The Reds enter the weekend in a three-way tie for the third Wild Card spot, and 2.5 games back of the Cubs for the second Wild Card. With just 14 games remaining, each game is critical to the Reds’ playoff hopes.
The Reds will face the Mets in New York for three games this weekend. They’ll then return to GABP Monday to begin a three game series against the Twins, the only remaining games on their schedule against teams above .500. They’ll close out the homestand with three games against Pittsburgh, before facing Cleveland for two and St. Louis for three on the road to conclude the season.
The Cubs will face Arizona for three this weekend, before seeing Pittsburgh, Colorado, Atlanta, and Milwaukee for three games each. Like the Reds, their final two series are on the road.
The Diamondbacks have a critical stretch over the next five games, facing the Cubs for three and then the Giants for two. There’s a solid chance that the Diamondbacks could either take a commanding lead in the Wild Card hunt or fall way behind over that stretch, facing direct competitors. After that stretch, they’ll see the Yankees, White Sox, and Astros for three games each.
The Giants have a gauntlet of a schedule to finish out the season. They’ll play four this weekend against the last place Rockies, including a doubleheader Saturday. After that, they’ll face Arizona for two before facing the Dodgers for seven, with a three game series against San Diego in between the two Dodgers series.
The Marlins, who sit just a half game back of the three-way tie, will see Atlanta for three this weekend. They’ll then play the Mets, Brewers, Mets again, and Pirates, with each series being three games. Outside of the Reds, they arguably have the softest schedule, with three of their remaining five series against teams below .500.
Going into this last stretch of 16 games, a few key factors could determine whether the Reds make the playoffs. First, they’ll need to do what they can to win as many games as possible and control their own fate. Even if they do so, they’ll still be somewhat reliant on the performance of others given how close the race currently sits.
On an individual player level, the recent returns of Jonathan India and Joey Votto have really deepened the position player roster, providing a much stronger bench in particular. The Reds’ offense has been strong in September, with eight hitters posting an above average wRC+, led by TJ Friedl at 211.
Votto and India, along with Elly De La Cruz, Luke Maile, Harrison Bader, and Hunter Renfroe, have struggled in September, though it’s worth noting that De La Cruz’s struggles come with promising strides in terms of plate discipline. Nick Senzel has been a bit of a revelation since his return to the Majors, providing above average production against both RHP and LHP in admittedly tiny sample sizes. His 252 wRC+ against LHP and 136 wRC+ against RHP dwarf his season-long numbers, and continued production from a player you may not have been counting on would be huge for their playoff hopes.
As a whole, the Reds rank 13th in the Majors with a 111 wRC+ in September, on par with the Cubs and just slightly behind the Giants among the teams in the Wild Card hunt. Arizona and Miami have posted bottom-third offenses in September.
On the pitching side, the Reds’ September performance doesn’t stack up well with the others in the Wild Card hunt. They’re worst of that group in ERA (5.23), FIP (5.31), and xFIP (5.16), with much of the struggle coming from the starting rotation. Bullpen ERA in September placed them ahead of the Cubs and Marlins, though they’re still behind both in FIP and xFIP.
It’s clear that unless the Reds’ pitching really steps up over the next few weeks, they’ll need to be carried by their offense. From a group that’s had the highest of highs to the lowest of lows throughout various stretches of the season, the question becomes which version of the Reds’ offense we will see.
The Reds will again face two LHP this weekend against the Mets, so they’ll likely run out a lineup similar to what we saw in Detroit against their LHP. It’s fair to wonder if De La Cruz should start against the LHP this weekend, after Noelvi Marte handled SS on Wednesday against a LHP. That provided the Reds an opportunity to get more right handed hitters in the lineup, something that may prove to be a benefit again this weekend.
One thing is for certain, these next 16 games are going to be an exciting time for Reds fans. Regardless of whether they end up pulling it off and landing a playoff spot, to have such a young team in a position to give themselves a chance is certainly an impressive feat. They’ll look to give everything they have to get to the playoffs, and hopefully make a deep run this season, ahead of expectations.
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