Among the many questions tweeted my way Thursday after the non-waiver trade deadline passed was this one, which I consider most salient for this season:

"Do the Reds have a puncher's chance of winning the Central?"

The boxing analogy doesn't really fit. There's nothing any baseball team can do to win the pennant in one moment.

But a really good streak, say two great weeks, could win the National League Central for the Reds.

Are they capable of that?

Sure.

But here's the big if. If Joey Votto returns, will he be some semblance of the gap-hitting, on-base machine that he was before he was injured? There's little chance that Votto is going to be the guy he was in 2010 when he won the MVP. But if Votto can return to his 2013 level, it improves the lineup enough that the Reds can get on a roll because of the pitching.

No one else is likely to run away with the Central in the meantime.

The Reds are 7-6 against Milwaukee head-to-head and 9-4 against Pittsburgh. The Cardinals have scored fewer runs than the Reds – and they felt they needed to add two starting pitchers at the deadline.

So the Central is winnable and a wild-card spot even more so. But the Reds offense has been so bad lately that they've seemed incapable of putting a sustained run together.

It's understandable that the offense has struggled. Votto and Brandon Phillips are out. They are replaced in the lineup by replacement level players or below.

The Reds weren't an offensive juggernaut with Phillips and Votto. Without them, they've been a two-run-a-night team.