As of Tuesday afternoon, the Cincinnati Reds hold a postseason spot over the San Diego Padres, who are on the outside looking in.
Yes, that’s right: one of the most active teams in the trade and free agency markets in the last couple of years is currently out of the playoffs, and the Reds have taken advantage of the situation.
The difference right now is narrow, though: the Reds have a 69-57 record and the Friars are 68-58.
They are fighting neck and neck for the second Wild Card spot, as the first one, currently held by the Los Angeles Dodgers (78-47) is probably out of their reach.
If we told you that the Reds were going to be fighting with the Padres for a playoff spot in late August, you probably wouldn’t have believed us.
So, the @Brewers have a solid lock on the NL Central, Dodgers/Giants are a solid lock on on the 1st wildcard spot (for now), but here suddenly we're watching the @Reds and the @Padres for the 2nd wildcard? WHO KNEW? #VottoStillBangs #BrewCrew
— Matt Murphy (@murphwv) August 24, 2021
But here we are.
The Reds are perhaps the most surprising team of the 2021 season if we consider how well they are playing and how close they are to being in the postseason again.
The Reds Have Exceeded Expectations
Cincinnati was expected to be good, but probably not this good.
We knew they had a very good pitching foundation, but not this great.
Luis Castillo has completely turned his season around after a dismal start and is now rocking a 4.36 ERA after hovering around six in June.
Even rookie Vladimir Gutierrez (9-4, 3.68 ERA) has been a good addition.
Overall, the Reds’ pitching hasn’t been elite from a run-prevention standpoint (they are 17th in collective ERA at 4.40) but are very adept at missing bats (sixth in strikeouts per nine innings, with 9.61).
Last year, the pitching carried them to the postseason, but once they were there, their inefficient offense exposed them.
The Atlanta Braves swept them in the National League Wild Card Series 2-0.
The Reds weren’t able to score in both games, a span of 22 innings.
This time, however, the situation is completely different.
The Reds are fourth in homers with 176 and in runs per game with 5.1.
They are fifth in batting average, third in OBP, and fifth in slugging percentage.
The Offense Is The Team’s Calling Card
This time, the bats have answered the call and are doing the heavy lifting.
Right now, productive slugger Jesse Winker (.955 OPS, 24 home runs) is out with an injury, but the slack has been picked up by Joey Votto (28 homers, .952 OPS), Nick Castellanos (22 homers, .945 OPS), and Jonathan India (.849 OPS, 16 homers).
If the 2020 Reds were known for their pitching, the 2021 edition is associated with offense, and that’s certainly surprising.
Nobody saw such an impressive breakthrough season coming by India, or such a jaw-dropping resurgence campaign by Votto.
Joey Votto has hit 30 homers just twice in his career. He’s sitting just two away from doing it a third time when he’s 37 years old. His resurgence is one of the funnest stories with the Reds in a very long time.
— Big Blue Express (@bigbluexpress) August 21, 2021
Right now, the Reds have won seven of their last 10 games and have a very good chance of securing their playoff berth next month.
That’s certainly an eye-opening development considering the competition and the preseason expectations.