However, this season has been nothing short of a dramatic uphill climb. The best part is that there are still nine extremely important games left as the Reds now sit only two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals.
There have been many notable events this season that have positioned the Reds where they are in the standings. The smooth transition from injured Johnny Cueto to Tony Cingrani is certainly one of them.
Several injuries have kept this club from playing at its full potential. On the other hand, numerous injured key players have returned to the club.
While Redleg Nation hopes to move toward another division title in the remaining games, here's a look at the events that dramatically changed the Cincinnati Reds’ season.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
The Reds were only three innings into the season before the anxiety took over the club’s great chances in 2013.
Ryan Ludwick advanced from first to third on a wild pitch and slid awkwardly into the base. It was obvious that Ludwick's injury would have him riding the pine for the majority of the season.
Before Ludwick got hurt, the Reds appeared to have one of their soundest lineups in years. With him out, the lineup desperately needed a power cleanup hitter.
The Reds were fortunate in that Brandon Phillips rose to the occasion, taking on the role. His promise of 100 RBI came true recently and made the gap in the lineup a little less noticeable.
It completely changed how manager Dusty Baker formed his lineup. He often turned to Zack Cozart in the No. 2 spot. Cozart had a slash line of .254/.284/.367 in 64 games while hitting second.
Cozart’s .284 OBP stood out drastically in the lineup between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto.
Ludwick’s absence also created a hole in left field. Chris Heisey, Xavier Paul, Derrick Robinson and Donald Lutz all came up short trying to fill the spot.
However, the Reds fought on without him and now have him back, ready to contribute to a possible postseason roster.
Many thought at the beginning of the season that career right fielder Shin-Soo Choo would struggle heavily in center field. Reds fans and the front office watched him closely in the first few games to see if he could handle the position everyday.
On April 8, Shin-Soo Choo dropped two routine pop-ups against the division foe St. Louis Cardinals in a late afternoon game. The crowd at Busch Stadium was relentless. Fans cheered loudly every time the ball was hit near Choo.
It seemed like the Reds would have another major hurdle to jump in 2013. However, Choo adjusted to center fairly easily. Since that game, Choo has only committed two more errors.
Choo is actually having a decent first year in center. He has made 71 plays out of zone, which is the most he's had since his 2009 season (per FanGraphs.com). Choo’s 298 balls in zone and 271 plays—position him about average with his previous seasons in right.
Choo’s ability to hold down center field has helped the Reds tremendously, and it has also laid to rest a lot of doubt on his defense.
When Johnny Cueto was first injured back in mid-April, there were a lot of flashbacks to the 2012 NLDS Game 1. The injury didn’t seem to be a major issue.
However, any team that loses their ace early in the season is usually forced to juggle an unstable rotation.
The Reds went to one of their top prospects—Tony Cingrani. It was a lot of pressure and responsibility for the young lefty, but he managed to make the most of it.
Cingrani went five innings with eight strikeouts, three walks and one earned run in his first major league start. The start gave the Reds some relief as Cingrani adjusted well to the big leagues and fit in well with the rotation.
After Cueto landed on the disabled list for the second time, Cingrani was handed the ball once again. As a starting pitcher, Cingrani has a 2.77 ERA with a 7-4 record and 109 strikeouts. Cingrani also holds an impressive 10.1 K/9 rate with opposing batters hitting only .192 off of him.
Cingrani has the sixth-most strikeouts (120) for rookie pitchers and has pitched 68 innings less than leader (and likely NL Rookie of the Year) Jose Fernandez. Cingrani’s 2.92 collective ERA ranks second-best amongst rookies and only falls behind Fernandez who has a 2.19 ERA.
Cingrani has pitched so well that the Reds front office has a serious decision to make for the postseason. Although he will likely work from the pen in October, Cingrani has earned a spot on the playoff roster.
He also is likely to be a strong candidate for the starting rotation in 2014.
Coming off of six losses in their last nine games, the Reds hosted the Cardinals back on August 2-4.
Things were not looking good for Cincinnati. To make things worse, they had to face the hot-hitting Cardinals. The Reds managed to take one game but lost the other two badly 3-13 and 2-15.
With only 50 games left, the Reds appeared as though they were likely to battle for the second wild-card spot in the postseason.
However, the club has managed a 26-15 record since that series and has nearly secured a spot in the playoffs.
The Reds went 16-11 in August, their best month since going 19-8 in May. The Reds now have Cueto back in the rotation, and Ludwick has played for over a month since returning from the disabled list.
The Reds are putting it all together at the perfect time and look to pressure the Cardinals for the division title.
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed the first spot in the playoffs after an amazing comeback season.
The Dodgers were just 23-32 until Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig made his first start. The Dodgers have gone 65-33 since Puig struck electricity into Hollywood.
However, the Reds have had their own mini version of Puig in speed demon Billy Hamilton.
Hamilton has taken Cincinnati by storm, and with every game he enters, the entire stadium knows what he is going to do.
Hamilton had his first major league game as a pinch runner against the Cardinals on September 3. The crowd woke up once Hamilton entered late in the game during the scoreless matchup. Fans completely lost it when he stole second from All-Star Yadier Molina.
The next day, Hamilton stole on Molina again, giving baseball fans a taste of a future rivalry.
The Reds are 6-2 when Hamilton enters the game. He’s not only proving that he can steal bases, but also showing discipline at the plate—as he did against the Houston Astros.
Hamilton had three hits, two walks and two runs in six plate appearances in his first major league start. He also stole four bases with two of them coming on pitchouts. The total put Hamilton at nine for the season in just eight games played.
Hamilton could be the not-so-secret weapon to help the Reds in the postseason; although, it is certainly risky counting on a September call-up in October.
However, if there’s anything we have learned thus far, it is that Hamilton is brave enough to steal on anyone, and he has dramatically changed the makeup of this Cincinnati Reds ball club late in the season.
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