Growing Pain: Cincinnati Reds Searching for Answers

The Reds are struggling, fans are frustrated, and no one knows how to fix it.
Cincinnati Reds outfielder TJ Friedl (29) stands at the top of the steps alongside Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati Reds outfielder TJ Friedl (29) stands at the top of the steps alongside Cincinnati Reds / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY
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CINCINNATI — You can’t win the World Series in April and May, but you can lose it. Make no mistake, the Cincinnati Reds weren’t expected to win the World Series this year. They were, however, expected to be better than this. 

The expectations were high coming off an 82-80 season in 2023. All the reasons for optimism were there, and they were logical. Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft would all be fully healthy. Andrew Abbott would return to the rotation to complement them after an impressive rookie season. 

Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Noelvi Marte would have nearly a year of big league experience under their belt and be ready to use what they learned in 2023 to make an impact on 2024. 

Veterans Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan India were signed to help with the clubhouse culture and lead the young guys into life without Joey Votto. 

On paper, it all made sense. The 2024 Reds would be better. 

But the games aren’t played on paper. 

Whether it was pre-season injuries that left a void in the lineup, a PED suspension that forced Nick Krall to look for help outside the organization, confusing roster decisions and playing shorthanded, illness spreading through the clubhouse, an 8-game losing streak, or just plain growing pains, the 2024 season has been all but better than 2023.

Growing pains. Is that all this is? That’s what Reds fans are trying to figure out. That’s probably what the Reds themselves are trying to figure out. Everything you hear from the club remains positive. They are doing the right things. This will pass. They keep working hard. 

Perhaps the part that seems hard to believe after everything that has happened, the Reds had their best 30-game start since 2013. That alone was impressive enough to give you hope that maybe, just maybe, this club could survive until the calvary comes. 

Now, it feels like they are teetering. The offense has been offensive. They’re striking out at an alarming rate, aren’t scoring runs, and they’ve lost eight in a row. They are five games under .500 (16-21) and in the midst of a gauntlet on their schedule. 

That gauntlet features seven games against the Diamondbacks, of which the defending National League champions already swept three games in Cincinnati. It features a trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles, two places the Reds historically underperform, and then a return to Cincinnati to play the Dodgers again, and the Padres who took two of three from the Reds at the end of April to start this whole skid. 

The alarming part of all of this seems to be that there’s no real answer to the issues. The pitching has actually been pretty good. Reds starters have performed well, posting a 3.77 ERA (13th in MLB). 

At one point, Greene threw 14 consecutive scoreless innings. Lodolo has a 2.79 ERA and has had two starts with 10 or more strikeouts. The bullpen has been shaky, but serviceable. 

Losing is hard. It’s especially hard when you’re expected to win. The Reds injuries are a legitimate excuse for a lack of production offensively, but they can’t all be put on that. Players have underperformed. Steer, Will Benson, and Jake Fraley are among those who have gone on extended skids. They’ve also been extremely productive in the early parts of the season. 

So how does this end? What are the answers? Fans are frustrated. They have once again experienced excitement followed by disappointment. The organization for which they cheer has been largely irrelevant for the better part of the last 30 years. They’ve often been told to be patient, but for what?

They’re being asked to be patient again. Why? The solution for the Reds struggles isn’t to fire Manager David Bell or to trade for Jazz Chisholm. It's not about tweaking the lineup or parting ways with Hitting Coach Joel McKeithan. 

The only real solution is to be patient. This is a young team. They are missing key pieces. They are playing good teams. They have to figure it out and make adjustments. It’s not going to be easy, playing from behind never is. This team surprised a lot of people last year, though. 

Why can’t they do it again?

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Austin Elmore