As the St. Louis Cardinals continue on their quest to never lose another baseball game ever again, it’s become quite evident that the writing is on the wall for the 2021 Cincinnati Reds. Once holding their playoff destiny in their own hands, they promptly fumbled it, and the final month of this 162 game season has become a dismal slog towards inevitability.
It’s quite easy to focus on that. I’ll be focusing on it for most of the next few months, I’m sure, as the days get shorter, the weather turns cold, and there is no new baseball to whet my appetite.
As we begin to move further past this, another overall disappointing season in the recent history of the Reds, there will be aspects that permeate our memories. There’s been plenty of good in this year - after all, that playoff spot was theirs to lose with six weeks to play somehow. So, in order to fend off thoughts of the Wild Card abdication and the dastardly team that will go in the Reds stead, here’s an incomplete list of good these Reds gave us this season.
Wade Miley, Hulk, and the no-no
When Luis Castillo is flippin’ hundos on the radar gun with little to no effort, when Hunter Greene is hitting 104 in AAA, it’s admittedly easy to forget what the rest of the arms in the Cincinnati system are even up to. Perhaps that’s how Wade Miley continues to be so successful, though - overlooked, and as something perfectly different.
His May 7th no-hitter against Cleveland, hulk temp-tat and all, then stands out even more, as it was no classic case of overpowering an opponent. Rather, he carved up his opponents with a precision rarely seen anywhere in the game anymore, his cutter diving into the nether-regions of opponents’ wheelhouses with a pristine mix of induction and subversion.
Pair that with the frustrations of his first season with the club in 2020, and that - along with his overall brilliant 2021 campaign - have endeared Wade to Reds fans in a way few could have imagined.
All Star Starters Nick & Jesse
Starting as a position player in an All Star Game takes two distinct inputs - actual production on the field, and enough fans to notice, support, and vote on that production. So, it’s not exactly every year that a mid-market club with no recent track record of success (and precious few games on national broadcasts) manages to get bookends in the outfield announced in the ASG’s starting lineups.
That was the case in 2021, though, as simply brilliant first halves from Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos earned them both nods in the National League’s lineup for the Midsummer Classic. Deservedly so, too - Winker owned a .301/.382/.539 line with 19 HR, Nick an absurd .331/.384/.585 line with 18 HR.
After a successful cameo during the 2020 season, it was pretty much written in stone that Tyler Stephenson would be part of the regular catching tandem with Tucker Barnhart for the Reds for the 2021 season all winter. The only question was whether he’d hit enough to force his way into the lineup more often than not.
Ty Steves has pretty well done the latter, his .784 OPS and 101 OPS+ indicative of a measured, patient approach at the plate, a trait that becomes even more enticing when you realize he’s just barely begun to tap into the power in his 6’4” frame. It’s been the kind of season that would’ve had a good bit of Rookie of the Year hype had his own teammate not stolen all of that thunder.
Jonathan India kicked down the doors in Spring Training and earned an Opening Day roster spot at 2B despite having been primarily a 3B up to that point. And after moving into the leadoff spot the first week of June, he’s done nothing but absolutely rake, his .282/.391/.493 line and 17 dingers in 438 PA since June 1st indicative of just how potent he’s been.
India’s going to waltz his way to the ROY award, as well he should. He’s been the most valuable position player on the Reds by bWAR (3.5) and might well end up there in fWAR, too (he’s at 3.7, just behind Castellanos’ 3.8).
Let’s not forget Vlad Gutierrez here, either, as despite being overlooked thanks to his rookie brethren has emerged as a viable big league starter, too. He’s given the Reds 111.1 IP of 105 ERA+ ball this year, picking up the slack as the team’s 5th starter when given the chance, and looks every bit like an arm who’ll be contributing to the staff in some form or fashion for years.
The Return of the King
I’d missed watching Joey Votto. Not that he hadn’t still been out there for the last couple of seasons, but it just hadn’t been the same show. Same cast member, but different screenwriters. Something like that.
That all changed during his 3-game benching last August, about which he spoke candidly with Stephanie Apstein for Sports Illustrated earlier this week. Gone were the days of him seeking perfection and achieving it, and the goals of the game had to change. Fortunately, he realized that while he no longer had the ability to perfect the game, he was more than capable enough of punishing mistakes the way other top hitters had chosen their approach, and he decided he’d just take to that going forward.
Take to that he has, and he unleashed that in 2021 for a full season’s worth of work that’s been a remarkable turn of course. Well, not even technically a full season, as he’s socked 33 dingers so far this year despite missing a month with a busted thumb, emphasizing just how much he’s packed into his time.
Now 38 years old, he’s the team leader in dingers and ribbies in these go-go offensive times, littering leaderboards in so many advanced batting metrics that it’s easier to just link to his Baseball Savant page than it is to list them all. He’s not just lucking into 1st row GABP specials, folks, he’s been absolutely obliterating the ball all year, the kind of thing that makes you salivate again at what he’ll do next year and the year after regardless of the number next to ‘years old’ when talking of his age.
In the process, he bucked his mid 30’s slump and reached numerous milestones this season. He crossed 300 career dingers (hell, why not chase 400 now?), a thousand career ribbies, and the 2,000 hit mark. He swatted homers in 7 consecutive games during his second-half onslaught, coming just inches away from an 8th consecutive game with one under the bright lights of New York City.
Another truly remarkable, memorable season from Joe Dan in a year where we all needed it.