Reds clinch first postseason berth in 7 years

September 26th, 2020

With all of their offseason maneuvering, the Reds set out to make the playoffs. On Friday, with a 7-2 victory over the Twins at Target Field, they did just that, clinching their first postseason berth since 2013.

Trailing the Cardinals by percentage points for second place in the National League Central, the Reds (30-28) hold the first NL Wild Card slot, meaning they're currently slated to face the Braves, who clinched the No. 2 seed Friday, in Atlanta in the Wild Card Series, which begins on Wednesday.

"We worked so hard, man. We talked about this for years," Reds reliever said. "We said we wanted to get to the playoffs, and now we’re in. We just have to take it from here. This is a big step for us, because a lot of people doubted us, man. A lot of people doubted us. It was time for us. We were talking the talk, and now it’s time for us to walk the walk."

There was a lot that happened between the offseason and Friday in order for Cincinnati to end a stretch of six consecutive losing seasons.

The normal 162-game season was shortened to 60 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it turned out that the sprint, not the marathon, suited the Reds better. Despite struggling to gain traction for much of 2020, they got hot when it mattered most.

Things looked rather bleak for Cincinnati going into September, when the club dropped to a season-high six games under .500 multiple times -- including as recently as Sept. 12. On that date, Fangraphs gave them a 17 percent chance of making the playoffs.

"Nobody thought we could make it when [we were] six games under .500," Reds third baseman said. "We’ve got a really good team. We worked so hard. We were just waiting for this moment to get hot."

Then came the slingshot.

The Reds won the next six games in a row and have gone 10-2 since, including four consecutive series wins.

“We haven’t played very many games where the game was given to us, so we’ve had to earn each and every win," said Reds reliever , who pitched 3 1/3 innings for the victory. "We’ve been grinding for the past five, six years all together, this group of guys. It’s unbelievable to not only be going into the postseason, but going into the postseason with the momentum that we have. We feel like we built momentum at the right time.”

The only player in the Reds clubhouse who was around for the last set of playoff appearances in 2010, '12 and '13 is first baseman .

"I like this team much more than I liked those teams, and I really liked those teams," Votto said. "But I think we’re a [freaking] nightmare, and I think everybody knows that. I can’t wait.”

After an unsuccessful 2014 season, the Reds moved into full rebuild mode and would endure five consecutive losing seasons. Following a 95-loss season in 2018, Cincinnati hired a first-time big league skipper in David Bell, overhauled the coaching staff and shifted the team philosophy towards a more analytical approach.

President of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall addressed the rotation going into the 2019 season by trading for from the Yankees, among others. At the Trade Deadline that year, was acquired from Cleveland. The club still fell well short of the postseason with only 75 wins -- including a Major League-leading 33 one-run losses – while ranking 12th in the NL in runs, batting average and OPS.

Last winter, Williams and Krall were extremely aggressive again, but they went to the deep end of the free-agent pool and spent $166 million on five players. Much of that money was dedicated to offensive contributors like , and .

Not all of their problems were solved, however. Batting .211 as a team, the Reds are only the third team to reach the postseason while ranking last in the Majors in average. The club also scored 61 percent of its runs via homers, most in MLB.

“We played rough through the first half or two-thirds of the season and poured it on in the last bit," Votto said "We’ve got to continue to maintain this momentum. There was some sloppy ball early. Offensively, there were a couple of guys carrying the load, but we weren’t doing as well as we wanted to. But we timed it right, and here we are. We’re in the sort of format that’s even for everyone. That’s exactly what we want to be a part of.”

On Friday, the Reds needed some help to have everything fall into place as they played Minnesota. First, the Phillies lost their game to the Rays, and later, the Brewers were defeated by the Cardinals in the second game of a doubleheader to bring the magic number for Cincinnati to clinch down to 1.

Reds starter Tyler Mahle labored for 2 1/3 innings and gave up an Ehire Adrianza RBI double in the bottom of the third inning. Managing as if it were already the playoffs, Bell went to his rested bullpen and summoned Lorenzen to finish the inning.

That proved important in the top of the fourth, when Moustakas slugged a José Berríos 0-1 sinker for a two-run home run to center field and a 2-1 Reds lead. Leading off the fifth, Freddy Galvis hit a 1-0 Berríos fastball to right field for another homer. With one out, Akiyama hit a double to left field and scored on Castellanos' RBI single for a 4-1 lead.

The Reds put the game away when Moustakas led off the ninth with his second homer and Galvis and Akiyama added RBI singles.

"So much work goes into something like this, and even though we continue on this season and have a lot left to accomplish, it’s important to stop and recognize the accomplishment, and recognize all the work that’s been put in, celebrate it a little bit, because you just don’t get a lot of opportunities like this," Bell said. "Hopefully, we have a bunch more of them, but you just never know. It’s important to enjoy every minute of it."

Cincinnati will be playing baseball in October and seeking its first World Series title since 1990.

"People are crying in there. People are smiling. People are hugging," Votto said. "It’s a meaningful moment because it can be the sort of thing you only get once. But it’s also the sort of thing you can talk about for the rest of your life. That’s what I think we’re trying to do this year.”