The Cincinnati Reds had Thursday off. They entered the day at 25-26 and percentage points ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for second place in the National League Central division. The Cardinals were 22-23 entering their series that began on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. When it came to the National League Wild Card race, the Reds were trailing the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies – both of whom entered the day at 24-24.
Let’s start in the National League Central with the Cardinals and the Pirates. Pittsburgh just got swept by the Reds and have far and away the worst record in all of Major League Baseball. Things didn’t go well for St. Louis, though, as starter Dakota Hudson left the game with an elbow injury in the 2nd inning and the Pirates offense beat up on the Cardinals bullpen in a 5-1 win. That dropped the Cardinals to 22-24 and a .478 winning percentage.
The Cardinals will play 12 games over the next 10 days, starting with a double header Friday in Pittsburgh. If you are quick on the math you will notice that St. Louis has played 46 games this season and that with 12 more games remaining that is only 58 games. If the Cardinals are still in the playoff race at the end of the day on September 27th and those remaining two games could come into play, they will have to travel to Detroit and play a double header against the Tigers.
Heading out west, the San Francisco Giants took on the Seattle Mariners. Things were looking good for the Reds in this match up for a while. The Mariners jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the 2nd inning and held that lead after five innings. But the Giants scored five runs over the next two innings and held on for the win to move to 25-24.
And then there was the game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets. New York scored three in the first inning. But the Phillies score four. Then Philadelphia scored two more in the second, running Seth Lugo from the game in the process. The Phillies bullpen, which might be the worst in the history of the game, entered the game. In the 6th inning the bullpen allowed an inherited runner to score, and then gave up a run of their own in a 3-run inning that tied the game up for the Mets. Then the dreadful 9th inning came. Brandon Nimmo led off the inning with a go-ahead homer. A single, triple, and home run would follow as the Mets grabbed a 10-6 lead, and while their bullpen ran into some issues in the bottom of the inning – Edwin Diaz would hit a better, and walk two others to load the bases with two outs, but he got out of the jam.
The loss dropped the Phillies to 24-25. While they still hold the final spot in the wild card race, if push came to shove, their winning percentage of .4897 trails the Reds winning percentage of .490 as of Friday morning. That doesn’t matter at this second because Cincinnati is in as the second place team in the National League Central. But the Reds need to remain ahead of the Cardinals in the division in order to not have to worry about the wild card spots.
Here are the current National League Playoff Standings:
Things do not get easy for Cincinnati moving forward. They welcome in the Chicago White Sox tonight, who clinched a playoff spot on Thursday and are currently sitting atop the American League with a 33-17 record. The Reds will end their season by hitting the road to play the Minnesota Twins, who are currently 31-21. Between those two series they’ll play the Milwaukee Brewers in Cincinnati, who like the Reds, are fighting for their playoff lives. The combined winning percentage of the Reds opponents in the final nine games is .572.
The sweep of the Pirates does give the Reds a little bit of wiggle room. Finishing .500 might be enough to get in. That’s kind of been the target, but with Cincinnati and Philadelphia both one game under, San Francisco one game over, and the Cardinals two games under but with potentially 14 games remaining, there are scenarios where .500 doesn’t get it done. The Reds would need to go 5-4 the rest of the way to finish 30-30. That doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, but it’s also far from a guarantee given the quality of the opponents. Going 6-3 to finish 31-29 probably makes it happen, but again, that won’t be easy.
The Reds have been on a roll. They’ve won five in a row, six of seven, and seven of their last nine. They are playing well for more than two days in a row for what feels like the first time all season long, and it’s come at a pivotal time. But they have to keep that going over the next ten days. This isn’t the playoff race we wanted, but it’s a playoff race and Cincinnati’s in the thick of it. Now we all just get to sit back and watch it unfold – as scary as that thought is.