The last time the Cincinnati Reds had a winning record on June 14, Jesse Winker was a 19-year-old, second-year pro playing in the Single-A California League. That was eight years ago when they started 41-27 en route to a wild-card berth.
When the Reds beat the Colorado Rockies 6-2 on Sunday, they reached a milestone many of the young players in the organization haven’t experienced. The Reds (32-31) have work to do to climb back into serious contention in the National League Central Division and in the wild-card race, but they are a winning team more than two months into 162-game season.
“It’s great. It’s amazing,” Winker said. “It just shows you the caliber of team we are. We’ve got a lot of baseball ahead of us to play. I feel we are headed to where we want to be. We’ve been fighting. We’ve been playing really good ball, and anytime you get above .500, that’s great.”
The Reds, who play a three-game series on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers starting Monday night, have won 10 of their last 13 games. Here are three reasons they’re winning more.
1. MVP duo: Nick Castellanos leads baseball with a .361 average. He went 5-for-13 with three RBIs in a three-game sweep of the Rockies over the weekend at Great American Ball Park.
Winker went 3-for-14 with two RBIs in the three games as his average dropped to .344, still the second-best mark in baseball.
The Reds lead the National League with a .250 average. Without Castellanos and Winker, they would be hitting .223, which would be the second-worst average in the league.
2. Rookie contributions: The Reds have won two of the first three starts in Vladimir Gutierrez’s career, and they won the first start of Tony Santillan’s career on Sunday. The rookies have stepped up with Jeff Hoffman and Sonny Gray, two veterans, on the injured list.
Santillan allowed one earned run on five hits in 4 2/3 innings.
“What was so fun to see and impressive from Tony was just the look in his eye,” manager David Bell said. “He was not backing down. It wasn’t easy, but it was very impressive. For a first start, it doesn’t get much better than that. I thought he did a great job. Same with (Gutierrez). You give them both credit obviously for coming here prepared but also our player-development system for preparing those guys. They’re not scared. They’ve come in very ready to go. It’s been a big part of our team last couple of weeks.”
3. Improved bullpen: Reds relievers still rank last in baseball with a 5.73 ERA. The loss of Tejay Antone, who went on the injured list with right forearm inflammation Friday, won’t help. He has a 1.41 ERA in 20 appearances. No other member of the bullpen with at least nine appearances has an ERA under 4.00.
However, the bullpen has made progress in recent days. It has a 4.67 ERA in the last 12 games. Five relievers combined to give up one run on one hit in 4 1/3 innings Sunday.
“We came together as a group and realized things can go one or two ways at this point,” said Lucas Sims, who has a 4.62 ERA in in 24 appearances. “Let’s figure out something. Let’s come together. Let’s make this mean something. Let’s pass the baton, and let’s get this thing rolling. This was a very big game for us.”