Encouraging Signs for the Reds

A weekend series win in Chicago was bolstered by strong contributions from by Friedl, Fraley, and Lodolo as the team finally gets healthy.

Last week, I asked if another Memorial Day surge was in the cards for the 2024 Cincinnati Reds. So far, so good. Sorta. The Redlegs have won seven of their last 10 games, including the weekend series victory over the Cubs in Chicago in which we saw some encouraging (and some not-so-encouraging) signs.

On Friday, the Reds showed a little of that 2023 “Comeback Kids” magic, as the Cubs jumped out to an early lead only to see the Reds come back from two separate deficits. A two-run homer from pinch-hitter Santiago Espinal (of course) gave the Reds a 5-3 lead, and that’s where it stood as the teams entered the bottom of the ninth. Then things got interesting.

Closer Alexis Diaz entered the game and promptly surrendered a single and a walk. One out later, runners were on the corners when Chicago’s Seiya Suzuki doubled into the left field corner. One run scored, and Nick Madrigal attempted to come around and score from first base. Reds left fielder Jacob Hurtibise quickly got the ball to shortstop Elly De La Cruz, who turned and fired a bullet at 93 mph. Madrigal never had a chance. Catcher Tyler Stephenson applied the tag, essentially ending the rally. Reds win game one.

It was yet another highlight reel play by De La Cruz, who also collected his MLB-leading 32nd stolen base during the game (no other player has more than 20). But it was, to put it simply, a horrific series for him. He went 0-4 with a walk on Friday, striking out three times, and 0-5 with two Ks on Saturday. Sunday was even worse: 0-5 with five strikeouts. That’s, count ’em, 10 whiffs in 15 plate appearances in the Windy City. (He was 1-4 in last night’s 13-3 romp in Colorado.)

This is a continuation of a recent skid that’s seen Elly hit .117/.197/.150 with no homers and 28 strikeouts over his last 15 games. Amazingly, his season numbers are still the best on the club, but he needs to make an adjustment or three … and soon.

On Saturday, both teams battled inclement weather that delayed the start of the game for more than three hours, with the final out coming after 1 a.m. Eastern. Both clubs put up four runs in the second inning and the game remained tied into the final stanzas before Cincinnati’s bullpen coughed up the lead in a 7-5 Cubs win.

Two performances stood out. Spencer Steer was 3-5 with a double. You will no doubt remember that De La Cruz and Steer were the only reliable hitters for Cincinnati in the early weeks of the season. I’ve already mentioned Elly’s struggles; well, this was Steer’s first multi-hit game in three weeks, and only his second in his last 35 games. He followed that up with a 2-4 game the following day. Steer is back, baby! (He was 3-5 last night against the Rockies.)

Entering Saturday’s game, starting pitcher Hunter Greene was showing signs of becoming the ace everyone has expected. Over his last six outings, Greene has been more pitch-efficient, which has permitted him to go deeper into games; he was 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA over that span.

Against Chicago, Greene did pitch six innings and only gave up three hits—but he also issued five walks, hit two batters, and surrendered five runs. I would caution against drawing too many conclusions from this game, since the weather was ridiculously bad; umpires probably should have called it at a couple of points. And while the rain poured in the bottom of the second, Greene walked the bases loaded; one inning later, he plunked the first two hitters. Blame it on the rain and focus on the fact that Greene retired 11 of the final 12 hitters he faced.

In the rubber match on Sunday, the Reds once again plated four runs in the second. The big blast was TJ Friedl’s three-run bomb that gave his club a lead they would not relinquish. Jake Fraley was 3-3 with a double, and Nick Lodolo tossed six innings, allowing just two runs to improve to 5-2 with a 3.11 ERA on the season.

Friedl, Fraley, and Lodolo have all battled injury (and sickness) this season, so it was certainly good to see each contributing in key moments. Friedl has just two hits in 19 plate appearances since returning from his latest stint on the IL. Fraley, meanwhile, has hits in his last eight contests, improving his slash line to .295/.345/.380.

Finally, Alexis Diaz—after the adventures on Friday—closed out the series with a scoreless ninth inning. The run he surrendered on Friday before Elly’s laser to home represented the only run he’s allowed in his last six performances, during which he has a 1.59 ERA. Small sample size, sure, but it’s certainly encouraging to see Diaz closing out games again.

After the series against the hapless Rockies, 10 of their next 12 will be against division opponents, including the first place Brewers, so this stretch represents a good opportunity. Lodolo, Friedl, and Fraley are back in the mix, and Noelvi Marte may be on a baseball field as soon as this week. Those are reasons for hope

On the other hand, your Redlegs remain in last place, and if they’re going to make a run, it kinda sorta needs to happen pretty soon. If Cincinnati continues scuffling for the next few weeks, all of a sudden we’ll be asking whether the Reds need to be sellers at the trade deadline. And I’m not quite ready to write that column, OK?

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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