Slumping offense hurting Reds as playoff race heats up

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David Bell interview (Sept. 12, 2021)

Cincinnati tied for wild-card lead despite six straight series loss

The Cincinnati Reds began their playoff push on Sept. 13 last season, starting a six-game winning streak that led to 11 victories in their last 14 games and their first postseason berth in seven years.

Sept. 13 arrived Monday with the Reds enjoying a day off after their sixth straight series loss. Twelve losses in 18 games have not killed the Reds’ postseason hopes — they were tied with the San Diego Padres in the race for the second wild card through Sunday’s games — but they have dimmed the enthusiasm of fans who hope the Reds can not only make the playoffs but advance for the first time since 1995.

The Reds have bounced back from a number of low moments this season and will have to do so again if they’re going to win the wild card.

“I trust our team,” said manager David Bell after a 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. “I trust where we are. Clearly, we’re not satisfied by any means with the last six series. But there’s no time to think about that. The bottom line is I trust who we are — offensively, defensively and our pitching. I feel great about moving forward with this entire group. It’s pretty easy to be positive when you’re around this group every day. That’s the way I see it today. Just trusting them really helps with that.”

The Reds (75-69) start a three-game series on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates (52-91) on Tuesday. They play the last-place Pirates nine times in the last 18 games. That’s the biggest reason the Reds still have the best odds (40.8 percent), according to FanGraphs.com, of beating out the Padres (35.7), Cardinals (12.3) and Philadelphia Phillies (6.1 percent) for the second wild card.

“In ways, we control our own destiny,” Reds starter Sonny Gray said. “I feel good with it. There’s nothing that we need to happen or anything. We just will go as far as we allow ourselves to go.”

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The Reds have not won a series since sweeping the Miami Marlins in four games Aug. 19-22. They haven’t won a series on the road since taking two out of three games against the Phillies Aug. 13-15, and that was also the last time they won a series against a team that has a winning record.

The biggest reason for the Reds’ slide is a slumping offense that ranks 26th out of 30 teams in runs scored (47) and batting average (.218) in the last 14 days.

After hitting .253 in June and .258 in July, the Reds hit .241 in August and .242 in the first 11 games in September. They’re averaging 4.1 runs in September. They averaged 4.8 runs before the All-Star break but are averaging 3.8 runs in the last 14 days.

Among the slumping hitters is Joey Votto, who’s hitting .205 in the last 28 days and .194 in the last 14 days. He went 1-for-10 with two walks in the St. Louis series as his average slipped to .264.

Even Nick Castellanos, the Reds’ best hitter all season, has seen his production decline. In the last two series, he went 5-for-23 as batting average dropped from .321 to .315. He’s still in contention for the National League batting title, something no Red has won since Pete Rose in 1973. He’s one point behind Trea Turner, of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“We have guys on this team that can hit,” Bell said. “They’ve shown that. They’ve proved it. I trust that. Clearly, we didn’t score today. We understand that. But if we just keep working and continuing to compete and continue to hit the ball hard, it’s going to turn around. It’s easy to say that when you’re around these guys and trust them like I do.”

TUESDAY’S GAME

Reds at Pirates, 6:35 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410