Last night was ugly. Last night was painful. And there’s just no way that all of this can continue for the Cincinnati Reds, right?

The offseason was full of signings that got everyone excited. Mike Moustakas was coming in and bringing a middle of the order bat to help an inconsistent offense. Shogo Akiyama was coming in to help the outfield and become Cincinnati’s first Japanese player, making them the last team in Major League Baseball to have one. Wade Miley, who was in the American League Cy Young race up until September, was going to join a strong rotation as one of the back end guys. And then the Reds went out and added another middle of the order bat by signing Nick Castellanos.

All of that led to the Reds being the division favorites in a close division. The same publications that all seemed to think that Cincinnati was the division favorites also raved about their rotation being among the best in all of Major League Baseball.

2020, with all of the insanity that it has brought us – this was the year that the Cincinnati Reds had the team they’ve been trying to build, hoping to build, wanting to build. And on Opening Day, things looked great. Sonny Gray dominated and the Reds offense handled the Detroit Tigers pitching and all was well with the world, if only for a brief moment.

Since then the team has gone 4-8, struggled to find any sort of offensive consistency as they’ve had multiple everyday players miss time for various reasons, but also had nearly everyone available slump all at the same time, and the bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster.

This team is simply too talented to look like this, right? The rotation has been the best in baseball according to Fangraphs so far. They have a 2.57 ERA through 13 starts and are striking out 33.6% of the hitters that they’ve faced. It’s been everything that was advertised and then some.

But the bullpen has been the exact opposite of that. After last night, the Reds bullpen has an ERA of 7.65. They are hardly alone this year in having a bullpen that’s been terrible. The Phillies and Cubs both have bullpens with an ERA over 7.00, and two other teams are also over 6.00. But the Reds bullpen has struggled to throw strikes – they’ve walked 11.5% of the hitters they’ve faced – and they’ve given up more home runs per 9-innings pitched, 2.48, than any team in baseball. That rate of home runs allowed is more than TWICE the Major League average in 2020.

At the plate the team is hitting .198/.310/.377 on the year. They are drawing walks – they are third in all of baseball in walk rate at 11.9%. The power for the team is middle of the pack, ranking 12th in isolated power (SLG-AVG). But they haven’t been able to find hits to save their lives, ranking 28th with a .198 batting average. A part of that is due to their league worst .224 BABIP. The league as a whole has their BABIP down from where we normally see it by about 20 points. The Reds, though, are about 70 points below where the league average normally falls.

Cincinnati ranks 13th in the league in line drive rate, but 26th in hard hit rate. However they also rank 2nd in medium hit rate, and 27th in soft hit rate (meaning 26 teams have made more soft contact). All of this suggests that they’ve been very unlucky at getting hits and it’s not exactly a matter of them just not making good enough contact to get hits.

Between an unlucky offense that’s been missing Mike Moustakas for a third of the games, missed Nick Senzel for a few others, a bullpen with a home run rate that in almost no possible way could continue to be this high – things almost have to get better on both the offensive and bullpen fronts.

But the problem is that it’s been this bad already. Normally things rebound over the course of the season and normalize. This year the time frame to normalize is much smaller. The bullpen ERA at the end of the year probably won’t normalize – they’ve been too bad for too long of a period of time compared to the season. The other side of this, too, is that while the rotation is very good, it’s not going to perform as it has for the remaining 47 games.

2020 has brought us the weirdest of times and for Cincinnati it’s carried over to baseball, too. If this team remains relatively healthy, it’s a much better team than they’ve played like so far. They’ve been both unlucky, and bad. The good news is that more than half of the league makes the playoffs this year, and that the Reds should play much better than they have moving forward. Getting to the playoffs is what matters and this year it’s a lot easier to do that. Get things right, get in the playoffs, and see what the talent can do.

59 Responses

  1. Charlie Waffles

    Bats are afraid?
    Quick, we need to get Jobu a cigar and a bottle of rum. Somebody find us a live chicken and we are ready. Exorcise those hitting and bullpen demons.

    • Doug Gray

      Live chicken? I saw that bucket of KFC work.

    • Keith

      Fire Bell ! I gave him benefit of doubt last season when the starting 8 ( other than Geno and Aquino for a month ) underperformed. BUT, he is making the SAME mistakes with the Pitching Staff this season. If your Starter is CRUISING thru 6…LET HIM CRUISE ! Sparky and Lou had a quick hook because Sparky has Carroll, Hall, Bourbon, Eastwick AND MacEnany…Lou had “The Nasty Boys” ! ALL of those guys would have been CLOSERS for other teams ! Bell ( at the current time ) has NO ONE close to a “Stopper” coming out of the “pen”! So, unless Ricky Vaughn is ready to come out of retirement…Bell needs his Starters to go as long as they can !

  2. Kim

    Yes, must remain optimistic given how early it is, this is a team that can turn it around though that needs to happen NOW. If they can do just enough to grab a playoff spot they can beat anyone with the 1-3 starters, very few teams can match us there. Suarez really needs to step up and help lead the offense with Cast and Moose, I have to wonder if he’s still not 100% back following the surgery, he’s just off, but you keep putting him out there every day until he knocks off the rust and figures it out. Galvis and Shogo have been really struggled as well. Do you see them calling up Garcia, Doug?

    • Sean D

      I just think it’s a simple thing of not seeing the ball well. Breaking balls are destroying him, at his best he smashes breaking balls but right now you can pitch him just like the 6’ 6” massive minor leaguer with a career .200 BA and .500 SLG making his major league debut.

      • Charles Lackey

        For several years the REDS have gone downhill. This year was suppose to be different but not so. NO BULLPEN AT ALL, NO HITTING TO BE FOUND same old thing over and over. Of course I am not a major League ballplayer and not on a big league team but the talent , on paper, there is no way the team should be this bad. PERHAPS TOO MUCH FRONT OFFICE BUTTING IN?

    • steven ross

      In a 60-game season, it is not early.

      • Kim

        I’m saying purely from a number of plate appearances its a very small sample size regardless of whether the season started in April or July. I understand that’s magnified by a 60 game season, but it’s early from a pure number of plate appearances to know if changes need to be made yet

      • Doug Gray

        Right. Josh VanMeter was 0-14. If he were a starter that’s 3 games of trips to the plate. But we’ve seen people literally calling for not just his optioning to Prasco (which happened), but to just release him because he’s not good enough to play in the Majors (which is a bit much given that he was actually in the Majors for 95 games last year and was, at worst, a good bench piece).

        We’re all wound up and some of us are severely overreacting for a multitude of reasons.

      • Michael E

        I agree with Steven. I think the point was, not the few ABs, but the fact they now have to play .600 ball just to end up .500 with only 48 games remaining. If they go 3-6 over the next 9, they’ll have to play .666+ ball the rest of the way.

        It’s NOT early as far as the team and 2020 goes, and if they slump on more week, they’re finished barring a 28-14 finish.

  3. Sliotar

    “Between an unlucky offense…”

    It’s not all “unlucky.” Some (several) hitters just maybe aren’t that good.

    Let’s compare leadoff hitters of other NL contenders from the last 2 days.

    Leadoff hitter
    Cubs – Kris Bryant
    Dodgers- AJ Pollock and Joc Pederson
    Braves – Ronald Acuna, Jr.
    Nationals – Trea Turner

    Reds – Shogo Akiyama … who has negative WAR (-0.2) and 54 wRC+.

    Braves ran Acuna/Swanson/Freeman 1-2-3 last night.
    Cubs ran Bryant/Rizzo/Baez 1-2-3 last night.

    In 2020, I would take Swanson, and for sure, Rizzo, over Votto to do more damage batting 2nd.

    If Suarez turns things around, things would look much better.

    But, maybe, this is a team that needs to bunch it’s 4 or 5 dangerous hitters at the top (move up Senzel), and accept that excellent starting pitching and low-scoring games is the path to any success.

    • Doug Gray

      No, not everyone is unlucky. But a lot of them HAVE been unlucky. And that’s what we are talking about – the offense as a whole has been incredibly unlucky.

      • Jim Walker

        Bill Russell’s axiom has always been it better to be good than lucky because the good find a way to make their own luck.

        Don’t if that fits at all here but I wonder if part of the problem is that the Reds hit the ball hard right into the teeth of lots of shifts just like the defense hoped they would.

        If this is the case then perhaps there another level of adjustment required just like batters and pitchers are always adjusting to each other.

  4. Sliotar

    FanGraphs has the Reds playoff odds at 50.3%

    If the team keeps limping along like this for another week or 10 days, “scrambling” to make the expanded playoffs might be an understatement.

    Not to mention if the Cardinals or Phillies go on a run with their games in hand.

  5. daytonnati

    Unless and until the Reds find a lockdown type setup and closer, the starting pitching is nullified. We are 4-8. We could easily be 8-4.

    • Doug Gray

      The Cubs bullpen has been just as bad as the Reds. It’s not just the bullpen or closer that’s the issue right now. The Cubs bullpen is a trainwreck, and their closer can’t close, but they are 10-3. They’ve scored 1 extra run per game than the Reds have. They’ve given up 0.21 more runs per game, too.

      • scotly50

        The Reds need to adjust their hitting philosophy. They seem to be overly consumed with exit velocity and launch angle.

  6. Roger Garrett

    I think for me its the 60 game season because over the long haul of a 162 game season our players are just as good on paper as anybody else in our division.Thus its no accident some picked us to win the division.The short season says whoever is the quickest out of the gate has the best chance to win and that should not be a secret to anybody.My point has been and I have said it many times what happens if guys get off to slow starts and more importantly what if the team does as well?We have and after last nights fiasco what do you do about it.Things have to turn around for the Reds right is Doug’s title but I don’t think they have to unless changes are made.This team must win games right now but what do you do?Bell can’t just will his guys to suddenly start hitting nor can he just set and pray they do.Some how he must get it across to everybody the importance of playing as a team.To try to move up runners to try and just put it in play with runners on to choke up and go the other way with two strikes.Now this is so simple yet may be so far beyond anybody to do or even try but its ok to play for a run or two early by and I really hate to say it by bunting There I said it and I know what the numbers say and I agree but we have to do something to at least give us a chance to score and score early.Last night was such a classic example of who we are at the plate.Lead off double and Winker doesn’t move.As simple as it may sound 2 ground balls and we get a run against a sinker baller no less.I am done because I don’t really have the answer but hoping it gets better is so consistent as to how this team plays.

    • Charles Lackey

      Perhaps this team doesn’t want to win. Just about every player is in the multi million contract, playing and winning may not matter anymore. I hate to write something like this but what else can be wrong. I hope the Reds team prove me wrong..the wins will prove if I’m wrong or right. Does the team care at all?

      • Doug Gray

        The wins, or losses, will not prove you right or wrong, Charles.

      • Matt WI

        Charles, that statement about millionaires is true of literally every team. If money impacts desire, how does every team not perform poorly? Such a reach.

  7. Bred

    In a short season the only stats that matter are Ws and Ls. The Cubs went 5 and 1 against the Pirates and KC. The Reds 3 and 3 vs the Tigers. The Cubs also took 2 of 3 against the Brewers and Reds. The Cubs have put up enough runs to cover their pen while the Reds have not.

    • Ed

      I think, that in a long season the only stats that matter are Ws and Ls. Someone please check me on this.

  8. Old-school

    Reds are 5-8. I wish they were 8-5.
    I’d bunch their best hitters with Senzel leading off and Shogo hitting 9 then turn over the offense.

    Bottom line though is this season will be dependent upon performance against the NL Central.

    They get a chance this weekend to beat the Brewers and get back to 1 under or .500 while putting the brewers 2 under or 3 under .500.

    That’s got to be the approach. Win series against your competitors .
    Reds will have a 7-3 or 8-2 stretch at some point.. Might as well start now.

    • KetteringRedsFan

      Deeper question:

      On a purely analytic level, I tend to agree with, or at least understand, what Doug is trying to get across. There is a significant likelihood that the team will ultimately play up to its norms and, yes, there have been some good bat contacts that have played into outs..

      On another level, though……….

      Yet again, the Reds are slow to get out of the gate at the start of a season. That has been the one -consistent- observation over the last several seasons. The 60 game anomaly this year only makes it more glaringly obvious (and costly) than it has been. Take the bad starts out and the Reds have tended to be a .500 (slightly +) team with historically weaker pitching stats. So they -ought- to be .500+ based on the credentials of the current roster.

      But they aren’t.

      Which makes me ask whether there are psychological or mental preparation issues at work or whether the preseason routine doesn’t give enough prep to the frontline starting roster, resulting in them being late to the party.

      Just speculatin’ (which is dangerous with only 20% of the schedule in……) and without any hard evidence either pro or con.

      (I suppose I should be glad that, since every game this year is worth 2.7 in a “normal” year, we aren’t getting 2.7x the usual rain delays and postponements……..)

      • Tom Mitsoff

        What have we learned so far about the new acquisitions?

        Shogo Akiyama — definitely will need some time to adjust from the Japanese game to the U.S. game, particularly in the pitching he’s facing. He’s swinging wildly at pitches in the dirt. I expected a much more disciplined approach at the plate from him.

        Mike Moustakas — inconclusive due to so many games missed due to injury.

        Nick Castellanos — fantastic hitter, lousy defensively. David Bell MUST replace him defensively in the late innings of games when they are ahead. If that is going to make him unhappy and want to opt out, so be it. He’s clearly a DH who wants badly to play defense. Unfortunately, he plays defense badly.

        Wade Miley — see Moustakas

        Nate Jones — clearly tries to get strikeouts on the slider that breaks down and away from right-handers. But that pitch is so far out of the strike zone most of the time that the catcher has to make miraculous plays to block it.

        Pedro Strop — can’t throw strikes consistently. (Pretty much the case for the whole bullpen.)

        Matt Davidson and Travis Jankowski — meh.

        Tejay Antone — fabulous. Looks like he has a fantastic future (and maybe present).

        Small sample size? Sure. But we’re the equivalent of 35 games into a 162-game season with about a 14-21 record. It definitely feels that way to me, and it has to change very quickly.

      • Don

        agree with you assessment Tom.

        Shogo needs some time, he just looks overwhelmed by MLB pitching.

      • Old-school

        Reds pregame on the radio first series did a segment on fast starts. Don’t remember everything x reds NEVER start fast. I forget the definition of fast start- something like first place and 7-8 games over .500 after 40 games

        The 2006,1990,1970 team only ones.

    • indydoug

      Reds without a rain-out cannot be 1 under after this weekend. Best case is a sweep which would put them at .500. Two out of 3 puts them 2 below .500. Same with Brewers who cannot be 2 under after this weekend without rain-out/cancellation.

      • KeteringRedsFan

        (Actually replying to old-school)

        Out of context.

        Was -not- saying that the Reds NEVER start fast.
        -Was- saying that, in recent and relevant time, they haven’t started fast.
        2006, 1990, 1970 would be considered ancient history when we are looking at trends like 2020-2019-2018-2017 that have bearing on the current regime/system.

        We have had a visible tendency to put ourselves 6-7-8 games down right at the start and then having to spend much of the season digging out of that hole.

        (Just clarifyin’, not criticisen’)

      • KetteringRedsFan

        And, to top it off, can’t even spell my screen name correctly. Hope it’s not going to be -that-type of evening.

  9. seadog

    Anything can happen. Even in a 60 game season Dumb and Dumber quote—“What are the chances of us getting together?” One in a million—Lloyd “yes, there is a chance.” About sums up how we all feel.

  10. Tom Mitsoff

    Every game is important in this shortened season. After the three-game series against Milwaukee, the Reds then have eight straight against Kansas City and Pittsburgh — two teams the Cubs just decimated in a similar sequence of games.

  11. ClevelandRedsFan

    I’m very surprised to see the Reds are third in walks and about middle of the road in strikeouts.

    For the Reds moving forward I have 3 BIG questions:
    Does GABP naturally tend toward a lower BABIP? Smaller outfield, so more fly balls/line drives end up in the stands or in gloves. That could be one reason why Reds’ may seem unlucky. However, that same effect would hit opponents too.
    Luck or hitting into shifts? I’ve only seen Castellanos, Barnhart, Shogo hit the other way with regularity. Votto is a guy who stands out. We all talk about how unlucky he has been with hard line drives right at the first baseman. But teams are playing him that way.

    What would the results be if the Reds tried to hit against the shift and go opposite field? Think more strategic hitting than just brutes smacking the ball.

    Last night, Ramirez’s triple wasn’t hit that hard. He just lifted a soft liner into right field. Same with the hits on Tuesday and Wednesday.

    • Doug Gray

      I haven’t looked re: BABIP GABP, but if it is moving the needle, it’s by a matter of a few points, not tens of points.

    • Indy Red Man

      Good point. I’ve thought that for many years. GABP has to be the smallest OF in mlb. Maybe the new Yankee stadium or Camden? Of course that affects both teams, but we’ve had some slugging/slow OFers over the years that have no range like Dunn, cheeseburger version of Jr., Gomes, Winker, etc

  12. docproc

    I hear that Yelich is off to nearly as bad a start as Suarez. I hope Eugenio is the first of those two to breakout this weekend in MIL.

  13. SultanofSwaff

    Good write up Doug, even if the mood today isn’t here for it.

    With the Cardinals out of action again, the doubleheaders they (and tonight’s opponent the Cubs) are piling up. This might exacerbate the Cubs bullpen struggles and help reel them back in. The Cardinals have their own bullpen issues as well. You’d think the situation favors the Reds, but I’d much rather see them take charge of their own destiny.

    • SultanofSwaff

      …..and don’t expect any big moves from the front office. DW more or less said yesterday that they’re going to stay the course.

      • Doug Gray

        Which should come as no surprise to anyone. 16 teams make the playoffs this year. What team is going to be like “nah, we’re throwing in the towel on this season”? Sure, maybe 2-3 of them, but most aren’t going to. So the trade options, unless you’re willing to really overpay, probably won’t be there.

      • Old-school

        @ Doug. Any news/ updates on Brandon Finnegan. He was just added to.player pool. Is working in the Boddy/ DJ program?.

  14. Tom Mitsoff

    By the way … the first 60 minutes of tonight’s game might accurately be called the Bauer-Lauer Hour.

    My CDs are on sale in the lobby. I’m here all week.

  15. Roger Garrett

    There won’t be any moves by us but this could be the last time we see Nick or Bauer in a Reds uniform and these two guys are really good.So the urgency to win and win starting tonight is really really important.These guys are studs and they won’t be back more then likely anyway but if this team doesn’t win you get bet they won’t be back.What the other teams are doing or not doing is good info but that means nothing.After all we were said to beat up on the Tigers and we know the Indians are going no where and the Cubs have no pen and their starters aren’t that good etc etc.Time we kick it in gear and lets go.

    • Bred

      I think you spot on about Nick and Bauer. Nick will get a big pay day especially if he is willing to DH, and Bauer will be looking for a larger market to upgrade his Bauer Outage platform. Both of them seem to be high intensity guys passionate about winning. If Disco has a good season, he is a goner too.

  16. Indy Red Man

    I know Castillo flies under the radar with the Reds hitting & bullpen issues, but 4.76 is not gonna cut it? I haven’t seen any of his starts this year, but I’ve never seen a guy that throws so hard with so little swing-n-miss on his fastball. It has run on it too, but it feels like he almost always starts it at the hitter and it runs out over the middle of the plate at the belt (Ramirez last night….98 in and 420 out)

    With his arm he should be more like DeGrom then Wily Peralta so far this year. Has he developed the slider as a 3rd pitch. Brantley brought up a good point on the radio…..he needs to quit thinking low all the time and good with the new wave of pounding the top of the zone. No hitter is going to drive a 99 mph fastball at the top of the zone! Guy should be one of the top 5-6 pitchers in the game and he’s not! Last year they lost his starts with 3,4,5 run leads. There were atleast 4 games where an ace puts the W in his back pocket! He’d fall apart 3rd time thru the order and then our pen would finish their comeback. One to Milw on the road and one to SF at home come to mind.

    • VaRedsFan

      It should always be Hard up and in/Soft down and away. He tries to throw the slider for a strike instead of a swing and miss out of the zone. (Think John Smoltz)

      • Indy Red Man

        Hard to find fault when he was 15-8, 3.40 last year, but he’s that good. Much better stuff then Cueto ever had. Maybe he should tweak his delivery or something in the off season. I think it should balance out because I don’t see Sonny as a 2.80 ace kind of guy. His era will most likely come up while Luis’s era comes down

    • Bred

      Great stuff but I think he lacks control. He throws too many pitches. Not all of the pitches off the plate can be set up pitches.

  17. Old-school

    It’s the Dusty Sunday lineup. Holy.
    That means they’ll score 7 runs.

  18. RojoBenjy

    Leaving De Leon in for 8 runs should be a (workplace) capital offense. The talent is there up until you get to the manager.

    This year is a pass for every team. It should really be labeled as an exhibition season.

    If David Bell continues making the same baffling decisions in the first quarter of next season, don’t you think the Reds then know what they have and should get a new skipper?

  19. Michael E

    I think it may be time to consider offering up tradeable pieces for prospects and get ready for 2021. Obviously nothing big, but if some fringe piece or two or (if we’re lucky) if someone actually WANTS Rasiel Iglesias or Amir Garrett or some other NON-key piece, make the deal. In fact ANY bullpen arm wanted sell, sell, sell. LOL.

    One or two of the (many) slumping bats will wake up, but I think it will be way too late then.