Posted on April 13, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
If you take a look at the Major League Baseball standings at this early point of the season, you may see a few surprises. But no team has been more surprising than the Cincinnati Reds, who are 7-2 and lead the NL Central a week and a half into the season. It’s the best start the Reds have had since they won the first nine games of the 1990 season, which as the last time Cincinnati played in a World Series. So what exactly has made the Reds being the surprise team in baseball in the middle of April?
“There’s a much stronger sense of community on our team and some young guys that are seizing the opportunity,” explains Reds manager Bryan Price. “We do have the group of young pitchers that we’ve been talking about the last couple of years. We’re starting to see them get to the big leagues and perform. And that makes a difference.”
The Reds are just nine games into the season, but at the moment, Cincinnati’s pitching staff has the lowest ERA in baseball. Despite missing some of their more established pitchers, the Reds have gotten great performances early in the year from two of their most promising young pitchers, lefties Brandon Finnegan and Amir Garrett, just 23 and 24, respectively. Journeyman Scott Feldman has also impressed early on, giving the Reds a much-needed veteran presence in their rotation.
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Moreover, Cincinnati’s bullpen is the best in baseball at this early stage in the season, doing so with young pitchers who are thriving in prominent roles. Raisel Iglesias has already notched three saves without giving up a run, perhaps solidifying his spot as the team’s long-term closer. Meanwhile, Wandy Peralta, Michael Lorenzen, and Tony Cingrani have combined for 13.1 shutout innings.
The Reds admit that much like most of their roster, the season is young. However, the team entered the season with a lot of internal confidence, and that’s showing with the team’s hot start, which the club believes is no fluke.
“The way we’re winning is optimistic,” says catcher Tucker Barnhart. “It makes you be optimistic for sure. We’re pitching well, we’re playing good defense and getting timely hitting. We’re just playing good all-around baseball.”
“I said this in Spring Training, and I’m sticking with it: The one word that describes our team is consistent,” adds Lorenzen. “The personalities blend so well that it creates a consistent atmosphere. You know what you’re gonna get every day, and that leads to consistent baseball.”
Not much was expected of the Reds heading into the season, and so most will look at their fast start and expect them to come back down to earth at some point. However, there’s reason to believe that the Reds can be even better than they’ve shown the first week and a half of the season. Despite their 7-2 start, the Reds have received little from former MVP Joey Votto, who’s hitting just .171 with a .637 OPS.
“I absolutely know he’s gonna hit,” Price says of Votto. “You look at our club over the years we’ve really struggled, the one constant has been Joey hitting. In order for us to be successful, we need everybody to hit, everyone to contribute. And it’s gonna be like this all year. We’ll have certain guys who are swinging it well and certain guys who aren’t. But right now, he’s not on fire. It’s nice to have three or four other guys that are.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that the Reds are still missing several key players due to injury. Catcher Devin Mesoraco still isn’t back from last season’s shoulder injury and offseason hip surgery. The Reds are also without starting pitchers Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey, who were expected to lead the team’s rotation this year. Both could potentially return later this summer to give the team’s pitching staff a huge boost.
Even as the upstart Reds sit atop the NL Central, there’s still ways that the team can get better. Perhaps more importantly, the team believes that they are every bit as good as their 7-2 record, and no one in the Cincinnati clubhouse is selling the Reds short on what’s possible in 2017.
“I think it should always be World Series or bust,” says Lorenzen. “I get the false humility of, ‘Hey, it’s still early.’ But each and every one of us believes in our ability.”