The Cincinnati Reds completed a 3-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs over the weekend and in the process they flew right past them and into second place as they improved to 43-40 on the season. How they did that may be considered a miracle if you had told yourself how the games played out just a few weeks ago. On Friday five different relievers combined to throw four shutout innings and hold onto a 2-1 lead to start the series. Saturday afternoon saw another four shutout innings, this time by four relievers as the Reds held on for a 3-2 win. Behind Wade Miley on Sunday afternoon the Cincinnati bullpen only needed to cover 2.1 innings, but they did so in shutout fashion as they again held on for a 3-2 victory.
10.1 innings by the Cincinnati Reds bullpen in close games and they allowed no runs. They didn’t give up any inherited runs nor did they give up any runs on their own. The bullpen was lights out during the series.
Your past self almost doesn’t believe you, right? Since June 25th the bullpen has covered 31.0 innings for Cincinnati and they’ve allowed just four earned runs. That’s a 1.16 ERA.
Cincinnati’s bullpen has been bad in 2021. Real bad. Even with the run they’ve been on, the team’s bullpen ERA is at 5.25 on the season. But not everyone has struggled. Tejay Antone, of course, has been lights out all year – but he’s also missed time on the injured list and isn’t expect to be back until the end of the month. Brad Brach has been locking things down out of the bullpen since he was called up from the minors. The 11-year big league vet has now pitched in 20 games and thrown 20.0 innings with a 2.25 ERA. Art Warren has now pitched in 15 games with the Reds this season and he’s posted a 2.03 ERA in his 13.1 innings.
After months of throwing guys at a wall and seeing who sticks, perhaps Cincinnati has found the right combination of guys. And there could be more help on the way. Jeff Hoffman has been rehabbing his way back with Triple-A Louisville, throwing 12.0 shutout innings for the Bats in three starts, but his role when he returns hasn’t yet been established – at least publicly. It would seem a decision needs to be made to either place him in the bullpen or to move Vladimir Gutierrez out of the rotation in favor of Hoffman. The lack of commitment by manager David Bell on that decision would seem to have the context clues you need to see which way they are leaning.
When asked today about what's next for Jeff Hoffman, David Bell said this: pic.twitter.com/g2SxaGcHQk
— Doug Gray (@dougdirt24) July 3, 2021
Michael Lorenzen began a rehab assignment this past week with the Arizona Complex League Reds in Goodyear and threw a perfect inning in his only appearance so far. He’s expected to continue his rehab assignment with Louisville, with an outside possibility that he could return before the All-Star break – though it’s more likely he returns after. Michael Feliz is also on the rehab trail as he just began his assignment in Triple-A this past week, too. Lucas Sims hasn’t begun a rehab assignment yet, but like Tejay Antone, he’s expected to return near the end of this month.
And then there’s Tony Santillan. He made four starts for the Reds this year, but when he was optioned to Triple-A last week as Sonny Gray was ready to return to the rotation, the plan was to move him to a relief role in Louisville in order to perhaps help the bullpen in the second half. His first outing as a reliever came last night and he tossed a shutout inning with two strikeouts – allowing just a bloop hit in the process.
Things are going right in Redleg Nation at the moment. The team is playing well and the weakest aspect of the squad has been getting things done. Just past the mid-way point of the season, the Reds are in second place, but still need to make up ground in both the division and the wild card race.
Strengthening the bullpen could go a long way towards those goals and with things working well right now and what appears to be several quality arms coming back soon, the team has to feel good about things moving forward. But the question is, or at least should be, did they wait too long? The Reds still haven’t made any real moves to acquire outside talent, even when the bullpen was getting hit around like Bronson Arroyo in his once-a-year 11-run, 2-inning performance on a nightly basis.
Cincinnati is currently seven games back of the Brewers. If they go .500 the rest of the way, the Reds would need to play .600 baseball the rest of the way to catch them. That’s not an impossible task, but it’s a very tough one on just the Reds end of things, much less having to also have the Brewers play .500 the rest of the season. The wild card is a bit closer with Cincinnati being 5.5 games back of San Diego for the second wild card spot. That’s still a fairly big deficit to overcome, but perhaps a little easier – though the Reds don’t have the benefit of playing them like they do the Brewers where they can directly effect what happens on those days in the standings between the two teams.
Still, one wonders how those standings would look if at the end of May the team would have gone out and tried to acquire some help for a bullpen that was getting taken to the cleaners just about every night and outside of Tejay Antone, left David Bell with no answers.