As much as it pains me to say it, the Reds are almost assuredly not making the playoffs in 2019. Fangraphs has their playoff odds at just 1.1%. So if you want to insert your “So you’re telling me there’s a chance” meme here, go for it. But there are some real pieces on the current team that leave me feeling like the 2020 Cincinnati Reds have a chance to do some real damage with a few moves to round things out in the offseason.
For me, we got a chance to see that in the most recent series against the San Diego Padres. The Reds lost 3-2, won 3-2, and won 4-2 in the 3-game series. Three games played and just seven runs allowed. And the Reds ran out their top three starting pitchers – the three guys that they will be relying on to anchor the rotation next year.
Trevor Bauer started the first game against the Padres. An error led to an unearned run, and ultimately that would be the winning run for San Diego. The right-hander gave up two earned in 7.0 innings, walked just one batter, and he struck out 11 batters while giving up just five hits.
Sonny Gray started the middle game of the series. He allowed just one run over 6.0 innings and allowed just four hits. Gray did walk three batters in the game, but he countered that with 10 strikeouts.
Yesterday afternoon the Cincinnati Reds picked up the win and the series behind Luis Castillo. He didn’t rack up the same strikeout totals that Gray and Bauer did, only fanning four batters in the game. But he gave up just one run in 6.0 innings, walked no one, and allowed five hits.
The starting pitching in the series was dominant. They combined for 19.0 innings, four earned runs, 14 hits, four walks, and they had 25 strikeouts. Those three guys showed what they are capable of. They showed what kind of dominance they could have. And it left me dreaming about what kind of damage those three guys could potentially do in a playoff series.
But it wasn’t just the rotation that was outstanding over the three games against San Diego. The bullpen allowed one run in the series. The bullpen allowed one hit in the series – a solo home run given up by Lucas Sims. All told the relievers threw 8.0 innings of 1-hit baseball, walked just two hitters, and they struck out 10.
This team isn’t perfect. And surely there has been some less-than-stellar performances, even of late from some of these guys (Bauer and Castillo’s previous starts were both subpar). The bullpen seems to go through times of struggle and successes, and there’s even been changes of late.
There may be a little bit more dreaming on the bullpen than on the rotation – at least at the top. Sonny Gray is on a run right now that in most years would put him right into the thick of the Cy Young Award talk, but with what Hyun-Jin Ryu is doing right now, it’s just not going to get as much traction. In August, Gray has allowed one run in 24.0 innings with 34 strikeouts. That’s an ERA of 0.38 for those keeping track at home. It’s dropped his ERA to 2.92 on the year. He’s pitching like a top of the rotation pitcher in today’s game.
Luis Castillo’s start prior to the one against San Diego ballooned his ERA. After today he’s just behind Sonny Gray with a 3.04 ERA. For most of the year he was considered the Reds best pitcher, and for good reason – he was. But Gray has now at least caught up to him, if not passed him.
And then there’s Trevor Bauer. In 2018 he had far and away the best season of his career, posting a 2.21 ERA in 175.1 innings for Cleveland. Prior to his injury late in the season he was arguably the Cy Young Award favorite, but losing out on a handful of starts probably cost him. But other than that season he’s never had a year in which his ERA was under 4.18 at the end of the season. This year his ERA sits at 4.06. It would be his second best season of his career. He’s got a very Homer Bailey like feel, but outside of his 2018, he hasn’t quite been as good as Bailey was before he got injured. There are times in which he can be absolutely dominant. But there are also times when he is a bit mediocre and can’t put it together. It results in an above-average, but inconsistent performance.
Still, just as we saw from Homer Bailey in the playoffs, when he’s on, he is absolutely on and dominant. That’s what Trevor Bauer can be. It’s what he has been at times. And when you can couple that guy with Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, it’s real easy to dream of the damage that trio can do in the playoffs. There’s work to be done to get there. But don’t stop dreaming just yet.