Storyline: The Reds are off to one of the best starts in franchise history–8-5 (as of 4/16). What’s the secret behind the turnaround? I’ll tell you what I think.
Last year the Cincinnati Reds had a season to forget–a 68-94 record–tied with the lowly San Diego Padres for the worst record in the National League.
But, wow! It’s amazing how things can change in just a few short months.
The Reds are off to one of the best starts in franchise history–8-5 (as of 4/16) after the first 13 games of the season. They’re also building a little bit of a cushion in the NL Central race. The Reds are 1 game ahead of Milwaukee as of Sunday night.
This ball club has shown incredible growth in the off-season. So what’s the secret behind the turnaround? I think there are three reasons.
REASON 1–Improved Pitching Staff: At times last year it seemed as though the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats, could muster a better performance than the Reds. Cincinnati was simply atrocious! The cumulative team ERA was 4.91 (third worst in the Majors) and the Reds gave up more home runs last season than Dairy Queen serves chicken strip baskets. Cincinnati’s pitchers watched 258 balls sail over the wall last year—the most in Major League Baseball.
The Reds have rebounded in a huge way in 2017. The staff has recorded a proficient 3.53 ERA—third best in the National League.
What’s responsible for the flip? Three Reds’ pitchers are leading the charge: Scott Feldman, Amir Garrett, and Drew Storen.
Feldman is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career (8.40 ERA and a 2-1 record in 14 starts last season for the Blue Jays). But he has stymied opposing batters so far this season. In 15.2 innings the 34-year-old has given up just five runs on 15 hits. His 2.87 ERA is currently 23rd best in the Majors.
Garrett is a former St. John’s basketball player who found his calling in baseball. Garrett played four seasons in the minor leagues before being placed on the Reds’ opening day roster. And, so far, this multi-sport athlete has done anything but disappoint. His 1.42 ERA is the 8th best in baseball. He made a huge splash in his MLB debut, pitching six innings of shutout baseball in a 2-0 win at St. Louis.
Storen was a great reliever for the Washington Nationals, but fell on hard times the past two seasons in Seattle and then Toronto. But this Indianapolis native seems primed for a comeback. He has a low 1.42 ERA with one save.
The Reds’ pitching has risen from the dead! Don’t be surprised if this hot mound work carries throughout the season.
REASON 2–The Bats Are Staying Hot: As good as the pitching has been for Cincinnati, the bats have been even better. The Reds are the best offensive team in all of baseball. They’ve plated 60 runners so far this season.
A driving factor behind that statistic is Zack Cozart. Cozart is the MLB leader in batting average right now (.432) and he has accounted for a fifth of the Reds’ runs with five runs scored and 7 RBIs.
Cincinnati has also benefited from the long ball, driving 17 balls over the outfield wall so far this season. The quintet of Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, and Scooter Gennett look awesome at the plate. Each player has hit three dingers already for Cincinnati.
On any given day the Reds are a lethal threat to put up 10 or more runs. So opponents had better be ready to score some runs themselves. That’s a tall order against the Reds’ pitching staff.
REASON 3–Underdog Factor+Bronson Arroyo=Recipe for Success: While Reason #3 may not make sense on first glance, I think there’s a relationship between the Reds being an underdog and the return of pitcher Bronson Arroyo.
Literally nothing was expected out of the Reds when this MLB season began a couple weeks ago. In fact, Bleacher Report projected the Reds to finish one game WORSE than last season (at 67-95). That horrendous record was projected to be only one game better than the presumed bottom-feeding Brewers in the NL Central.
But what the connection to Bronson Arroyo? Arroyo was a star pitcher for the Reds for seven seasons. He even made the NL All-Star team in 2006. Then Arroyo was traded to Arizona in 2014 and has bounced around the minor leagues dealing with elbow injuries. He recently signed a minor league contract (on Feb 2) with the Reds.
His return to the city on the Ohio River is a symbol of the past glory for Cincinnati. While the Reds have fallen on hard times the past few seasons, Arroyo’s return to the organization brings back memories of success–reminding players and coaches what this organization is capable of.
Combine playing with a chip on your shoulder (the underdog factor) with realizing your full potential (the return of Arroyo to the Reds’ organization) and you can create a winning mindset.
While it is still early, the Reds have shown more consistency than any other MLB team. As long as the pitching continues to excel, the bats remain hot, and the Reds use their “recipe for success,’ Cincinnati has a chance to wreak some havoc in the National League this season.