In the series finale against a pesky St. Louis Cardinals team, the Cincinnati Reds received important contributions from players up and down their lineup. From the dominant start of Hunter Greene to Jonathan India‘s return, the Reds are still fighting for their spot in the playoffs with some encouraging results.
India and Votto’s Return and More Reds’ Notes
A Feisty Fastball
Pitching has been hard to come by for this Reds roster. Covid problems led to some shorthanded games that left the Reds calling up several rookies. Andrew Abbott has struggled to maintain his early season form. In what is increasingly becoming a tense playoff push, Hunter Greene locked down the Cardinals in a series finale the Reds were desperate to win.
Over six innings in the Reds’ 7-1 win, Greene struck out nine batters while allowing a single run on one hit and four walks. While those four walks led to some extra work, Greene was dominant overall. He challenged hitters with his fastball, especially forcing St. Louis to adapt to pitches high in the zone. When his command was on point, he was dotting the edges of the strike zone.
Cardinals’ hitters had a hard time catching up with the fastball, with the slider playing down and away from right-handed hitters. Overall, he had a great 34% called strike + whiff rate, including ten whiffs on twenty-six swings on his fastball. His nine strikeouts was his highest total since being activated off the injured list for his start on August 20.
Greene has now put together back-to-back great starts, although they were interrupted by his stint on the Covid list. The Reds’ path to the postseason will require Greene to put together more outings like this. The final result was great, and with some refinement in that total of four walks, he could provide more efficient outings to work through six innings more consistently.
Jonathan India and Joey Votto Return
Cincinnati’s lineup has felt like a funhouse mirror with all the adaptations it has taken on in recent weeks. At one point, Jake Fraley, Jonathan India, Joey Votto, and Matt McLain were all on the injured list. That’s a significant core of the roster that played a large part in the Reds’ success through the end of July.
Since then, the lineup rotated through an assortment of increased playing time for Nick Senzel and Stuart Fairchild. Noelvi Marte earned a promotion to help fill in the gaps. Nick Martini had a surprising impact, and Harrison Bader and Hunter Renfroe arrived off of wavers. It was a patchwork effort at times, but two of the Reds’ most advanced hitters are back in the lineup.
In India’s first at-bat since July 11, he took a 1-1 fastball from Miles Mikolas deep to left centerfield for a home run. In his next at-bat, India worked a walk. His plate approach was sorely missed for the Reds. He avoids chasing or whiffs and works tough counts. He is tied for third on the team with fifteen home runs, as well.
Just for added measure, he stole his thirteenth base of the season. He has been one of the best baserunners on the team this season. His overall production has been about league-average, but he is one of the Reds’ most consistent hitters when he is locked in. It was an encouraging return for a team that ranked 22nd with a 93 team wRC+ since his injury.
Votto was just as impactful with a home run of his own in the bottom of the eighth inning. His return could prove pivotal for the Reds, as well. Suddenly, their depth is starting to look like a good problem to have again, with Christian Encarnacion-Strand also impressing in recent weeks. Votto had a good July with a 111 wRC+, but struggled to an 80 wRC+ in August before his injury. A bounceback from Votto could add even more to a team that is close to full strength again.
All-Around Team Performance
The return of Greene, Votto, and India is surely the most important takeaway from the game, but the rest of the lineup had a great game, too. When this Reds’ team is at its best, it is getting contributions through every part of the order. That was certainly the case on Sunday.
TJ Friedl was a catalyst early in the season, but had a few tough months with a 65 wRC+ in July and August. Since the calendar flipped to September, he has been the thrilling, high-average hitter that helped spark the Reds’ offense earlier in the season. Over his past ten games, he has a .308 average and a .441 on-base percentage. In Sunday’s tripled to start the rally that broke open the scoring for Cincinnati. In his next at-bat, he pulled a high fastball for his thirteenth home run of the season.
Spencer Steer continued his excellent run of form with a 2-for-3 game, including a walk and driving in Friedl after his triple. Nick Martini hit a triple of his own right after to score Steer. Will Benson showcased how valuable he can be in the nine-hole, going 3-for-4 as he has started firing again over the past week.
The Reds have every chance to make October, and it is largely in their hands at this point. Most of their key hitters are available again and more pitchers should be returning in the next few days, including Brandon Williamson and Ben Lively. This lineup has the ability to be a threat through the entire order and that will test their upcoming opposition.
According to Tankathon, the Reds have one of the easiest remaining schedules in baseball. The Reds have an off-day on Monday before their road trip starts against the Detroit Tigers. The Wild Card picture is still foggy with the Reds, Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins, and San Francisco Giants still jostling for that last playoff spot.
The Reds currently sit 1.5 games behind the third Wild Card position, but will have to overtake all three of those other teams in the final few weeks of the season. They have the potential to be the most dynamic, thrilling team in the race. The Reds will have to find their peak form again to make the most of this opportunity. With the return of so many key players after a rough past month, it seems possible again.
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