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Reds mid-term report card lacking high marks

This is a new version of summer school. It's the time of year when the Boys of Summer face their mid-terms and, consequently, their report cards.

In other words, it's time to grade the Cincinnati Reds on their performance for the first half of the season.

A quick look at the standings shows the Reds with a 40-44 record heading into Saturday night, four and one-half games behind Central Division leader St. Louis.

Let's see. Below .500 would be below "C" level. Unlike San Diego which is flunking all subjects with a 31-56 record, there is a very good chance the Reds can reach or surpass the .500 mark, so we'll give them a C-minus.

However, the Reds starting pitching is hooked up to life support just yet, but there have been some Dr. Kovorkian sightings.

With a major league-low 15 wins and 6.15 earned run average by starters, no wonder Reds general manager Jim Bowden is looking to expel a few pitchers and replace them with upgraded versions. Give this group a D-minus. Only a few quality starts recently keep this grade from being an "F."

In order to improve the starting rotation, Chicago White Sox's Bartolo Colon, Pittsburgh's Kris Benson, Florida's Brad Penny, Baltimore's Sidney Ponson and the New York Yankees' Jeff Weaver are back on Bowden's wish list, but opposing teams always ask for Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn in return.

It doesn't take a genius, or even Bowden, to know that trade will never be placed on any test.

The bullpen has been the saving grace for the pitching. It would be easy to give this group an "A," but a couple of blown saves lately bring that mark down a notch.

Bowden has been dangling lefty Gabe White and durable Scott Sullivan as trade bait, not just because the bullpen is a productive commodity, but also because White makes $3.25 million and Sullivan $2.8 million.

Speaking of a productive commodity, Jose Guillen has been the Reds best player the first half of the season offensively with a .358 batting average, 17 home runs and 44 runs batted in.

So is Guillen trade bait? Probably not since the oft-injured of Ken Griffey Jr. is always a question mark. The Reds can't get rid of Griffey because he makes $10 million a year. Manager Bob Boone and the Reds are going to have to bite the bullet on this one and drop Griffey from the three spot in the lineup. No one else in baseball would let a guy batting .245 with eight HRs and 20 RBIs occupy the top hitting slot in the batting order.

Overall, the offense has been very productive. The offense has proven just how potent and dangerous it can be by the fact the Reds have a league-leading 21 wins in the their final at-bat.

Conversely, the Reds lead the majors in number of times they've struck out. That forces the curve- and fastball - to be a little lower. We'll give the offense a B-plus.

On the flip side, defense gets a D-minus. While there have been some outstanding defensive plays and the outfield is full of rifle-like arms, the Reds lead the league in errors.

If the old adage holds true that pitching and defense win championships, the Reds are in serious trouble on both accounts.

In the running game, Aaron Boone has a team-high 12 stolen bases. Nothing to strike fear in opposing teams. But since most teams don't run much anymore, give the running game a C-minus.

Well, this isn't the kind of report card you rush home to show mom and dad, or, in this case, Reds fans. But if the Reds hit the books hard the second half, and Bowden can pull the trigger on a few deals for starting pitching, and the defense can show improvement, this team could at least graduate with honors.

Hmm. Maybe we'd better look into hiring some tutors.

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.