The Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies completed their second series of the year this past weekend in Cincinnati. The teams split the four-game series after Philly took two of three earlier in the month. With the season series over against the reigning NL Champs, let’s take a look at a few takeaways from this Reds v Phillies series.
Three Takeaways After the Reds vs Phillies Series
Two Out of Four Isn’t Half Bad
At the close of a weekend where Jackie Robinson’s legacy was honored, the Reds added to the celebratory mood. They split their series against NL East rivals — and last year’s World Series contenders — Philadelphia Phillies. The Redlegs lost Sunday’s game against the Phils to finish with two out of four games. A team that last year didn’t achieve their fourth victory until game 26 in early May, has now notched six wins in mid-April and is steadily inching closer to breaking .500 with a 6-9 record to begin 2023.
Is it the start Reds faithful had dreamt of? No. But it is a step in the right direction for a young team working to turn things around from last year’s disappointment.
What’s different about this year’s squad? Let’s take a look at three things that have helped this youthful gritty Reds team produce at a more consistent clip than last year.
A few short months ago at the beginning of Spring Training, general manager Nick Krall was asked by Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer to give his impressions about the Reds 2023 roster and how it differed from the previous year. “It was like a revolving door …This year it’s great to be able to come to camp and have most of your club set.”
Some of those spring training roster moves to which Krall eluded included trades of Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, and Sonny Gray, along with the earlier exits of other key clubhouse figures in Michael Lorenzen, Wade Miley, Nick Castellanos and Tucker Barnhart. This mass exodus of veteran players (some with Gold Gloves on their résumés) left the Reds reliant on youth and inexperience. It proved to be a disastrous mix as they struggled through only the second 100-loss season in the club’s long, storied history.
Manager David Bell — someone who admitted to disliking the protracted spring training schedule as a player — echoed Krall’s sentiments. “After last season [where a three-week lockout halved the usual six-week training time] we need this time….we have a lot to accomplish.” Having a more established group and an additional three weeks to train this year aided Bell and his staff as they made the most of their time by reinforcing the fundamentals and working on their small ball game (plate discipline, base stealing, bunting, etc..).
This detail-oriented approach with a more solidified starting cast was in full display throughout the series. But everything truly came together in game three of the series as the Reds stole a pair of bases, posted a team on-base percentage of .467, went 7 of 17 with runners in scoring position, and even flashed some power with a breakout game from beleaguered RF Wil Myers who sent out two dingers. Every player was involved on offense en route to a 13-0 shutout, their first of the season. Manager Bell acknowledged this fact when he succinctly told the press afterward, “A lot of good things happened…” in the Reds 13-0 win.
The team looked cohesive and showed their ability to genuinely compete against an accomplished Phillies squad. And nowhere was that more apparent than on the mound. A fact that Bell pointed out when he said, “It [game three] starts with Graham [Ashcraft] and his start.” While Ashcraft was brilliant he isn’t alone in his work on the mound this season.
2. A-OK with G-L-A
Two of Cincinnati’s big three — the starting rotation of Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft — dealt absolutely filthy stuff to the Phillies power hitting lineup. Lodolo posted six strikeouts, two walks, and an ERA of 2.12 (in what was ultimately a losing effort in game one of the series), while Ashcraft sat down four, walked four, and ended his day with a 1.42 ERA (and claimed a win, his second of the year, in game two).
Setting this series aside for a moment though, the three young guns for the Reds have posted sterling numbers so far in the early days of the 2023 season. Over the three games in which this triune of the K have featured, they have combined for 67 strikeouts over 50 innings and own an impressive collective ERA of 2.70. All three are showing deadly fastballs, deceptive off-speed pitches, and pinpoint command. Even when they’ve struggled at times on the mound, they’ve all kept it together and minimized the damage inflicted on their team. They each appear primed for strong showings in the months ahead.
While serious questions still remain around the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation — as well as in the bullpen — the trio of Greene, Lodolo, and Ashcraft are a testament to how good this team can be if some additional pieces get added to the mix.
One major piece of the puzzle that seems to have already settled into place, however, is this team’s newfound identity. They consider themselves a scrappy group that thrives off of one another’s energy. Their approach seems to be best summed up by TJ Friedl’s personal motto of “creating chaos” every time they cross the white lines onto the diamond. What else has helped them create this newfound cohesion?
3. Team Identity
Young team leader 2B Jonathan India spearheaded an idea for celebrating home runs that was created from an off-hand comment SP Luis Cessa made about LF Jake Fraley’s appearance resembling that of a Viking. Born from Cessa’s funny observation is now a memorable home run celebration that sees India bestow a horned helmet and cape on the day’s homer-slugging teammate as they rejoin the rest of the team in the dugout after rounding the bases.
Fraley, referencing the celebration, told Reds beat reporter Mark Sheldon that, “It’s a huge culture thing…It really gets the guys excited and brings guys together. It puts another dynamic to the team, and we didn’t have that last year.”
India spoke in a similar vein to that of his teammate. “You’ve got to enjoy this game every moment, because this game is hard…Let’s make it loose and have some fun.”
But they’re not just celebrating on the field, as Myers mentioned in a post-game interview with long-time Reds reporter Jim Day after the aforementioned 13-0 drubbing of the Phillies where he donned the Viking garb on two separate occasions: “I’m the team DJ…I had to turn on the team win song [before the interview].”
They’re a group that likes to grind but also celebrate and acknowledge their collective victories in the moment. To put it plainly, they’re having fun. And it seems — at least in the early going — to be working.
Building on Their Early Momentum
This is a group that went through a 100-loss crucible last season. They were affected by multiple trades of key roster pieces early on, weathered a constant storm of injuries, and dealt with harsh criticism about their poor performance throughout 2022. They seem to have learned a few hard lessons from that time.
Their manager seems to understand this as well as anyone when he said, “In the end, it’s the players’ game.”
Reds fans everywhere are hoping that this team takes Bell’s words to heart and continues to take ownership of their game. Having more stability on the roster (and more time in spring training to get reps within Bell’s small ball system), utilizing a dominant 1-2-3 young starting pitching staff, and creating real team chemistry with an emphasis on enjoying the moment, have all contributed to this team’s early success.
Hopefully, it will be enough to propel this group further up the standings in the long months ahead. If nothing else, they’ve made it entertaining to watch thus far.
Main Image: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports