The Cincinnati Reds begin a four game series with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday, June 24. Up to this point, the Reds hold an even 36-36 record, good for third in the NL Central. This team has been carried by an elite level offense. Before the series with the Braves, the Reds rank in the top ten in the following categories: AVG(.249), OBP(.329) SLG(.421) OPS(.750) 2Bs(124) and HRs(96). Leading the team are two potential All-Star starters, Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker.
Even though pitching has been the downfall of the Reds, it is no fault of the starting pitching. The Reds starters have put together a respectable season thus far, compiling a 4.10 ERA as a staff. This is even more impressive when it is brought into context that the staff has dealt with injuries to Sonny Gray and Jeff Hoffman, just to name a few. With an elite offense and a respectable starting pitching staff, many might ask, what is the downfall for the 2021 Cincinnati Reds?
The kryptonite of the Cincinnati Reds has been the bullpen.
The Titleless Bullpen
The Reds began the season with the belief that Amir Garrett would be given the closer role. That was until Garrett got off to a rather rocky start. He allowed 10 earned runs on 10 hits and seven walks in just 7.33 innings in the month of April. Besides Garrett, the Reds have mainly leaned on two arms, Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims. Antone has been sensational currently holding a 1.38 ERA in 32.66 innings. He has only allowed 13 hits and issued 11 walks in those 30+ innings as well. Lucas Sims is the current leader in saves, with just seven saves on the year. Besides Antone, no other bullpen arm with more than 20 innings has an ERA less than 4.00.
The Reds are using what could be considered a “titleless bullpen”. Instead of having a pitcher reserved for the 9th inning, like a closer normally would, they are using their best arms in the most high leverage situations, whether that be the 9th or the 6th. This often creates availability issues as Antone and Sims are routinely used for more than one inning at a time. There have been multiple games when the Reds ended up short staffed towards the end of games.
The 2021 Reds bullpen has been plagued with injuries since spring training. Just over the last few days, the Reds lost Lucas Sims for around a month due to an elbow sprain. Shutdown reliever, Tejay Antone, was just activated less than a week ago, after a short stint on the IL. RP Michael Lorenzen has yet to make his 2021 debut. He has dealt with a shoulder injury and is expected to be sidelined until after the All-Star game. The Reds made a move to acquire Michael Feliz, but he was soon after added to the IL with an elbow injury.
Injuries have made the situation rather difficult for Manager David Bell to handle. With two rookie starting pitchers and a few injuries among the starters, the bullpen has been tasked with handling more than they can handle. As the starters find their groove, things should settle down for the bullpen, making their job a little bit easier.
As the Reds continue their push toward the top of the NL Central, they are going to need bullpen help to finish the journey. It isn’t often that the team with the highest bullpen ERA(5.70) makes a push toward the playoffs. If the Reds are going to make a push to the playoffs after the All-Star game, they’re going to need, at least, an average bullpen. Whether it be through trades or call ups, that improvement is necessary and there are moves to be made. The improvement is coming. The moves will be made.
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