by Steve Mancuso

The 19-game mountain

So, what’s next for the Reds? 

The club has an 18-23 record with 19 games remaining. The Reds returned to Cincinnati last night for a brief home stay after a heartrending split of their four-game series with the last-place Pirates. When this agonizing, COVID-19 baseball “season” reaches its merciful end there will be ample time to pick at the Reds wreckage and dissect what went wrong. 

But we’re not there, yet. Not quite.

The season ends in three weeks, on September 27. What are the exact contours of the challenge facing manager David Bell’s club for making the postseason?

Qualifying for the Postseason

Let’s start with the special 2020 rules.

16 of MLB’s 30 teams will make the postseason, eight from the American League and eight from the National League. The top two teams from each division make it. That’s six per league. Two more wild card teams from each league, the ones with the next best records also get to play more.

The eight in each league will be seeded 1-through-8. The three division champions will be 1-2-3, the second place teams 4-5-6 and wild card teams 7-8. In each of those categories, teams will be ranked by record. Ties will be broken based on criteria. No extra tie-breaking games will be played. 

Unlike the previous few seasons, there will be no byes for the division champions. Based on those seedings, a round of 3-game-series will take place, matching #1 vs.# 8, #2 vs. #7 and so on.

The higher seeded team will be the home team. What that designation entails hasn’t been determined. It may mean hosting the games. In that case, the #1 Dodgers would face the #8 Marlins in Dodger Stadium. But MLB is also considering a semi-permeable bubble. One plan has the NL teams all playing in Arlington, Texas and the AL in Southern California. In that world, the home team’s advantage will simply be white uniforms and batting last. 

The Standings

The Reds can make the postseason tournament in one of two ways.

One path is to finish first or second in the NL Central division. As of this morning’s standings, the Reds find themselves in fourth place in the NL Central, five games behind the first-place Cubs and 3.5 games behind the Cardinals. 

The second way for the Reds to qualify for the postseason is to finish with one of the two best records below the top two teams in each division. Again, as of this morning, the Reds are in competition with five teams for those two wild card slots.  

The Reds Remaining Schedule

Tuesday morning, the Reds head to Chicago to play the Cubs. Here are their 19 games, with the number of games in parentheses and the opponent’s current record following. 

  • at Chicago Cubs (3) 23-18
  • at St. Louis Cardinals (3) 17-15
  • vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (4) 13-26
  • vs. Chicago White Sox (3) 26-15
  • vs. Milwaukee Brewers (3) 18-21
  • at Minnesota Twins (3) 25-17

Only seven of the remaining games are against teams with a losing record. There are a couple ways to think about that. On the one hand, those teams (Cubs, White Sox, Twins) have all but sealed up a postseason spot and may not play with desperation. Bur more likely, it will be a harder challenge playing complete teams that are still jockeying for seeding. 

So, the Reds remaining schedule is tough.  

Qualifying from the Division

What about the Cardinals schedule? Well, they still have 26 games to play in 21 days, thanks to a long COVID-related layoff. The league has decided they only need to play a total of 58 games instead of the 60 everyone else will. St Louis has one off day (the Reds have three, counting today) and plays six doubleheaders.

It’s hard to predict what toll that arduous schedule will take on the Cardinals. But one thing in their favor is only three of those remaining games are against a team with a winning record. They play the Cubs today and the Twins twice. 

The Cardinals and Brewers have all ten games against each other to play. When they do, it’s a mixed reward for the Reds. If St. Louis beats Milwaukee, it helps the Reds in the Wild Card race. If the Brewers beat the Cardinals, it helps the Reds (sorta) in the Division. The Cardinals-Brewers games don’t start until a week from today, so we could have better clarity on our rooting interest by then. 

The Brewers also have three games with the Cubs. 

Qualifying as a Wild Card Team

If you’re looking for a flicker of good news in the gloom this is where you’ll find it. 

All the teams the Reds are fighting against for the Wild Card spots have challenging schedules. The Rockies play the Padres, A’s, Dodgers and the Giants. The Marlins have seven games with Atlanta, seven with the Phillies and play the Yankees. The Giants face San Diego, Oakland, Colorado for 14 of their 19 games. And the Mets play Toronto, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and have four games with the Phillies. 

When you look at that group of teams, keep in mind that two will qualify, not just one.  

Yes, I’m Telling You There’s a Chance

Um, sure. 

The Reds have to play better. Much better. Mostly that falls on the hitters. A healthy Nick Senzel patrolling center field would be welcome. If our favorite team doesn’t boost its performance, all this calculating is a waste of everyone’s time. Whether they can do that is an open question. 

The Reds do have head-to-head games against a couple teams in their way. But because of how poorly they’ve played, making the postseason is largely out of their control now. If a couple competitors get hot, it would close out any realistic chance for the Reds. It’s impossible to project what record it would take to qualify. Too much depends on how other teams play.

Throw it all together and crank the numbers. The probability the Reds will make the postseason is 28.1% (FanGraphs) or 13.8% (Baseball-Reference) depending on who you care to believe.

That’s a round-number average of 20% — or about one in five. 

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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Brian Van Hook
Brian Van Hook
11 days ago

This team has shot itself in the foot so many times that I’m surprised they even have a 20 percent leg to stand on. (To butcher a saying.)

Until the offense starts producing more, this team isn’t going to be able to overcome its bad defense, untimely gaffes, or flat-out bad luck.

11 days ago

I was surprised to see the 28% number. It presumably comes from their wild card chances. The Reds have blown one opportunity after another this season to go on a run against a weak schedule. The upcoming schedule is not weak, but – viewed optimistically anyway – there is one more opportunity.

Except for Darvish, the Cubs starting rotation has recently been a disaster, with the other regular starters either injured or slumping. Alec Mills was originally posted as the starter for the Tuesday game, it’s now TBD. Looking at their active roster, I don’t see a single potential replacement so it seems they might be thinking of adding someone for that game. Darvish is no longer posted for Tuesday’s game, which may not mean anything. The Cubs have announced their Thursday pitcher, Adbert Alzolay, inexperienced and walked 5 in less than 3 innings in his last start.

Then three in St. Louis. The Cardinals play two double headers this week, including one on Thursday, but they’ve weathered those well so far. If the Reds lose all 3 series to the Cards this season … that sentence can be finished in many ways, none of them good.

After that they head home for 4 against the Pirates. Home/road splits don’t mean as much this year, but in recent years they’ve played them well at home and been dominated by them in Pittsburgh.

If they could only score some runs, there’s an opportunity to get back in it over the next 10 games.

11 days ago
Reply to  pinson343

Mills and Darvish have now been announced as pitching Tuesday and Wednesday. Needless to say, the Reds need to beat Mills. Facing Darvish is not certain doom, the Reds have had some success against him and Bauer wants revenge.