One of the charming things about baseball is that it typically really means something if you get to the playoffs. If your team is good enough to survive 162 games with a great record, you most likely are one of the best teams in the league. The downside of that is that you can still be a very good team and not make it to the playoffs. Here are 5 such Reds teams.
1. 1974 Reds - 98-64, .605 Winning PCT, 776 RS, 631 RA
You had to guess that a team full of Big Red Machine players would top this list. 1974 was perhaps the strangest season of failure in the history of baseball. Most teams wouldn't have considered 98 wins to be a failure, but if you listen to the players from that team talk about it, you'd have thought they finished in 4th place. This team was essentially the same team as the one that won it all in 1975, but Pete Rose played LF and Dan Driessen played 3B with George Foster splitting time from the bench. Their 98 wins were the 2nd most in all of baseball, and they would have won the NL East by 10 games that season. Unfortunately for the Reds, the Dodgers finished with 102 wins that season and without a Wild Card, the Reds were sent home early that year.
2. 1999 Reds - 96-67, .589 Winning PCT, 865 RS, 711 RA
Since the Wild Card was added to the playoffs in 1995, only one team has won 95 or more games and failed to make it to the playoffs. A season that started with very little expectation - they were playing just .500 ball after 44 games - saw breakout seasons from Sean Casey (132 OPS+) and Dmitri Young (111 OPS+). Veterans Greg Vaugh (117 OPS+, 45 HR) and Jeffrey Hammonds (117 OPS+) led an unlikely crew to the most wins for the franchise in 23 years. And yet, it still came down to a final playoff game with the New York Mets. Stupid Al Leiter!
3. 1962 Reds - 98-64, .605 Winning PCT, 802 RS, 685 RA
Only twice in MLB history has a team won 98 games and finished in 3rd place. In 1908, the Cubs won 99 games topped both the Pirates and the Giants by 1 game to win the National League. In 1962, the Reds won 98 games and actually finished 3.5 games behind the NL Champion Giants, who needed a 3-game playoff to get past the Dodgers. That season saw the Pirates win 93 games and finish 4th, thanks in large part to the expansion New York Mets who managed to go just 40-120. This Reds squad featured an incredible year from Frank Robinson (173 OPS+, 51 doubles, 39 HR, 136 RBI) and very good seasons from Vada Pinson, Wally Post, and Gordy Coleman. They also had a strong pitching staff headed by Bob Purkey (23-5, 2.81 ERA) and Joey Jay (21-14, 3.76 ERA), but the team was unable to follow up the World Series appearance of 1961 with anything better than 3rd place.
4. 1981 Reds - 66-42, .611 Winning PCT, 464 RS, 440 RA
Only one time since World Series play started has a Reds team won at least 61% of their games and not made the playoffs. Only twice since World Series play has a team with the best record in baseball not played a playoff game. In 1981, the Reds finished the season with 2 more wins than any team in the league, but because of the strike that year and the silly way that the playoffs were determined, the Reds found themselves at home during October. The pitching staff that year was anchored by Tom Seaver (14-2, 2.54 ERA) and Mario Soto (12-9, 3.29 ERA). The offense featured starters at every position with OPS+ of 105 or better, except for 3B where Ray Knight posted a 95 OPS+. It is a traveshamockery that they didn't make the playoffs that year, and for that they get to be on this list.
5. 1956 Reds - 91-63, .591 Winning PCT, 775 RS, 658 RA
Led by the highest scoring offense in the National League that featured 3 of the top 7 home run hitters in the NL, the Reds battled with the Dodgers and Braves for NL supremacy until the last days of the season. Besides the excellent rookie campaign by 20-year old Frank Robinson (143 OPS+, 38 HR), this team also had the likes of Ed Bailey (143 OPS+, 28 HR at catcher), Ted Kluszewski (133 OPS+, 35 HR), Gus Bell (121 OPS+, 29 HR), and Wally Post (108 OPS+, 36 HR) setting a franchise record for home runs that stood until 2005. Unfortunately for the offense, the pitching was rather mediocre and the Reds finished in 3rd place, 2 games behind the NL Champion Giants.
There are a couple of other teams that I know could easily be on this list. Who do you think deserves to be here that has been left off? Do I have them ordered properly? Let me know what you think!