The Reds Put Together Another June Boom

Cincinnati shot up the division standings thanks to a seven-game winning streak, consistent pitching, and an explosion of runs.
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Here we go again! The Second Annual Cincinnati Reds Post-Memorial Day Surge is upon us, and it is spectacular. It’s nearly impossible to remember at this point, but less than three weeks ago your Redlegs were in last place in the National League’s Central division, nine games under .500. It’s true, I promise! History books will show that the season had been filled with injuries and subpar performances and Nick Martinis. Things were trending in the wrong direction.

And then, practically out of nowhere, Cincinnati caught fire. Building off a shocking sweep of the Dodgers in the last week of May, the Reds won 12 of 15 games, culminating in a seven-game winning streak that vaulted the Reds all the way up to second place in the division. Even more surprising, despite still being two games under .500 entering play on Tuesday, the Reds are currently in possession of one of the NL Wild Card spots. What a time to be alive.

So how did we get here? Well, for starters, the pitching continues to be better than expected. Cincinnati’s big three starters—Hunter Greene (4-2, 3.61 ERA), Nick Lodolo (6-2, 2.92), and Andrew Abbott (5-5, 3.28)—have been consistently good. The bullpen, meanwhile, has picked up the pace during this recent stretch. Since the beginning of the Dodgers series, Reds relievers have posted a 2.20 ERA, second-best in the NL.

The resurgent offense, of course, has been the real story here. After scuffling for most of the first two months, Cincinnati has scored more runs since May 24 than any team in the NL. They’re first in on-base percentage and second in slugging percentage over that span. It’s a stark contrast from previous weeks.

Even better, the lineup has started resembling last year’s post-Memorial Day Reds in their ability to come through in the clutch. Cincinnati began the season with just one win in their first 12 one-run games. They’ve now won their last three contests decided by a single run. And 33 of the Reds’ last 49 runs during the seven-game winning streak—snapped Sunday with a loss to Chicago—came with two outs.

I don’t want to draw any grand conclusions; some of this is the small-sample-size noise we see over the course of every season. But there’s no question that, just when the season seemed to have hit rock bottom, the Reds started being fun again. Let’s not take good times for granted! They’ve been in short supply in recent decades.

There are other explanations for what has changed in recent days. Enquirer beat writer Charlie Goldsmith sees parallels to last summer:

The biggest similarity between this year’s midsummer winning streak and last year’s midsummer winning streak is that a different player is leading the Reds to a win every night. Nick Lodolo, Elly De La Cruz, Jeimer Candelario, Frankie Montas, Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, Will Benson and Tyler Stephenson have all had their moments. Saturday was (TJ) Friedl’s turn.

Former Enquirer scribe Paul Daugherty, in his often-entertaining newsletter, put it this way:

Steer hit .252 in April, .177 in May and is hitting .407 in June. His April OPS was .797. May, it was .629. June so far, 1.000. And so on. I don’t like drowning you with numbers, because numbers don’t think or feel or ride waves. It’s no coincidence that the Reds slump was team-wide, or their escape from it has been a team effort. They have a bunch of players still figuring it out together. …

Getting baseball-smart is a career-long endeavor. The Reds will have more months like the one they’re enjoying now. And more like the May they just endured.

Over the course of this season, I’ve been breaking the schedule down into blocks. At the end of April, I looked ahead to a brutal 38-game stretch that didn’t go so well; the Reds tanked, going 14-34 in those games. Two weeks ago, I noted that the Reds were now beginning a 31-game stretch mostly against teams within the division. If the Reds were actually going to start looking like the team that had so many fans excited back in April, they needed to have some success in those games.

So far, so good. Cincinnati is 9-4, with six games remaining against the Pirates, four against St. Louis, and three against division-leading Milwaukee before we reach the end of June (with games against Cleveland and Boston thrown in for good measure).

It’s possible that we know less about this team than we did back in March. What we do know is that the Reds currently are in the playoff hunt. That’s less impressive when you consider that only four of 15 teams in the National League actually have a winning record. On the other hand, with so much mediocrity in the league, there’s no reason why a decidedly mediocre Cincinnati Reds club can’t continue to hang around and maybe even sneak into Commissioner Rob Manfred’s watered-down playoff system.

In the preseason, Cincinnati’s odds of qualifying for the post-season, according to FanGraphs, were 23.1 percent. After two and a half months of mostly uninspiring baseball, the Reds’ odds have somehow improved, now standing at 24.4 percent.

Honestly, I don’t know what in the world is going on here. But I’m starting to enjoy it.

Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.

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