This morning ESPN asked their panel of 11 “insiders” a bunch of questions about the rest of the Major League Baseball season. The first question that they asked was this: Which team currently not in the playoff field is most likely to make it? Four teams got a vote. The Cincinnati Reds got seven of them. Anyone who watched the disaster from last night that saw the Cardinals beat the Reds 16-2 is probably asking themselves how crazy those seven “insiders” are. There’s less than a month left in the season, the team is in a tailspin, and they’ve never actually looked good for more than a game or two at a time all season.
Five writers weighed in on why they picked the Reds – including Buster Olney and Jeff Passan. They all mentioned how unlucky the team has been this year. Everyone thinks that the team on paper is actually quite good. Alden Gonzalez was the one who was a bit more hesitant, but still voted for the Reds.
I initially listed them as a team that should sell because their record presented an opportunity to extract some real value out of Trevor Bauer, a pending free agent. Clearly, they didn’t. Instead, they added closer Archie Bradley and outfielder Brian Goodwin to bolster their roster for the final month. That should be enough to make it. The Reds began September two games behind the Colorado Rockies for the eighth seed but also had a slightly better run differential. The top of their rotation is excellent and their lineup should be better. In a watered-down National League, the Reds are good enough.
Now, given the write up, it seems that all of these votes were had before the games were played last night. Maybe that would change how everyone would have voted and what they would have written. The loss was ugly. And it was painful if you have any rooting interest at all. But it’s still just one game. Of course, it’s one game in a season with only 60 of them, and it was one game when there were only 25 of them remaining.
Sam Miller has a take on the Reds that feels like it should be rather true, but also notes the reality of the situation given the nature of the 2020 season – bad luck would normally stabilize, but there may not be enough time for it to happen.
Reds hitters are third in the National League in homers, second in walks, and right in the middle of the league in strikeouts — yet they’ve scored the second fewest runs per game. That’s because they’ve hit into horrifying luck, with the second-lowest batting average on balls in play in the past century — 20 points lower than any other team this year, 45 points lower than they themselves hit last year. Many a gambler has gone broke waiting for bad luck to even out, and the Reds might, too. But this is a strong lineup on paper, and the pitching staff — on pace to demolish the record for strikeouts per nine innings — is already doing its job.
Here’s the truth of things right now – the Reds are 15-21 and they have 24 games left. They are 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot. Only three teams in the National League have a worse record – the Diamondbacks, the Nationals, and the Pirates. Cincinnati is going to have to play a lot better moving forward than they have to this point in the season if they’re going to have any chance of getting into the playoffs. The final playoff spot right now belongs to the San Francisco Giants, who are 18-19. If they hold that same pace the rest of the season they will finish 29-31. For the Reds to also finish 29-31 they would need to go 14-10 the rest of the way. To finish at .500, Cincinnati would need to go 15-9.
There’s no time left to get things right. The Reds have to start winning tonight, and they’ve got to keep winning. Just about every game moving forward is a must win. They need to not only play up to their potential that everyone seemed to feel they had before the season began – they need to probably play better than that moving forward if they’re going to have a chance to make the playoffs.