Reds Thoughts – Wild Card Preview

A review of the Cincinnati Reds season and a preview of the Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After 162 games, it all comes down to one. The Cincinnati Reds face the Pittsburgh Pirates with the winner moving on in the playoffs and the loser going (or staying) home. It seems a little unfair that teams play 162 games only to have their fate decided in one game, but such are the rules of baseball.

Depending on who you ask, the Reds are either right where they’re supposed to be or they underachieved this year. Personally, because I thought they improved on last years team which won the division title, I think they underachieved just a bit. That said, I don’t think many people had the St. Louis Cardinals and Pirates playing as well as they did for the entire season. The Reds ended up competing in the toughest division in baseball and still made the playoffs, which has to count for something.

Injuries took a bit of a toll on the team with Ryan Ludwick going down in the first game of the season, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton missing the majority of the season, and Johnny Cueto struggling to stay healthy. All four guys are major pieces on the team but they couldn’t be reliable upon for long stretches of the season.

The Reds got production from their four major stars at the plate though. Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo were #1 and #2 in the NL in on base percentage while Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips were #2 and #4 in RBI. Unfortunately Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart struggled a bit this season, leaving the bottom of the order less effective than fans had hoped for.

The pitching staff was fairly consistent but not spectacular. Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, and Mike Leake all finished with 14 wins while Homer Bailey had a disappointing 11. The bullpen wasn’t as good as last season, thanks in large part to the injuries to Marshall and Broxton. I’ve always said that Marshall is the bullpen glue because of his effectiveness in the 7th or 8th inning, but without him, that’s when the team fell apart at times this year. Aroldis Chapman was his usual flame throwing self, he just wasn’t used as often as he could’ve been.

162 games really don’t matter right now though. It all comes down to Tuesday. The Reds will trot out Johnny Cueto to the mound while the Pirates will use Francisco Liriano, who owned the Reds in his last outing against them before the bullpen blew the game for the Pirates.

Latos was scheduled to be the starter for the Wild Card game, but his arm is sore (and he’s been battling an abdominal injury for months now), so Cueto gets the call. I would’ve gone with Cueto anyway, so I like this decision. Cueto has pitched very well in his two starts since coming off the DL and when everyone is healthy, I feel like he’s the best pitcher on the staff.

The Reds have a recent history of not doing well in the playoffs. Last year, when they were tied for the best record in baseball, they blew a 2-0 lead in the first round. Dusty Baker’s playoff history is much worse as he’s been often criticized for his inability to manage close games. That said, this is the Pirates first successful season since 1992 and they seem “a little too happy to be here” right now while the Reds seem to be on a mission after last season’s failure.

I feel like the Reds have to get on the Pirates early. Even though the Pirates don’t have a recent history of winning, they can’t let them build that confidence early while the Reds are thinking, “here we go again, another disappointment in the playoffs.” Choo, Phillips, Votto, Ludwick, and Bruce need to make a statement early and Latos needs to follow that up with shut down innings.

Unlike previous years, the Reds have a huge weapon off the bench this year and his name is Billy Hamilton. If the Reds need a pinch runner in a big situation, he’s the go-to guy. He’ll end up at second on the first pitch and, from there, can score on anything hit to the outfield. Hamilton should be used in tomorrow’s game, no matter what the situation might be. If the Reds need an insurance run, use Hamilton. If they’re down by 3 and need a spark, use Hamilton. If it’s a tie game, definitely use Hamilton. Baker can’t just leave Hamilton on the bench for this game. You have to go with your biggest weapons no matter what. That might include using Chapman for two innings instead of one as well. Dusty has to manage like this is his final game as the Reds manager, because if he loses, it very well might be.

The Pirates won the season series and just swept a three game set from the Reds, but none of that matters if the Reds can put more runs on the board than the Pirates tomorrow in Pittsburgh.

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