Last week in this space, I dreamed a little about the Cincinnati Reds going on a tear and qualifying for the playoffs. Evidently, the ol’ Redlegs decided they wanted to make my dream a reality.
This time last week, the Reds were in second place, 7.5 games behind Milwaukee in the National League’s Central division and 1.5 games behind San Diego for the second and final Wild Card spot. As of this morning, Cincinnati still trails the Brew Crew by 7.5 games, but the Wild Card picture has gotten much, much rosier.
Today, after eight wins in their last 11 games, including a four-game weekend sweep of the hapless Miami Marlins, the Reds (at 69-57) now possess a one game lead over San Diego and are in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. What a time to be alive, am I right?
The good news for the hometown nine is that the Padres are in a bit of disarray at the precise moment that Cincinnati decided to get hot. San Diego has lost nine of its last 11 games and seem to be panicking a bit; on Monday, the club fired pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Making matters worse for the Pads, as I noted in last week’s column, their schedule down the stretch is brutal.
(Note: Rothschild appears to be a scapegoat for San Diego’s pitching problems. I prefer to believe that Rothschild, who won a World Series ring in 1990 as Cincinnati’s bullpen coach, was just helping the Reds as a mole within the Padres organization.)
Meanwhile, your Reds are roughly on pace to finish with an 89-73 record. Over the last three decades since that 1990 championship season, Cincinnati has had just six seasons with a better record. While that might be a good reason to shed a tear over all the days we wasted in following such an inept franchise, I prefer to emphasize the positive: This year’s team is fun and turning out to be pretty good, despite some evident flaws.
If you’re into this sort of thing—and I am, as I’m sure you guessed—FanGraphs publishes playoff odds every single morning, judging each team’s chances of qualifying for the postseason. It’s based on a number of factors, including difficulty of schedule in remaining games. If you happened to wander over there this morning, you would have seen that the Redlegs have a 63.8% chance to make the playoffs. And what about their primary competitors for the Wild Card spot? Feast your eyes on the odds for the three teams trailing the Reds in this race: Padres 26.2%, Phillies 20.3%, and Cardinals 4.5%.
Yeah, it’s just math. But all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I’m starting to like math. Take a look at Baseball-Reference’s playoff odds. It paints an even rosier picture of Cincinnati’s chances, giving the Reds a 74.1% chance of winning one of the NL’s Wild Card spots.
Of course, the Reds still have to take care of business on the field. I keep writing about how Cincinnati’s schedule is favorable down the stretch, but the Reds still have to win those games. Even the worst teams in baseball win more than a third of their games, right? Still, everything I said in this column six weeks ago still applies:
Even better, the Reds will play an inordinate number of games the rest of the way against some of the league’s also-rans. Over the season’s last two months, Cincinnati will play 22 games against Miami, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh, all teams currently in last place in their respective divisions and a combined 44.5 games out of first. In fact, the Reds will face the NL Central cellar-dwelling Pirates in nine of their final 18 games. The opportunity to finish strong is certainly within Cincinnati’s grasp.
So far, so good. On July 21, shortly after I wrote those words, the Reds were pummeled by the New York Mets 7-0, dropping to just two games over .500. Since that day, Cincinnati has won 20 of 30 games to streak into a playoff spot, though they somehow lost a game in the division standings because the Brewers refuse to lose. It has been a fun run, and things appear to be setting up nicely for the Reds to finish strong.
How strong? I’m not discounting the possibility that Cincinnati might be able to catch up to Milwaukee in the Central division race. Hey, the math tells us that the Reds still have a 3.3% chance to win the division, after all! With the Reds heading to Milwaukee this week for a three-game series, it’s a chance for the good guys to finally make up some ground against the Brew Crew. Stranger things have happened. When I report back next week, I’m hoping this math looks even better.
Either way, it’s good to be enjoying the experience as a Reds fan again. All season long, we’ve been talking about how much fun these Rowdy Reds are. Given how often the Reds have abused their fan base over the years, I’m at the point where just having a team that I enjoy watching every night is enough to put a smile on my face. This week, I decided that this year’s team is as much fun as almost any in the last three decades.
Of course, a fun team is one thing; winning is another. This year, we just might get both. Enjoy it, Reds fans. We don’t get this opportunity often.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.