As I sat along the third base line of Kauffman Stadium last Tuesday night watching the Reds bullpen implode in the final two innings before ultimately giving up a walk-off single to Salvador Perez, I felt discouraged. The Reds have an offense that can carry them to the playoffs, but a bullpen that can just as easily destroy any chances. Then last weekend in Milwaukee the Reds won three of four games and I, along with the rest of Reds country, started feeling a lot better about this team.
It’s been a weird, streaky year for the Reds. They completed a six game winning streak to start the season and followed it up with a seven game losing streak. Both streaks occurred in April. The Reds then hovered around .500 for a long time. They’ve never fallen more than a couple games below that .500 mark though. Because of that, they’ve managed to stay in the postseason hunt. They have continued to fight until the last out, as evidenced by the 24 comeback wins in 2021.
Here’s what I think needs to happen to see the Reds make the playoffs for the second consecutive year:
Eugenio Suárez needs to start playing better. His defense has left a lot to be desired, but his somewhat surprising offensive struggles have left a lot to be desired in the first half of the season. However, Suárez does seem to be turning it around, slowly but surely. The home run off Josh Hader Saturday night could be a catalyst for the rest of his season.
Suárez does have a history of improving as the season goes on, albeit a short history. 2019 was the most noticeable, with a 136 wRC+ in July, a 138 wRC+ in August and a 199 wRC+ in September. Of the 48 home runs he hit in 2019, 32 were hit from July through September. In the 2020 shortened season, his wRC+ in September was at 127, up from 108 in August.
Tyler Stephenson and Jonathan India need to continue to perform at a high level as rookies. Stephenson is hitting .282/.381/.426 with five home runs and 22 RBI in 226 plate appearances. India is hitting .275/.397/.407 with six home runs and 35 RBI in 316 plate appearances. Both players have also shown an incredible amount of plate discipline, with 66 combined walks. They are currently 1-2 among all qualified National League rookies in OPS.
The starting rotation has been as advertised for the most part, but Wade Miley has been especially good. His 2.80 ERA is the lowest it’s been since his 2018 season with the Milwaukee Brewers and his 76 strikeouts means he should be on pace to match any one of his six 140-strikeout seasons. One concern the Reds might have is that he’s already thrown 96.1 innings (he only threw 80.1 innings in his best season with the Brewers), but as recently as 2019, Miley threw 167.1 innings while with the Astros. He is used to pitching a lot of innings. The biggest key for him is to stay healthy, so he can throw at least 150 innings.
As for the bullpen, we all know it’s been terrible and injuries have only compounded that. However, Heath Hembree is one guy that has really impressed. He’s become David Bell’s go-to closer over the last week with five saves, and aside from the Tuesday game in Kansas City, he’s shown up in the big moments. During July, he’s allowed only one run while striking out ten and walking two in 5.1 innings. Hembree may not be the first choice in a healthy bullpen, but he’s looking like a solid third, fourth or fifth option once Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims return, as long as he continues to have success.
Some of these things are obviously contingent on whether the ownership and front office will acquire needed players by the trade deadline, but the core pieces for this team are there or they wouldn’t be six games over .500 at the All-Star break. Fellow Redleg Nation writer Nick Kirby posted on Twitter Sunday afternoon that the Reds are 25-14 in their last 38 games and 33-14 against the NL Central since September 13, 2020. This really is a good team that just needs a few well-chosen to make it a little better.