The Cincinnati Reds were on the wrong end of another game against a Wild Card rival Sunday night, dropping a 5-2 game to the Arizona Diamondbacks. There is still enough baseball for the Reds to build a comfortable margin for error in the Wild Card race, but recent inconsistencies have them falling from the division lead in the middle of July to outside of the playoff positions.
3 Notes From the Reds-Diamondbacks Series Finale
On the Outside Looking In
It’s hard not to be optimistic about this team. The rookie talent is gripping and compelling, but the offense has disappointed in August. The squad has a collective 90 wRC+ in the month, the seventh lowest in the sport. The Reds only have two hitters who have been above average in August in Spencer Steer (123 wRC+) and Matt McLain (113 wRC+).
Cincinnati hasn’t found the consistency to put together a big win streak to give themselves any leeway in the Wild Card race. They currently sit 1.5 games out of a playoff spot as their three-game sweep over the Angels is their only run longer than two games since July 19-23, which included their previous series against the Diamondbacks.
The Reds have looked to unorthodox solutions during their struggles. In Sunday’s loss to the Diamondbacks, it seemed like they simply couldn’t get the break they needed against starter Slade Cecconi.
Nick Martini came from nowhere to impress in his first few games as a Red, working a fourteen-pitch at-bat in the second inning, but it ended in a strikeout. TJ Friedl dropped a great bunt, but the Arizona catcher Gabriel Moreno made a stellar spinning, barehanded play to get Friedl out. Cincinnati simply didn’t get many baserunners on, only going 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position with a Friedl sacrifice fly to score a run.
For all the Reds’ depth and versatility, they have been unable to field enough hot hitters to carry their lineup during this cold stretch. Jonathan India is still working his way back from a foot injury that was more severe than initially realized and Jake Fraley has missed most of August. Joey Votto has recently taken a trip to the injured list, too. With all the raw talent on this squad, they need to find a path forward to make the most of their tantalizing potential. Especially on days their starter gives them a great chance for a win.
Ashcraft Mastering His Craft
Graham Ashcraft has been one of the most consistent starters for the Reds over the past month. Yet again on Sunday, he provided another great outing in a pivotal matchup. He worked 6 2/3 innings while allowing two runs on seven hits and a single walk. He struck out five while forcing eleven swing-and-misses from the Diamondbacks’ hitters.
Ashcraft commented on his performance in the postgame interview: “I was filling up the zone, throwing both sides of the plate. Didn’t really have the 2-seam tonight. Had to deal with more of the cutter and the slider. But I mean, filled the zone up. Got good swing-and-misses. Got outs when I needed to. Gave up that one home run, I mean he just put a good swing on it. But I mean other than that, thought it was a pretty good night.”
It was another missed opportunity for the Reds to back up their starter. Ashcraft has a 3.03 ERA in August across five starts. The Reds have lost four of those five games, though. They only squeaked across nine combined runs in the four losses. Ashcraft went at least seven innings in the first four starts of the month.
Ashcraft has steadily improved his walk rate this season. He is still allowing a fair amount of hard contact, but he has worked around that to consistently provide solid starts for his team. The state of the Reds’ pitching is a curious one as Andrew Abbott has struggled, Brandon Williamson has impressed recently, and Hunter Greene hasn’t found any rhythm since returning from injury. Ashcraft will need to be a steady presence for the Reds to hunt for a chance in October.
Entering their series against the Diamondbacks, the Reds’ bullpen had been performing like one of the best in the league in August. They were as much of a culprit for this series loss as anyone.
In the first game of the series, Buck Farmer and Alex Young allowed all three runs the Diamondbacks scored in the 7th and 8th innings. In Game 2, with the Reds only down by one, Brett Kennedy gave up five runs over four innings. In the Reds thrilling 11-inning victory, Alexis Diaz blew a save for only the second time this season as he allowed three runs in the tenth inning. In the series finale, in a 2-2 tie, Ian Gibaut only got one out while giving up two runs.
As baseball fans may know, the world of relievers is a fickle one. But it sure doesn’t help for the collapse to come in such an important series with playoff implications. The Reds get a chance to redeem themselves in another Wild Card matchup with their next series coming against the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants’ offense has been even worse than the Reds’ this month. The Giants’ pitching staff has at least hovered around the top ten in that span, though. If that means the Reds’ lineup cannot manufacture the explosive games they are capable of, it might fall on the pitching staff to deliver their best baseball.
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