Well, June was a fun month for the Reds, wasn’t it? After going 18-9 during the month, Cincinnati’s record stood at 44-38 on July 1. It’s been a remarkable run since May 25, when the Reds were in last place in the National League Central division and six games out of first. Since then, they’ve won 25 of their last 35 games and nine of 11 series they’ve played, vaulting into a tie for first place.
How did they do it? Well, we talked about the offense last week, and that’s the quick and easy answer. In June, Cincinnati scored more runs than every other MLB team except Atlanta, and you’re going to win a lot of games when you plate 153 runs in 27 games. The Reds were also third in the majors in home runs during the month.
But how is the offense actually doing it? Sure, the home runs and the timely hitting and the never-say-quit attitude up and down the lineup are primary drivers of the run scoring surge, but there’s another reason: speed. On the final day of June, rookie outfielder Will Benson stole second base in the bottom of the third against the Padres in a game the Reds ultimately won 7-5. It was Cincinnati’s 50th stolen base of the month, the best mark in the major leagues by a mile. The second-best total was Houston’s 31 SBs. The Reds stole as many bases in June as the Rangers, Marlins, Cardinals, Yankees, Giants, and Tigers combined.
Not only that, the last time the Reds stole that many bases in a month was all the way back in September 1912. That was the first season the Reds played at Crosley Field, called Redland Field at the time. Those were the immortal fourth-place Redlegs of Bob Bescher, Armando Marsans, Art Phelan, and Dick Hoblitzell. I’m sure you remember them well.
Led by TJ Friedl (14), Jake Fraley (13), and Jonathan India (12), the Reds have stolen 95 bases as a team this season, second only to Tampa Bay. But seven other players have at least four SBs, including speedsters Elly De La Cruz (9), Benson (6), and Matt McLain (4), who haven’t been with the team all season. More astounding, Cincinnati managed just 58 stolen bases during the entirety of 2022. They’re on pace to double that number by mid-July.
The emphasis on stealing bases is intentional, and it’s partly because of rule changes that were implemented in the off-season that limited pickoff throws and increased the size of the bases. But the stark difference from last year’s lumbering Reds is also because of personnel.
MLB.com’s Mike Petriello notes that this year’s Reds are the fastest team in all of baseball, based on Statcast’s sprint speed metric. Last year, they were the 23rd-fastest team in the league. The difference: Cincinnati replaced plodders like Mike Moustakas with a bunch of speed demon rookies. Again, according to Statcast, the five fastest players on Cincinnati’s current roster are De La Cruz, Stuart Fairchild, McLain, Benson, and Steer (he’s actually tied with Fraley). Four of those players weren’t on the Cincinnati roster last season.
What has been fun about the current version of the club isn’t just that they’re stealing bases. It’s that all the youth and energy have contributed to a culture that almost requires players to take an extra base every time they can. Back in May, Reds’ first base coach Colin Cowgill said it’s by design. “In spring training, it was a point of emphasis for us,” he said. “Not so much being so great at it, being the best in the league at it, but making it a part of our identity. It’s starting to pick up a bit. I love the aggression we play with, the fearlessness we play with.”
Back to MLB.com’s Petriello for a moment. He teased a soon-to-be unveiled Statcast metric “that will evaluate players and teams on how effectively they take extra bases, excluding steals.”
For each play, it can take into account factors such as the outfielder’s position and arm and the runner’s position and speed and assign (or demerit) value based on those decisions and whether they succeeded. …
Put the value of all those plays together, factoring each fraction of run value per play into a seasonal aggregate, and what you’ll see soon is this—which, for now, is mostly about where the Reds ranked last year, and where they rank this year. They were the worst last year. They’re the best, so far, this year. (And remember, this is just taking extra bases; it’s not even about all the steals.)
The culture around this team has changed so rapidly that it makes my head spin. Joey Votto talked about that when he was interviewed by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt recently:
“And these guys, the best thing about it, you know, you see this with … I watched that Kings-Warriors series this year,” Votto said. “And the youth on the other side, the Kings’ side, they’re just so tenacious. And that’s kind of what we have here. These guys don’t care. They’re not impressed. And they’re coming for you every single day because they’re so young and so full of energy. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”
This team isn’t the Big Red Machine, and they don’t have a catchy nickname like that either. They aren’t the 1990 “Wire to Wire” Reds or the 1999 “Big Road Machine.” Maybe we can style them the “Runnin’ Redlegs.”
Whatever you call them, they’re playing an exciting brand of baseball that is as fun as anything we’ve seen in this city in years. And I’m here for 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.