Breaking down what Reds need to improve to rebound

April 28th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- The opening month of the 2022 season has been a relentless struggle for the Reds. Sure they’ve endured a lot of injuries and run into some sensational pitching. They’ve also created their own brand of misfortune.

That was the case during a 7-5 loss to the Padres on Thursday that completed a three-game sweep for San Diego. At 3-16, the Reds are tied for the second-worst record in franchise history. They opened 2018 with a 3-18 record and 1931 at 2-16. 

“This feels the worst,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “But I don’t remember us having that bad of a start in ’18. This is awful to experience each and every day. We’re competitors, professionally. We’re competitors. Our job is to win. To go out and get smacked around every day is anti-everything that we’re about. For me, it’s an awful and embarrassing experience.”

Here are some reasons the Reds are where they are this season:

Cincinnati has a team OPS of .573 -- worst in MLB
With 59 runs scored in 19 games, the Reds have averaged 3.1 runs-per-game, and that’s after scoring five or more runs in all three games of the series vs. San Diego. Getting on base was especially troublesome before this series, and so was cashing in on scoring opportunities. 

On Thursday, they bounced into three double plays. On Wednesday, they twice had the bases loaded with less than two outs and scored one run.

In the fifth inning Thursday, down 1-0, Mike Moustakas provided a game-tying RBI single and Mark Kolozsvary notched his first big league hit and RBI with a double to left field that scored Moustakas with a go-ahead run.

“We're not giving up at-bats, we're chipping away, over the course of a season [that] plays,” left fielder Tommy Pham noted after Wednesday’s loss. “Eventually when we get everyone healthy and back, I think we have a very good team, a pretty competitive team. Right now we're competitive, but we'll be better.”

Votto is struggling
A subset of the offense’s troubles has been the struggles from Votto, who is batting .129 (8-for-62) with one double, three RBIs, 12 walks and 23 strikeouts. He’s hitless in his last 14 at-bats and his career batting average is flirting ever-so-close to below .300. It still rounds up to .300, but he’s batting .299997 after 19 games.

“You keep going forward and play well,” Votto said.

The rotation has an MLB-worst 7.83 ERA
Even when the Reds are scoring, the one big inning for the opponents has often bitten hard this year. The rotation has yet to provide a quality start.

Tyler Mahle appeared on his way to one of his best outings this year as he allowed one run through his first five innings. Mahle opened the sixth with Manny Machado’s leadoff double and issued a four-pitch walk with one out to Eric Hosmer.

Cincinnati’s bullpen, one of the brighter spots of the young season, could not pick up Mahle in what became a four-run rally as Tony Santillan struggled with his command. Santillan walked one batter and hit two others with pitches. The big blow against him was a bases-loaded double by Ha-Seong Kim that scored three runs.

“Right from pitch one, it looked like he was maybe overthrowing his slider a little bit, pulling it,” Reds manager David Bell said.

Mahle, the only veteran in the rotation until Luis Castillo returns from the injured list, was charged with three earned runs and six hits over 5 1/3 innings with two walks and five strikeouts. He is 1-3 with a 6.45 ERA in five starts.

The Reds’ run differential for the year is minus-49, the worst in the Majors.

“Losing sucks no matter if it’s one game or a bunch of games,” Mahle said of the team’s season.

And yes, there’s bad luck too
Pham made a pair of nearly identical nice sliding catches to end Padres rallies in the first and second innings. But on Kim’s two-out double in the sixth, he attempted a diving catch that missed before the ball went to the wall. Bell had no issue with the attempt.

“Take risks, trust yourself, make plays,” Bell said. “The easy thing to do is to lay back. We're going to win more games having that mindset, whether it's throwing guys out at the plate or going all-out to make a play to win the game.”

Bell is trying to maintain optimism that things will turn around.

“Mixed into all these losses, there's a lot of hope,” Bell said. “I mean, really good at-bats, grinding it out. Good pitching. We just haven't been able to put it all together to win games, which is the bottom line, so we just have to keep playing, keep figuring it out.”