The Cincinnati Reds are 11-16 through 27 games. There are only 60 games in the season this year. That puts them nearly at the mid-season mark, and when they get to that point, they are going to have a losing record. That’s not how it was supposed to be. But this is 2020 and nothing seems to be going how it was supposed to.
The Reds front office went out this offseason and spent a lot of money. They picked up two middle of the order hitters in Mike Moustakas, and then later Nick Castellanos. Cincinnati also picked up Shogo Akiyama, who helped balance out the outfield with a left-handed option to go with Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel in a group of four guys that were likely to see a little bit of rotating around based on match ups. The offense wasn’t supposed to be an issue. But 27 games in and the team is tied with the Brewers, dead last in the National League, in runs scored per game.
When the season began, the Cincinnati Reds were the favorites in the division, though it was a close call among the top four teams. Still, the Reds were viewed as the favorites thanks to a strong starting pitching staff, a solid but unspectacular bullpen, and a good offense. With an expanded playoffs that features more teams that get in than teams that don’t, things felt right for Cincinnati seeing the playoffs. But 27 games in that feeling no longer exists. Among the fan base, if they even have feelings anymore, the one they are experiencing is dread. In the last few days the playoff odds for the Reds have dropped from 60.2% on August 21st down to 36.8% today, according to Fangraphs. Baseball Referece uses a different calculation method and they have the Reds playoff odds down to just 13.5%.
There are 33 games remaining in 2020. To finish at the .500 mark, the Reds need to go 29-24 the rest of the way. That’s doable – it’s a .547 winning percentage. That’s an 89-win team in a full season. From a pure talent standpoint, that wouldn’t have seemed outrageous to predict this team back on March 1st to finish 89-73, right? Things certainly feel different given how the season has played out thus far – but it’s still largely the same team on the field that was expected moving forward.
With that said, there’s not much time left to get things moving in the opposite direction than the one that they have been moving in. 33 games isn’t much. There is barely a month left in the season before it’s over. After another offensive struggle, catcher Curt Casali – who homered in the loss last night – talked a bit about just that.
“We’re frustrated and it’s easy to take frustration out on other things, possibly even each other. We’ve chosen to use that frustration and fuel it into energy and give it to the players out on the field no matter how you can do that,” said Casali. “That’s tiring. It’s tough to do that on a day in and day out basis. But we’re unfortunately at a point now where we kind of have to empty the tanks and get everything out, now, because I don’t know what the numbers say where we stand – it’s hard to pay attention to that – but we need to go. I’m not going to say there’s panic in here, but there’s a definite sense of urgency that we need to turn this thing around very quickly. We’re aware of that. It’s not like we’re just sitting and doing nothing. We’re working, trying new things. I thought the energy in the dugout was really good tonight and those are things you can build off of. I believe everyone in that dugout thought we were going to come back and win that game, and it kind of stings that we didn’t. That’s the old cliché – you’ve got to move on and get them tomorrow.”
He notes that the team is aware that they need things to change. It’s quite obvious that the team simply isn’t hitting right now. Some of that is their fault. Some of it, however, isn’t. The team has a historically low BABIP right now. They are dead last in baseball with a .224 BABIP. The Texas Rangers are second to last and had a .257 mark. The Braves lead the league at .327. In the previous 20 seasons, the lowest team BABIP was .269 by the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays. Cincinnati hasn’t just been unlucky when they’ve made contact, they’ve been insanely, historically unlucky. There’s some small sample size stuff happening here because it’s 27 games instead of 162. But there are five teams other than the Reds that have a lower BABIP right now than those 2010 Blue Jays.
“I don’t think we’re searching,” Casali said. “Geno hits a bullet that turns into a double play. That kind of kills a rally. I think we do need to focus on knocking off hitting into double plays, I think that kills innings. But as a unit, yeah, you can say we’ve been snake bitten. We still hit the ball hard, but after a while – you keep saying it and it turns into a real excuse. We’re just not into that as a team. We need to do better, we need to find the holes. There are ways to find the holes and play the game. We’ve got to play the game a little better and that’ll hopefully lead to some more wins.”
Curt Casali is kind of walking that fine line of understanding that the team has been unlucky – and they absolutely have been – but also understanding that at some point you need to try and make something work. What it is that they can do to work is a question that I don’t have an answer to. Hopefully someone else does and they can figure it out.
The team makes less “soft contact” than every team in baseball this year and somehow that’s still got them dead last in hits when making contact (BABIP) than everyone else. The team isn’t so great in the “hard contact” rankings, coming in at 23rd. Neither of those things suggest that the team should be far and away worse than everyone else in baseball at turning contact into hits. But that’s how it’s played out so far. There’s 33 games left for that to turn around. Maybe it will. But regression to the mean works a lot better over 162 games than it does 60, and while it’s almost assuredly going to get a little better for the Reds when it comes to this, the amount of time left because of what’s happened with the 2020 season we shouldn’t expect the team to correct to the point where they finish up at the .295-.300 mark that most teams eventually wind up in.
To conclude: This has sucked, should probably get better, there’s no time left to waste, and the correction that’s probably coming isn’t likely going to get them back to a full “normalization”. Hopefully it’s enough to get them some more wins, as Casali said, and get them enough of them to sneak into the playoffs where everything before that doesn’t really matter.