on Friday and have reportedly been eying the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, among other veteran options.
Franco, 25, entered Sunday batting .255/.297/.425 with nine home runs and a .721 OPS in 229 plate appearances this season. While he has yet to live up to the .280+ average, 1.9+ fWAR he posted during his rookie campaign, he’s been a solid 20+ home run producer over the last few years and shown some stability at the hot corner. He’s also under team control for the next three years and could provide some much-needed insurance behind the Padres’ current third base option, 27-year-old Christian Villanueva.
Rosenthal notes that the Phillies could strike a deal for one of San Diego’s relievers, though no one specific has been connected to the team yet — and the club probably wouldn’t be able to finesse a one-for-one deal given the quality of the Padres’ pitchers. The Phillies’ bullpen has looked downright abysmal over the last month, placing 11th-worst in the league with a collective 5.34 ERA and 0.3 fWAR. Their failure to procure a viable reliever beyond Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos lends a certain urgency to any potential deal they make over the next few weeks, though the official trade deadline is still over a month away.