A wild weekend for the Reds in St. Louis was in many ways a microcosm of the 2021 season thus far. The Reds jumped out to a 7–0 lead after three innings on Sunday, thanks to strong starting pitching and two home runs from left fielder Jesse Winker. Right on cue, the bullpen vomited all over the mound, surrendering seven runs to tie the game in just a single inning. No worries, though: Winker came to the rescue with his third dinger of the day, a solo shot in the ninth that provided the margin of victory over the insufferable Cardinals.
The win pulled the Reds within a game of the .500 mark. The fact that the they’re anywhere near the break-even point is remarkable in itself, especially given the fact that Cincinnati currently has 10 players on the injured list. Even more surprising is that the Reds offense remains one of the top three in the National League, despite the ongoing absence of several vital cogs in the Cincinnati lineup, especially the injured Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas, and Nick Senzel.
There are two primary reasons why the Reds continue to stay afloat in the NL Central race. I’m talking, of course, about Cincinnati’s Dynamic Duo: Winker and right fielder Nick Castellanos.
After his three-homer, six-RBI game on Sunday, Winker was hitting .350/.412/.665 with 17 home runs. The homers already represent a career high for the 27-year-old, and he’s now tied for the NL lead in round-trippers with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. He also became the first player in Reds history to hit three homers in a game twice in one season.
[Fun Fact: Winker’s three-homer game against St. Louis came four years to the day that Scooter Gennett, playing left field for the Reds that day, hit four against the Cardinals. Even better, both Winker and Gennett hit two of their June 6 homers off the same pitcher, Cards hurler John Gant. It’s the only time in his career that Gant has surrendered two homers to the same batter in a game. Baseball is something, huh?]
Castellanos didn’t get a hit in Sunday’s game, snapping a 21-game hitting streak, the longest such streak in the big leagues this season. While Winker was credited with the heroics in the final game of the St. Louis series, no hitter in baseball has been better than Castellanos in recent weeks. During that 21-game streak, he posted a robust .463 average. He also became the first Reds batter with 25 multi-hit games over a 50-game span since Sean Casey turned the trick in 2004.
For the season, Castellanos is hitting .359/.415/.627 with 12 home runs, quickly becoming the heart and soul of the Rowdy Reds and leading the NL in wins above replacement in the process. In fact, if you look at the league leaderboard—and believe me when I say that it’s really fun to look at the league leaders at this precise moment in time—the names of Cincinnati’s bat-men show up all over the place.
For example, Castellanos’ .359 batting average is tops in the National League, while Winker’s .350 average is second. In slugging percentage, Winker (.665) rates first, with Castellanos (.627) clocking in at No. 2. Same for a couple of advanced stats, wRC+ and wOBA: Winker first, Castellanos second. Unfortunately, the Dynamic Duo aren’t ranked 1-2 in on-base percentage; rather, they’re second (Castellanos) and third (Winker).
Two-thirds of the season remain, but what Castellanos and Winker are achieving thus far puts them in rarified air in Reds history. Just looking at a catch-all statistic like OPS+ (here’s the definition), Winker’s 177 OPS+ and Castellanos 169 each rank within the top 10 in franchise history (minimum 220 plate appearances). I’m not going to bet the ranch on either player maintaining this pace for an entire season, but what we’ve seen so far has been magical.
In fact, thanks to Winker and Castellanos (with a dash of Tyler Naquin tossed in the mix), Cincinnati currently has the most productive outfield in all of baseball. Given the uneven production from the infield—Votto injured, Moustakas injured, Eugenio Suarez MIA, and at shortstop, well, the Reds forgot to acquire a shortstop last winter—Cincinnati fans may not want to consider where this team would be if Winker and Castellanos hadn’t simultaneously decided to fight each other for the NL’s MVP award. (The winner will presumably fight Logan Paul or The Joker or someone in an exhibition over the off-season.)
Reds management will soon have some big questions to answer about the futures of Winker and Castellanos in Reds uniforms. I discussed last week why the Reds should be making every effort to sign Winker to a long-term contract (along with Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo), but Castellanos’ contract situation will require even more urgent attention from Cincinnati brass. Before the 2020 season, he agreed to four years and $64 million to play for the local nine. The devil was in the details, of course: He can choose to opt out and enter free agency after the current season. He could have opted out after the first year, but he elected to stay in Cincinnati given the bizarre way last season played out. If the Reds are serious about winning (I know what you’re thinking: LOL) they need to explore a renegotiation of that contract just as soon as Castellanos is willing to sit down at the table.
But those are discussions for a different day. Last Sunday’s win gave the Reds a sweep over their division rivals, and the Winker/Castellanos tandem gets much of the credit for Cincinnati’s ability to stay within shouting distance of the division leaders over the last few weeks. With reinforcements hopefully on the way—Votto will return to the roster this week (perhaps along with Aristides Aquino), and Moustakas is due to begin a rehab assignment soon thereafter—maybe the Reds will be able to crawl their way up the standings.
Whether the Reds sneak into contention or not, the Dynamic Duo and their bats have been appointment viewing all season long. If you want to be amazed and impressed, be sure to tune in tonight, same bat-time, same bat-channel!
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.