Approaching the season’s midpoint, we just experienced a pretty wild and wacky week for Cincinnati Reds fans. The Redlegs reached the low point of 2019 a week ago Saturday, 8.5 games out of first on the heels of losing six of eight games. Frustration was palpable in all corners of the fan base. This team was supposed to be better than this, right?
Right on cue, the Reds embarked on a six-game winning streak. Precisely one week after they’d bottomed out, the Reds very nearly closed the gap between themselves and first place to 3.5 games before the winning streak was snapped at the hands of the Brew Crew. Baseball is fun again! (At least temporarily, anyway, now that the Reds have dropped three in a row.)
Over at Redleg Nation, they asked a timely question earlier this week, given recent events: How many games will the Reds win in 2019? Here was my response:
Before the season, I predicted 81 wins and I see no reason to change that prediction at this point. The Reds have been on one big losing streak and now we see they can go on a nice winning streak too (against good teams, no less!). The rest of the season has looked like a decent but flawed team being competitive most nights. Almost precisely what you’d expect from a .500 team. But if they want to surprise me the rest of the way, I won’t complain.
Let’s unpack that a bit, because upon further reflection I may be a bit more optimistic than that. Back in March, I predicted a couple of things for the current version of the Cincinnati Reds: a roughly .500 team, and FUN. We’ve seen both of those things, but the narrative surrounding this club has gotten a little skewed thanks to an eight-game losing streak in the season’s first two weeks.
Since the Reds began the campaign with a 1-8 record, they’ve won 35 games and lost 33. There was a 30-game stretch just before the calendar turned to June in which the Reds were 15-15, and they’ve been 6-4 in their last 10 games. Almost the very definition of a .500 team.
To be sure, it’s been a bumpy road. These Reds have a maddening tendency to win a couple, then lose a couple. They make mistakes and mental errors and blow a game here and there. But that’s kind of what a .500 team is, it seems to me. That’s where I think the narrative about the Reds misses the mark. Fans have been justifiably impatient, eager to see a winner after half a decade of mostly abysmal baseball in the Queen City. But Cincinnati is competitive nearly every single night, and it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say that.
Above, I mentioned that the Reds were 35-33 since the early losing streak, but we can’t ignore those early games obviously. They happened. There is reason to believe, however, that the Reds team we’ll see for the second half of the season could be even better than the average-ish bunch we’ve been rooting for so far.
For weeks now, we’ve been saying that the Reds were going to go on a winning streak at some point, because the offense just had to come around eventually. It finally happened, though I can’t say I expected that it was going to break against quality teams like Houston and Milwaukee.
And the offense is definitely looking good, finally. Joey Votto (.306/.398/.514 in the last 28 days) and Yasiel Puig (.291/.349/.608 over that same span) are finally starting to perform up to expectations. Jesse Winker has been more than dependable, solidifying his spot in the lineup; since April 9, he’s hitting .277/.360/.515 over 61 games. Nick Senzel, who Reds management pretended wasn’t good enough to make the Opening Day roster, has been the second-best hitter on the team since his promotion. Scooter Gennett will be joining the lineup sooner rather than later.
The pitching has been great all season; by nearly any metric, the Reds have one of the best pitching staffs in either league and one of the top two in the National League. It seems almost too much to imagine the pitching getting even better, but lefty Alex Wood—perhaps the most talented player acquired this off-season—is going to return at some point (we hope).
It doesn’t take rose-colored glasses to see that, by the end of July, the Reds are going to be vastly better than the club we saw in April. Can they exceed my 81-win prediction? If the team remains relatively healthy, I think it’s almost a guarantee; just look at the players who will be available in August who weren’t on the April roster: Wood, Gennett, Senzel. And if the Redlegs can push above .500, it doesn’t take much dreaming to see Cincinnati hanging around the playoff picture.
OK, now I’m getting excited. Is it too soon to purchase playoff tickets?
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. He wrote about the 1970s Reds as part of the magazine’s “10 Events That Shaped Cincinnati” package. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.