'America's Team'? Reds rising in NL Central after sweep

June 15th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- Feeling empowered by their recent success, Reds players simply put it into the universe. It was determined -- by themselves -- that they should be called "America's Team."

“It was all of us. We all decided," designated hitter said after a 7-4 win over the Royals on Wednesday night completed a three-game series sweep. "Luke Maile was saying it at first. And we came up today and said, ‘Hey, you know what? We’re "America’s Team." Let’s run with that.’ We play the game the right way."

A team that lost 100 games last season and was not expected to contend during the rebuild in 2023, the Reds have won five straight games and eight of their past 10 to improve their record to 34-35.

Cincinnati is now 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Pirates (34-32) in the National League Central. After the Reds opened the season with a 7-15 record, they have gone 27-20 since.

The Reds have thrived this season by creating runs with strong at-bats, speed and aggressiveness on the bases. On Wednesday, they powered up with a season-high-tying four home runs from , , and India. Entering the night, they were ranked last in MLB in homers on the road and 28th overall.

“Outside of tonight, we haven’t hit many homers," Steer said. "I feel like we’ve been playing a gritty style of baseball that’s just getting hits, walks, stealing bases, manufacturing runs kind of the tough way. Playing just a grindy kind of style of baseball. Why can’t that style of baseball be 'America’s Team'?”

McLain showed that grind throughout the game. Leading off the fourth inning, he bunted between the mound and first base, then motored up the line with a sprint speed of 30.1 feet per second. Royals pitcher Daniel Lynch hurried the ball from his glove to first baseman Nick Pratto, but Pratto’s foot didn't touch the bag, giving McLain a single.

Next, India lifted a fly ball to left field that Edward Olivares just missed on a diving attempt. McLain never stopped running from first base and scored easily for the go-ahead run.

"I thought it was going to land a little more [easily]. I didn't even know he dove," McLain said. "I was like, 'Oh, it's going to land.' And then apparently he dove for it and I just kept going."

With two on and two out against Lynch in the fifth inning, McLain pounced on an 0-1 fastball and launched a drive to left field for a three-run homer. According to Statcast, it left his bat with an exit velocity of 105.5 mph and traveled a projected 428 feet.

In the fourth inning while playing second base, McLain made a leaping catch on a line drive that robbed Freddy Fermin of a hit.

"Just a little bit of every possible way you could contribute to a win, so just a great game," manager David Bell said of McLain.

India followed with his own rocket into the left-center-field fountains, giving Cincinnati back-to-back homers in a game for the second time this season and a 7-1 lead.

"We feel it. We're 'America's Team.' It's a good feeling," McLain said.

Although he was often in damage control mode while allowing 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings, Reds starting pitcher allowed only two runs with no walks and four strikeouts. The offense gave Lively plenty of room to work.

"It was great," Lively said. "It also kept me picking up that first pitch, like no matter what, thinking 0-0 and keeping the foot down, and it worked out really well. It's pretty fun. It's 'America's Team.'"

Someone on the team felt India should be the captain of "America's Team," so does that make him Captain America?

“Proclaiming myself Captain America is a little too much," India said. "I’m a humble guy. I’m not going to say that.”

At 18-50, the Royals have the worst record in baseball. The Reds' trip began with them taking two of three from the last-place Cardinals. A bigger challenge looms on Friday when they face the defending World Series champions -- the Houston Astros.

"We definitely welcome those opportunities to see where we stand," Bell said.

This would be the right time for the self-proclaimed "America's Team" to back it up.

“We’ve got momentum," India said. "I think that’s on our side. This team is very scary. I’ve said it since Spring Training. This team is special. We’ve got a lot of ballplayers on this team. We play the game the right way. We have hitters in the lineup that string together a lot of hits. We move guys over. We have good approaches at the plate. It’s just how we are. It’s the players we have.”