Reds officially eliminated from playoff chase
CHICAGO – Few expected the Reds to contend for the postseason in 2021, so it was a remarkable season in many respects that the club challenged for a playoff spot into September. But their elimination in the final week is still a disappointment because Cincinnati controlled its own destiny until a stunning stretch-run fade.
Playoff hopes for the Reds had officially ended even before Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cincinnati had an elimination number at 1 going into the night, and the Cardinals won their 17th game in a row with a victory over the Brewers to claim the second National League Wild Card spot.
“When it becomes official, it’s tough,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Because from day one of Spring Training, we had one goal. That’s first to get to the postseason and win a championship. All along we believed it was going to happen. Of course, it is a tough night.”
On Aug. 22, the Reds completed a four-game series sweep of the Marlins to reach a season-high 12 games over .500 at 69-57. They were one game up on the fading Padres for the second National League Wild Card spot. On Aug. 27, their odds of making the playoffs were a season-high 72.9 percent.
Instead of seizing the moment, the Reds faltered. Despite a favorable schedule, they went winless in nine consecutive series -- including series losses to non-contenders like the Marlins, Tigers, Cubs and Pirates.
“We shot ourselves in the foot late and it really hurt,” starting pitcher Wade Miley said.
Cincinnati is 13-19 in their last 32 games. In eight of the defeats, the club scored one run or fewer.
There were also a pair of series losses to the Cardinals, which proved devastating. St. Louis caught fire and zoomed past both the Reds and Padres to claim the final NL playoff berth.
“We did struggle for a few weeks, there is no question, and it came at a time that was really important,” Bell said.
Part of the decline was indeed self-inflicted. The Reds simply didn’t beat teams they were supposed to. On the other hand, they had issues before taking the field for Opening Day. Ownership mandated a payroll reduction in the offseason, which led to cuts in the bullpen. Closer Raisel Iglesias was traded to the Angels and reliever Archie Bradley was non-tendered. Cincinnati’s biggest offseason need -- shortstop -- was not filled and the team made an ill-fated attempt to move third baseman Eugenio Suárez there from third base.
Bell and general manager Nick Krall were forced to improvise on the fly at times. The team caught a break when Kyle Farmer stepped up and filled in nicely at shortstop to become a worthy lineup fixture. Several veteran relievers -- Heath Hembree, Josh Osich and Brad Brach, among others -- were brought in at various times. In limited stints, they had success, but none could sustain it and all three pitchers were eventually let go.
One expected key reliever, Amir Garrett endured struggles throughout the year and lost his role in high-leverage situations. Krall helped stabilize the bullpen before the Trade Deadline by acquiring Mychal Givens, Luis Cessa and Josh Wilson. Michael Lorenzen returned from injuries as well.
There were several key injuries and subpar performances for pivotal players, but the Reds deserve credit for overcoming it for much of the season. Joey Votto, Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Mike Moustakas, Sonny Gray, Tyler Naquin and Nick Senzel all missed significant portions of the season on the injured list.
Offensively, Suárez endured the worst season of his career as he is ranked last in the Major Leagues in hitting with a .193 average, despite hitting his 30th homer in Tuesday’s loss. On the mound, expected ace Luis Castillo was 1-8 with a 7.22 ERA in his first 11 starts before turning things around. Castillo is still the Major League leader in losses.
Lots of positives also stood out. Votto, who turned 38 on Sept. 10, had a renaissance season with 34 home runs -- including a club-record seven-game streak with a homer. Despite playing only one game since Aug. 16 because of an intercostal strain, Winker established his career-high with 24 homers -- including a pair of three-homer games.
Jonathan India solidified second base and the leadoff spot in the lineup after Bell moved him there on June 5. India is the leading contender for NL Rookie of the Year. Another rookie, catcher Tyler Stephenson, proved himself both as a hitter and behind the plate in a superb catching tandem with Tucker Barnhart. After earning a spot out of camp, Naquin replaced the injured Senzel and slugged a career-high 19 homers.
With 31 homers and hitting .310, Castellanos became a star for Cincinnati as he set a tone with his intensity. But he has an opt-out clause in his four-year, $64 million contract after the season, which he’s expected to exercise.
There are four games to go in 2021. The 82-76 Reds have already clinched a winning record and want to achieve much more in 2022.
“We learned from this year what we can do. We know we can make the postseason,” Suárez said. “We did it last year and this year we were close. Take the good moments and take the good things about the team and come ready next year to make the playoffs.”