The Cincinnati Reds are in must-win mode. Their scintillating season is in danger of ending without a playoff appearance, but players like Elly De La Cruz refuse to let that happen so easily. In a game against the Cleveland Guardians that went sideways from the start, the Reds rallied for one of their best wins in this pivotal finish to the season.
De La Cruz Powers Reds in Last-Chance Effort
Just Setting the Stage
Hunter Greene took the mound for Cincinnati. The Reds’ starting pitching has been shaky in recent weeks, at best. Greene was the best chance for a quality outing to give the offense a chance to step up and give the bullpen a reprieve.
The Greene vs. Cleveland matchup was a truly interesting dynamic. In a game the Reds had to win, their flamethrowing youngster would be facing down the lineup with the lowest strikeout rate in all of baseball. Games don’t play out on paper, though. Instead, the lineup with the fewest home runs in the majors launched three of them against Greene.
Greene had been one of the few reliable starters for the Reds in recent weeks. His final line was three innings with seven earned runs on eight hits, a walk, and three strikeouts. Those three home runs were a warning call for a bullpen that has been overworked. In September, the Reds bullpen has pitched 107 innings, the second-most of any team, despite a 4.79 ERA.
Put On Your Rally Caps
The Reds managed to win this wild game 11-7 thanks to their own offensive outburst, an outcome they haven’t been able to consistently rely upon this month. The whole team is heating up, though. Despite allowing seven runs in the first four innings, the Reds dominated the middle of the game to seize the lead. The Reds hit three home runs of their own against Guardians’ starter Lucas Giolito.
The phenomenal talent, Elly De La Cruz, was as pivotal to the game as anyone. De La Cruz had been stuck in a rut for several months entering this game. Since the All-Star break, he had posted a slash line of .178/.261/.253. No average, no power, and an alarming strikeout rate. A bounce back here was as welcome as ever, with De La Cruz going 3-for-5 with two home runs. One of them was a rocket hit at 119.2 MPH. His struggles might not simply end with this one game, but if there was any time for one of his signature performances, it was with the season on the line.
Perhaps you’ve heard of this TJ Friedl, too. Fun player, lots of bunts, triples, stolen bases, and highlight defensive plays… How about Freidl the slugger? He has 18 home runs, including a homer in four straight games, to rank second on the team on this year. Friedl’s profile as a high-average, low-strikeout bat to slot in the top of the order seemed like an important part of the Reds’ success this season, but he has been doing even more to lift this offense. He has been raking through all of September during this power surge with his average of .348 and nearly walking (15.7%) as much as he strikes out (16.9%).
The greatest development story during this playoff hunt is Christian Encarnacion-Strand‘s production at the plate. He has continued his breakout from early August to become one of the most important hitters in the lineup. He has improved his strikeout rate while hitting for more power in September. Some of this might be unsustainable over the long term. He has a 19.6% barrel rate this month, which would rank him with players like… Shohei Ohtani… but this recent hot stretch showcases just what Encarnacion-Strand is capable of doing. He has seven home runs this month, including six in his last eight games.
This does not even dive into the growth of Noelvi Marte (.361 average in September) or continued production of Spencer Steer (.853 OPS this month). Every batter in the starting lineup got on base. The win over the Guardians was the type of dynamic performance that pushed the Reds to this position in the first place.
Bullpen’s Last Push
Despite the overwhelming workload placed upon the bullpen this month, the Reds’ relievers shined once again in Wednesday’s win over the Guardians. The bullpen has taken some lumps recently, but they have put together some impressive performances, as well.
After starter Hunter Greene only went three innings, the Reds needed four relievers to close out the game. Sam Moll and Fernando Cruz went two innings each, with Lucas Sims and Alexis Díaz rounding out the game as the bullpen pitched a scoreless six innings. This final stretch is essentially sudden death for the Reds and the bullpen might be called upon for similar trials.
The Reds would be a thrilling team to watch in the playoffs. After a 100-loss season in 2022, Cincinnati has become one of the most entertaining teams to watch with their rookie-fueled lineup. It will take a complete team effort with some units running on fumes. But Wednesday’s performance was an encouraging blueprint for how this team can still creep into the playoffs to cause some mayhem.