Is Another Memorial Day Surge on Tap for the Reds?

After a sweep of the Dodgers, this next 31-game stretch could vault Cincinnati up the NL Central standings … just like last season.
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One year ago on the morning of May 24, your Cincinnati Reds were 20-28 and in last place in the National League Central division, six games back of first. On the heels of a 100-loss season, all signs pointed toward yet another lost season. Like most of the last 30 years.

But the Reds offense exploded for 10 runs in a defeat of St. Louis that day. Cincinnati lost the following game, then won five in a row. One month later, they were 41-35 and in first place. They’d remain in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season.

On the morning of May 24, 2024, your Cincinnati Reds were 21-30 and in last place in the NL Central, 8.5 games back. A club that came into the season with high hopes had been a crushing disappointment and appeared poised to break the hearts of fans once again. Like most of the last 30 years.

But the Reds, who hadn’t won a series in more than a month, had a few surprises up their collective sleeves. An offense that had largely struggled all season long posted nine runs in a series-opening win on Friday, led by a hitter, Jonathan India, who had similarly struggled all season long. He went 3-for-4 with a double and a grand slam that put the game out of reach.

Over the next two days, Cincinnati held the powerful Dodgers offense to one run in each game, thanks to brilliant starting pitching on Saturday from certified ace Hunter Greene and a collective effort on Sunday by Brent Suter, Nick Martinez, Carson Spiers, and Alexis Diaz. A sweep of the Dodgers, perhaps the best team in either league? Are you kidding me?

Just a blip on the radar, perhaps. After all, the Reds are still beset by injuries and face some serious challenges that we’ve been chronicling here in this space all season long. But then a hated division rival, the Cardinals, came to town at the same time starter Nick Lodolo returned from the injured list. Lodolo surrendered just one run in 5 ⅓ innings on the bump, and the Reds captured their fourth consecutive victory, a season high. Is it possible that the Reds are back?

One month ago, with the club off to their best 21-game start since 2013, I wrote this:

The Reds have embarked on a brutal 38-game stretch that includes nine games against last year’s World Series teams (Arizona and Texas) plus 11 games against the Dodgers and Phillies. If the Reds can survive that stretch, even by going .500, they’ll be in a great position to make a second straight summer surge. And we will have learned a lot more about the development of Cincinnati’s young hurlers over those six weeks.

That “brutal 38-game stretch” is now nearly in our rearview mirror. After 32 of those contests, the Reds have posted a record of 11-21, a far cry from the break-even mark we hoped for. Nearly everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. Cincinnati has suffered injury after injury after injury, and most of those players who remain standing seem to have forgotten how to hit baseballs. The starting pitching has remained stellar, but the bullpen has been shaky, if we’re being charitable. Things have gone very, very wrong.

The baseball campaign, however, is a long one, and 108 games remain before the curtain will fall on 2024’s regular season. And Monday’s game, the victory over St. Louis, was the first of 23 games within the Central division that the Reds will play over the next 31 contests. In a division that’s so tightly bunched—the Reds are only three games out of second place in the Central at the moment—this presents an opportunity to climb back into the thick of the race in short order.

In the upcoming 31-game span (well, 30 games, since the Reds are already 1-0 in this stretch) Cincinnati will face only three non-division opponents. Just one of those series will be on the road, against the hapless Colorado Rockies. The other five games will be at Great American Ball Park against the mediocre Boston Red Sox and a pretty good Cleveland club (for the ever-important Ohio Cup title). If the Reds are actually going to start looking like the team that had so many fans excited back in April, they need to start here.

Cincinnati’s surge to the top of the standings in 2023 was powered by the emergence of a bunch of young stars joining the big league fold. A similar cavalry isn’t coming to the Reds’ rescue this year, as most of the stud prospects accumulated by club management in the last couple of years has already debuted. The farm system isn’t as packed as it was a year ago.

But the Reds do have reinforcements coming, even if they’re some of the same ones who appeared on the scene a year ago. Shortstop Matt McLain will presumably return from the IL as soon as August. Noelvi Marte’s suspension will end in the coming weeks. TJ Friedl could return as soon as this week, if you trust manager David Bell’s injury updates. (Pro tip: Don’t trust manager David Bell’s injury updates.)

I don’t recommend rushing to Vegas to drop actual U.S. legal tender on the Reds’ chances to emerge as a playoff contender this season. But despite a terrible month-plus of baseball, Cincinnati is only three and a half games out of a Wild Card spot, if you can believe it.

Yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance. Hope continues to spring eternal around these parts.

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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