Anyone who follows the Cincinnati Reds has a pretty good sense that 2014 has been a bit of a roller coaster for Bryan Price’s team. The Beast at King’s Island comes to mind. “Do not stand up” would have been solid advice for Reds fans on March 31. And keep your hands inside the car.

Anyhow, Beyond the Box Score recently published a fascinating post by Chris Teeter that showed graphically the ebb and flow of the season for all 30 major league teams. It tracked the six division races, showing how starkly each team’s odds of making a post-season series have fluctuated.

I’d already been thinking about this post and figured Chris’ work would make a great exclamation point. I asked if he would send me a version of the NL Central graph that included just the Reds. He quickly and graciously obliged (thanks again, Chris) with the chart below. The horizontal axis represents dates throughout the season, with the All-Star break and trade deadline highlighted with dashes. The vertical axis represents the odds of playing in a post-season series on a 0-to-50% scale:

REDS_DOFFx2014date_0-50There you have it, in two painful dimensions.

As I studied the jagged line, it drove home with heartbreaking clarity just how acute the Reds collapse has been. Steep and sudden. Matterhorn steep. Mayan Civilization sudden. Describing the last four weeks of the Reds season as a collapse is no insult to the word ‘collapse.’ It has been collapse in every meaning.

The tantalizing gains in the month leading up to the All-Star break were equal parts genuine and counterfeit, glorious and concerning. Both ultimately frustrating. And so I thought I’d write a post about the subsequent four weeks that dashed the team’s chances and our hopes.

This isn’t a post that analyzes the entire season. It doesn’t diagnose the roster weaknesses, highlight the performance failures or ascribe blame. There’s plenty of opportunity for that sad, but necessary task later. Laying out the narrative of the Reds collapse here is simply pushing back against the notion that history is written by the victors.

June 11-29: The Real Thing

From June 11 to June 29, the Reds went 14-4. That period coincided with the (initial) anxiously-awaited return of Joey Votto from the disabled list. It also marked the first time he, Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco had been on the field together since April 28 (and even then, Bruce was playing on a bum knee that would require mid-season surgery). While Votto couldn’t manage much power during this stretch, he still hit .262/.372/.369. And his presence seemed to propel Bruce to his best two weeks of the season (.324/.364/.577).

The Reds beat Ryu and Greinke and won consecutive series against first-place Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, first-place Toronto, Chicago and first-place San Francisco. If you’re a member of the “if only they were healthy” camp, this is what you point to. Even though Votto was far from right, these two-plus weeks represented the closest thing to fully-operational the Reds reached all season. And they rolled.

When Homer Bailey shut out the Giants on June 29, the Reds were 43-38. Milwaukee hadn’t slowed down yet, so the Reds were still 6.5 games out of first. But they had overcome enough injuries to fill a hospital-wing, were in second place and headed forward. Their success in those 18 games had been real. Real and spectacular.

July 5-13: The Tease

Following their 3-0 series win against the Giants, the Reds cruised into San Diego only to see their momentum stymied. Not only did getting swept by the Padres and losing 4 of 5 give back much of the hard-earned gains of the previous two weeks, but Joey Votto’s health was clearly fading. And with it, so were the Reds. Votto played his final game on July 5 going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. The Reds lost 1-0 as Matt Garza out-dueled Bailey.

A little more than a week remained before the All-Star break.

The next eight days proved to be the most tumultuous and quirky of the season for the Reds. Votto surrendered. When you can’t swing without your back leg collapsing, the DL beckons. Brandon Phillips dove to field a ground ball and tore a ligament in his left thumb requiring surgery.

But somehow, the resilient Reds rallied. They went 7-2 heading into the break.

And they won in improbable ways. A 3-run homer by Kristopher Negron on his first hit of the year. Four consecutive hits by Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Ramon Santiago and Brayan Peña? Come on. In five days, the Reds overcame 4-run leads three times, something they hadn’t done all year or since. It was the week that Ramon Santiago wasn’t awful. From July 8 to 13, he hit .474/.545/.632 for an OPS of 1.177. Prior to that his OPS had been .465 and for the month after it was .555. But for that anomalous week, Santiago was JoeyMVP. The Reds swept the Cubs in a double header and won a wild series over the Pirates. Without Votto and Phillips.

At the All-Star break, the team’s record stood at 51-44, a mere 1.5 games behind the back-peddling Brewers. Bunched tightly with three other teams in the division, the Reds chances of making a post-season series had crested to 28 percent.

July 18-25: The Blink of an Eye

You know how Wile E. Coyote ran off the edge of a cliff but for a second stayed suspended in mid-air? He wouldn’t start falling into the canyon until he looked down. Well, that happened to the Cincinnati Reds. The All-Star break gave the Reds a chance to take a peek at their situation and comprehend the grim reality of playing at least another month without Votto and Phillips.

The Reds offense cratered like the coyote hitting the bottom of the ravine. They opened the second half on the road, with stops at Yankee Stadium and Miller Park. Manager Bryan Price gamely mixed and matched names like Schumaker, Pena, Ludwick, Santiago and Heisey, two or three at a time. But those players returned to their below-average form because that’s what form is.

Billy Hamilton, in the midst of going over 100 plate appearances without a walk, struggled in the lead-off role, batting .222/.214/.370. But he was nowhere near the slumpiest Reds starter. The big bats in the lineup – Frazier (.148/.179/.259), Bruce (.091/.167/.136) and Mesoraco (.111/.200/.167) – strained under the pressure of trying to make up for their missing teammates.

The team overall hit .176/.226/.297 (that’s an OPS of .523), scoring only 13 runs in seven games. They struck out 60 times while walking only 10.

In the blink of the general manager’s eye the Reds had lost 7 games and had fallen back to .500. Their odds of making a post-season series had shrunk in a week to 7.6 percent.

July 26-August 7: Last Gasp 

Defying the gravity of the condition of their roster, the club managed to play .500 ball for two weeks after that calamitous free fall. That was without Votto and Phillips, without much contribution from Bruce or Frazier, and without a single hit from Jack Hannahan. Playing even-steven under those circumstances was an actual accomplishment. If the Reds had simply managed to do that since the All-Star break, they’d be one game out of the Wild Card race today.

When Homer Bailey, Manny Parra and Jonathan Broxton shut out Cleveland on August 7, the Reds amazingly were three games over .500 and four games out of first place. It was a final gasp in the same way a drowning person struggles back to the surface one last time before meeting their fate.

August 8-22: Drew Stubbs’ Last Laugh

Inconsistent offense continued to plague the Reds, but a leaky water main and a leakier bullpen conspired to drive the fatal stake into the heart of their 2014 season.

The team had been losing ground to Milwaukee for ten days, but because of the weakness of the National League, the Reds were still, miraculously, within easy striking distance of the second Wild Card. Thanks to the aforementioned plumbing malfunction, the Reds and Colorado Rockies were forced to cancel their game on August 16. The next day, in the ninth inning of the first game of the double-header, Aroldis Chapman took the mound with the Reds holding a 9-5 lead. Odds of winning: 97.8 percent (not even factoring in the matchless qualities of the Reds closer).

You know what happened next.

But if Chapman had told the coaches that his shoulder was balky and they’d used a pitcher who wouldn’t walk the first four batters or if Drew Stubbs had swung and missed, like a gazillion times before, maybe the Reds don’t blow that lead. If they aren’t forced to play a double-header at all, maybe the bullpen rallies, instead of implodes, in the next game. Maybe the Reds win, instead of lose, the following four games that the now-careening bullpen blows. Without the postponement, Dylan Axelrod pitches the first game of the Braves series instead of David Holmberg. Stupid water main.

Then again, the water main break was just one day. The bullpen failure lasted nearly a week. In the seven games starting on August 17, Reds pitchers gave up 48 runs (team ERA 6.71), the bullpen was responsible for more than half of those runs, giving up at least two every game. Brandon Phillips’ return on August 18 didn’t create a ripple in the undertow that had grabbed the Reds and was dragging them to their fate.

From August 8 through August 22, the Cincinnati Reds were miserable, going 2-12. Their odds of playing in a post-season series stood at 0.1 percent.

18 Responses

  1. kmartin

    An excellent analysis of the season to date. I went to the game today. Despite the post All Star collapse of our team, I was impressed with the intensity with which the Reds played. They have not given up and really took it to the Cubs, especially on the bases. However, even though I am 60 I think I could steal a base of Jake Arrieta.

  2. arizonareds

    June was a fun ride, and it’s the reason to have some optimism going into next year. Otherwise it’ll be a September overshadowed by football for us Reds fans. Hey, at least I live in the DC area so I get to go see the guys play at Camden next week!

    • lwblogger2

      Have fun. Camden Yards is fantastic!

  3. Kyle Farmer

    When the days are short in February and I’m pulling a Rogers Hornsby and sitting by my window waiting for spring, it will be that late June stretch that I will think about and that will give me a great deal of hope for 2015.

    Very good look at the season, Steve.

  4. wvredlegs

    The difference between a pro-active Walt Jocketty and a reactive Walt Jocketty. I would love for the Reds to have a pro-active GM, not a Walt Jocketty. Injuries sure, but the front office deserves much of the blame for the Coyote collapse.

  5. Kevin J. Brown (@ZebtheRed)

    Even with Joey performing well under his usual standards and even with all the other injuries, the Reds were 32-29 in his starts. Extrapolating that over the season and they’d have 5 more wins which would improve their record to 70-64 and leave them only 3.5 behind Milwaukee and only 1.5 out of the Wild Card.

    The idea that this Reds team is too deeply flawed to contend next year is nonsense.

    • ohiojimw

      How does Votto’s absence explain the fact that Meso, Frazier, and Hamilton all went south at the same time after break even as Peña was providing basically the equivalent or better offensive numbers as the diminished Votto had been providing? Are we to believe that Votto’s one legged shadow presence of himself in late June really prevented them from going south then? And how about the run the team made between Joey finally having to give it up and the ASB?

      And this aside, it is fools’ gold if they sit on their hands over the off season resting their hopes for 2015 in the belief that finally after two false starts Joey will be able to be anything resembling a reasonable fact simile of his former self. We all hope that will be the case but they need to proceed as if it may not be.

  6. Dennis

    Comparing this season to the Beast is pretty apt. Most roller coasters go up and down, up and down, but the Beast, being a terrain coaster, goes up at the beginning and generally just keeps going downhill after that.

  7. droomac

    I will remember the 2014 Reds season as the satirical dream of a Cardinals fan that just happened to come true.

    I mean, really, come on. . . . Elbows, shoulders, knees, a distal quad, wrists, thumbs, backs, a gritty concussion, a fractured face, and hamstrings. I’m just glad that nobody drowned as a result of the water main break.

    There was no saving the 2014 season. Also, the 2015 Reds still have the potential to be pretty good. However, I do wish that Bob (since Walt’s hands were reportedly tied at the break) would have thought of 2015 and beyond at the deadline. Maybe this offseason is when the genius moves that turn the Reds into a contender beyond ’15 occur.

  8. Eric the Red

    Let’s not forget that we’ve basically been missing 2/5 of our rotation all season (Cingrani and Latos+Bailey).

    It’s pretty easy to argue objectively that the water main finished us off. Depressing and crazy.

  9. al

    As bad as the Reds offense has been (10th in the NL in runs), and as many injuries as the Reds have had, I really just can’t get past the bullpen.

    The Reds are 10-25 in games decided by the bullpen. JJ Hoover alone was allowed to single handedly lose 10 games on his own before getting sent down.

    Now whether all those losses were a result of bad managment, bad luck, bad pitching, or all of the above, that’s the Reds season right there. If the Reds bullpen had gone 18-17 in those games instead, the Reds would be 73-61, a half game up on the Brewers.

    • George Mirones

      That baseball fact is really the season. For a team that has faced so many challenges ( Bruce, Votto, Phillps, starters plus the use of bench players) along with the upheaval in the bull pen to be able to look at one pitchers failure (won/loss record) gives many of us real hope for 2015. Price would be Manager of the year.

  10. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I still don’t feel it was as much a collapse to start the second half as it was over-achievement from the first half. I mean, seriously, few if any had this team even associated with the playoffs at the beginning of the season. I mean, we lose a key piece of our offense in Choo, replace him with a player who’s barely seen a breath in AAA. We let our catching leader go, replacing him with a player who Baker himself said, “The game is too fast for him up here.” And, we barely make the playoffs last season, losing our first and only game in the playoffs at that. With 3 of our top relievers on the DL as well as one of our top starting pitchers? And, a rookie manager? Who could have been thinking playoffs this season?

    Who could have figured that, from the first half of the season, we would be seeing Hamilton, Frazier, and Devin leading this team, the latter 2 being an All-Star? With Votto going down in May? With Bruce hovering just above the Mendoza line. With a reliever becoming an All-Star as a starter? And, we were still considered in the playoff hunt? That’s overachievement personified. I don’t see this as much a collapse as much as they are simply “playing to their baseball cards” now.

    But, I still love the make-up of this team. I see some emotion in this team I haven’t seen in the last several years. It seems to me this team plays to win, or at least tries to. Where, the last several years, they were playing for the other team made a mistake they could take advantage of. Baker pronounced how he loved to manage “for the marathon”. The thing is, with all of his teams, when they needed to play “for the spring” aka against the best teams, in the playoffs, etc., they struggled. I believe this team can play for the sprint. Now, though, it’s getting to the playoffs.

    Listen, most everyone knew this team needed another hitter, with or without Votto. I am one to see that, with this being a small market team, we can’t be pulling a trigger on a trade or a free agent signing at a moment’s notice. Walt pulled the trigger a couple of years ago with Latos and Marshall. I am confident he is still trying to sign FA and/or trade for someone. He just doesn’t have the pieces right now, having to build those back up again. Shoot, did anyone really think we were going to get something like Ludwick for Bautista, even if we include any minor leaguer, or something like that?

    I am still rooting for the Reds this season. However, I’m not unrealistic. Playoffs were unlikely at the beginning of the season; they are unlikely now. I don’t believe nothing has necessarily collapsed. They simply came back to Earth. But, for this season, playoffs wasn’t the key/goal/”needing to see”. What we “needed to see” was:

    – how would Hamilton adjust
    – how would Devin adjust
    – how would Price adjust
    – can Votto get back to driving some balls
    – can Frazier come back

    For the rest of this season as well as for the beginning of next season, I see things very similar:

    – can Hamilton make adjustments to the other teams adjustments to him
    – can Devin make adjustments to the other teams adjustments to him
    – can Price learn from him errors
    – can Votto come back, period
    – can Frazier keep up/come back from his back injury (the first I heard of this was last night)

    As well as, during the off season:

    – Walt has 11 arbitrations to consider
    – Walt has to figure out something with Cueto and Ludwick
    – Walt has some key players in the last year of their contracts (or team controlled) next season, like Latos, Leake, Marshall, Parra, Pena, Broxton, Simon

    With this many contracts out there, where is the money going to come from to sign that hitter we need?

    • Kevin J. Brown (@ZebtheRed)

      That would be a convincing explanation IF a bunch of Reds were playing early in the season way beyond expectations but aside from Simon as a starter and perhaps Meso none were. The opposite is probably more true; Votto and Bruce esp. were not putting up their baseball card numbers (and Cingrani was a major disappointment). So I don’t see “overacheivement” as a viable candidate as to why the Reds were very much in it at the All Star break.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        5 All Stars, 3 of them not expected (only Chapman and Cueto would be the expected ones, except for Votto and BP, who didn’t have All Star years). And, Hamilton played beyond expectations, aka overachieved, as well.

  11. Kevin J. Brown (@ZebtheRed)

    Votto’s a perennial All-Star, BP has been on 3 All-Star teams and Bruce 2. There was nothing surprising about this team putting 5 players on the NL squad; Frazier was third in Rookie of the Year voting two years ago and his OPS at the break was only a bit higher than it was that year. Meso was a highly regarded 1st round draft choice. The only real surprise was Simon.

    I see no real evidence of some team wide “over acheivement”. A few players performed better than expected at least as many if not more performed worse.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      Let’s see. And, Votto, BP, and Bruce, none of them made the All-Star team this year. Not surprising to put 5 on the team, maybe. But, definitely surprising to put 3 of those 5 on the team, that is fact. Frazier won ROY as voted by the players 2 seasons ago, but he still wasn’t an All-Star then. And, after last season, people on here were crying for another 3rd baseman. Meso was a 1st round draft choice, who spent the last 2 seasons on the bench, doing essentially nothing. Frazier, Devin, and Simon were definitely surprises.

      Given that and how the team did the first half of the season, with 3 of 5 players surprisingly being All-Stars, with the team just being in the pennant race talk when no one had them in the running at the beginning of the season, the team definitely overachieved.