Reds 'peaking at the right time’ entering wild-card series vs. Braves

Teams play Game 1 at noon Wednesday on ESPN

Trevor Bauer plans to order a T-shirt with Joey Votto’s quote from Sunday embroidered on the front: “I think we’re a (bleeping) nightmare, and everybody knows that.”

Bauer didn’t wear the T-shirt Monday when he sat down for a Zoom interview at Truist Park in Atlanta with members of the media but only because the shirts hadn’t arrived in time.

“If I had my shirt in, I’d be wearing it right now,” Bauer said.

Bauer agreed with Votto’s assessment that the No. 7 Reds will be a problem for the No. 2 seed Atlanta Braves and any other teams the Reds meet in the playoffs if they advance past the wild-card round.

“Probably the pitching staff is what gives confidence,” Bauer said. “We’re either the best staff in baseball or the second-best staff in baseball, and in the postseason, it’s been proven many times, pitching is what carries teams: dominant pitching; guys that can miss bats; guys that can limit damage; guys that throw hard, have good stuff. We believe in our pitching staff.”

With Bauer (5-4, 1.73 ERA) starting Game 1 against the Atlanta Braves and Luis Castillo (4-6, 3.21) following in Game 2, the Reds hope they won’t even have to use Sonny Gray (5-3, 3.70) in Game 3. Of course, any type of series victory will for a team that won its last five series in the regular season but hasn’t won a postseason series in 25 years will do.

The Reds and Braves start the best-of-three series at noon Wednesday. Here are five things to know about the matchup:

1. The pressure will be on the Reds offense: The Reds rank last in the National League in team batting average (.212) and 13th in runs scored (243). None of the Reds regulars are hitting better than Jesse Winker’s .255.

“Our offense has been one of the most unlucky offenses in who knows how long,” Bauer said. “You can’t stay that unlucky forever. We’re due for some positive regression from that standpoint.”

2. The Reds put it all together in the last two weeks: By winning 11 of their last 14 games, the Reds climbed from six games under .500 (20-26) to finish the season 31-29. The starting pitching dominated. The bullpen improved. The offense averaged 5.0 runs per game after averaging 3.7 in the first 46 games. The defense did its part, too.

“We’re very confident with where our team is at," Bauer said. “We feel like we’re peaking at the right time. Coming into the season, we felt we could beat anybody with the talent we have on the roster and the coaching staff. We didn’t play up to our standards for parts of the year, but we feel we’re playing that right way now.”

3. The Braves offense will test Reds pitching: The East Division champion Braves (35-25) led the National League with .268 team batting average and ranked second behind the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Dodgers in runs scored (349-348).

First baseman Freddie Freeman ranked second in the league in average (.341) and RBIs (53). Designated hitter Marcell Ozuna led the league in home runs (18).

4. Reds fans know one Braves slugger well: Adam Duvall is in his third season with the Braves. The Reds dealt him to Atlanta at the trade deadline in 2018 for pitchers Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler and outfielder Preston Tucker. Duvall is hitting .237 and tied for third in the league with 16 home runs. He hit three home runs twice in an eight-day stretch in September.

Sims remains with the Reds and has been one of the team’s best relievers this season. He’s 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 20 appearances.

5. The Reds do have some playoff experience: Votto is the only remaining Red from the 2013 team that won the second wild card and lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but other players have experienced the postseason elsewhere.

Second baseman Mike Moustakas won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals. Bauer pitched in three straight postseasons with the Cleveland Indians (2016-18). Gray pitched in the playoffs with the Oakland A’s in 2013 and the New York Yankees in 2017. Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez and Wade Miley have also played in the postseason with previous teams.

“The more guys that have (experience) on our club, the better,” pitching coach Derek Johnson said, “because they end up kind of being the teachers going into it. They are being asked a lot of questions. What was it like? What do we do? How did you do it? So I think it’s great when you have some guys who have been there before. Those guys talk a lot. They’re talking about those experiences so it’s only going to help our guys kind of understand the picture.”

About the Author