by Steve Mancuso

Not there yet

The homestand was glorious. The Reds swept four games from the hapless Pirates and won tough series against postseason contending teams in the White Sox and Brewers. Just before that, David Bell’s club beat the St. Louis Cardinals two-out-of-three in Busch Stadium. The Reds are 14-8 in September and have won 9 of the last 11.

The Reds have vaulted up the standings. They have a legitimate chance to finish second in the division and are a front-runner for one of the two NL Wild Card berths. Smart number crunchers have aligned. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs put the probability of us seeing the Reds in the postseason at 86%.

Yet after all that good work, the Reds face the toughest challenge of the season. A road series against the Minnesota Twins. The homestand may have been glorious, but it’s also over. 

Three not-so-fun facts: 

  • The Twins record is 35-22, first in the tough AL Central
  • The Twins are 23-5 at home, best in MLB
  • The Twins are 17-10 against teams better than .500

The Reds have a losing record on the road and are 11-16 against teams with winning records. Sure, we say, but this isn’t that team. This Reds team in the Twin Cities is the one we expected to see all season. The hitting to go with the starting pitching and solid bullpen. The Reds that have been around for a week and a half. 

In the opposing dugout are the Twins that won 101 games last year and added Josh Donaldson and Kenta Maeda in the offseason [for details, see Kyle Berger’s Opponent Preview from earlier today]. They’ve won four in a row. They swept three games from Cleveland at home last week. They are 6-1 against NL Central teams at Target Field. The Minnesota Twins are more than capable of winning all three from the Reds this weekend. 

The Reds finishing second in the NL Central will be harder than it looks. The Reds and Cardinals are tied as of today. The Cardinals have five games in four days in St. Louis against the Brewers. If it comes down to it, the Cardinals would play two extra games in Detroit against the 22-32 Tigers.  

If the Reds win one game in Minnesota, they’ll finish with 30 wins. The Cardinals would need to win just three of their last seven games (remember, two of those are against the Tigers) to tie the Reds. The Cardinals have the tie-breaker edge with the Reds. If the Reds were fortunate enough to win two games against the Twins, the Cards would have to win four of seven. 

The good news is the NL Wild Card spots are more accessible to the Reds, in no small part because they hold the tie breaking advantage over the Giants, Brewers and Phillies. If the Reds get to 30 wins, two of those teams would need to get to 31 for the Reds to be shut out of the postseason. 

Getting to 31 wins will be a challenge for any of them. The Giants (28-27) finish up with the Rockies (24-31) today then host four games with the San Diego Padres (34-22). But if they win today and split with the Padres that gets the Giants to 31 wins. The Phillies (28-29) play at the Tampa Bay Rays (37-20). The Phillies would have to sweep the Rays to get to 31. The Brewers have 27 wins and would need to win 4 of 5 from the Cardinals to get to 31. 

If the Reds get swept in Minnesota (remember, the Twins are 23-5 at home) and end up with the 29 wins they already have, they could still make it. But the risk of falling short would be high. The Giants have a good chance of winning two more and getting to 30 wins. To get to 30, the Brewers would need to take three of five from the Cardinals. It feels like both the Brewers and Cardinals are limping down the stretch and that series is a coin flip. The Phillies would need to win two of three in Tampa Bay to get to 30. 

In short: This isn’t over. The Reds face their toughest challenge of the year this weekend. Winning one game out of three will probably be enough. And that’s a good thing. 

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

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kmartin
kmartin
5 months ago

I hope we get that win on Friday or Saturday and that it is sufficient. If we do not have to pitch Bauer on Sunday then we could go into the playoffs with the rotation of Bauer, Gray, and Castillo on a normal schedule.

kmartin
kmartin
5 months ago

The Giants just lost which is great news.

In looking at the standings, I think winning two out of three would mathematically guarantee a playoff spot for the Reds. If the Reds win two out of three they are 31 and 29.

Even if the Phillies sweep they will also go 31 and 29 so they are eliminated by tie-breaking.

If the Brewers win only four against the Cardinals they are 31 and 29 and eliminated by tie-breaking. If the Brewers win all five then the Cardinals will have 31 losses and be eliminated. It cannot be the case that one of these teams finishes second and the other beats out the Reds for a playoff spot.

So among the Brewers, Cardinals and Phillies two out three are eliminated if the Reds go two and one. This would then guarantee a playoff spot for the Reds.

Indeed, winning two of three will be tough, very tough but I think it guarantees a playoff spot.

pinson343
pinson343
5 months ago

As Kyle discussed yesterday, there’s more bad news. The Twins will be starting José Berríos, Michael Pineda, and Rich Hill. Berrios and Pineda are their number 2 and 3 pitchers for the WCS. They’ve both been strong in September. Rich Hill is not as dominating as he as with the Dodgers but he’s still a good pitcher who’s had a good season, especially in September. He’s a lefty of course and recently the Reds have had problems with lefties.

Last weekend Baldelli said he wasn’t that interested in the exact seeding of the Twins for the playoffs, he was more interested in the players’ health. But at that time the White Sox had what appeared to be a commanding lead in the AL Central. Now the Twins lead by 1/2 game, and they might feel differently about winning their division.

Originally Homer Bailey was slated to pitch on Sunday (according to some mlb.com writer). He’s coming off an injury, so was only expected to go 3-4 innings. Essentially it would have been a bullpen game for them. I don’t know whether the switch to Hill has anything to do with competing for winning the division. And since he’ll be in the bullpen for the postseason, he might not pitch long anyway on Sunday.

Mike Adams
Mike Adams
5 months ago

I think the Twins series will also give an indication of how the Reds may do in the playoffs.
The Reds need to play even a little better than they have so far in September.
The Twins have their own reasons to play without let up.
So, can the Reds rise to the occasion and win 1 or 2 games to get INTO the playoffs?
Reds need to take the bull by the horns and grab their place in the playoffs.
If they do, I don’t think the playoffs will be one (series) and done for them. Go Reds!

pinson343
pinson343
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Adams

I strongly agree. The Reds do need to play a little better – they still are having a lot of trouble hitting good pitchers and sometimes mediocre pitchers. To win a game or two this weekend, they’ll need to do it against good pitching. They’ve been fortunate with some of their pitching matchups. And it would be a great way to go into the playoffs charged up.

pinson343
pinson343
5 months ago

Five reasons to be optimistic about the Reds this weekend:

1. From mlb.com: “Several members of the Twins haven’t been able to pinpoint an exact reason as to why the team is so much better at home, but some have remarked on the added comfort level of sleeping in one’s own bed and not being isolated in a hotel with strict protocols for COVID-19, as on the road.”
Right now they’re in quarantine in a hotel, albeit with their families.

2. The Reds have not been swept all season. (They lost 2 of 2 in Cleveland, but that was part of a 4 game home-road series where they won one game.) 

3. The Twins bullpen is deep but they don’t have a dominant reliever. They give up a lot HRs and some (such as Matt Wisler) give up a lot of walks. Their closer is Sergei Romo, who’s hittable as closers go. (But I agree with Steve that it’s still soon to talk about the 2012 NL Division Series.) 

4. Their 5 top sluggers all have warts – Sano has 86 Ks in 179 ABs, Buxton has 2 walks (!) in 131 plate appearances, – that can be exploited by good pitching. Nelson Cruz is the exception, but anyway he’s one big wart – thanks for blowing the 2011 WS to the Cardinals.  

5. Rich Hill might be taken out of Game 5 early.