Postseason Ends Quickly for the Punchless Reds

Cincinnati is named for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a patrician of the early Roman Republic, and a historical figure to whom a few legendary tales have been attributed. The story goes that Cincinnatus was called into duty, exercised absolute authority as dictator, then gave up his power and went home quietly. If postseason baseball can serve as an homage, the baseball team representing his namesake city got the “quietly” part of it right at least.

The Braves completed their two-game sweep of the Reds in convincing fashion on Thursday afternoon, winning 5-0 and advancing to the National League Division Series to face the winner of the Marlins and Cubs. Luis Castillo wasn’t quite as sharp as Trevor Bauer was in his Game 1 masterpiece, but he threw effectively for 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven and allowing just a single run.

Best Postseason Starts in Losing Efforts, by Bill James Game Score
Player Tm Series Game Score
Nolan Ryan Houston Astros 1986 NLCS Game 5 90
Mike Mussina Baltimore Orioles 1997 ALCS Game 6 88
Trevor Bauer Cincinnati Reds 2020 NLWC Game 1 87
Mike Cuellar Baltimore Orioles 1973 ALCS Game 3 84
Johnny Cueto San Francisco Giants 2016 NLDS Game 1 82
Sherry Smith Brooklyn Robins 1916 WS Game 2 82
Matt Moore San Francisco Giants 2016 NLDS Game 4 80
Noah Syndergaard New York Mets 2016 NLWC Game 1 80
Max Scherzer Detroit Tigers 2013 ALCS Game 2 80
Homer Bailey Cincinnati Reds 2012 NLDS Game 3 80
Mike Mussina Baltimore Orioles 1997 ALCS Game 3 80
Bob Turley New York Yankees 1956 WS Game 6 80
Jordan Zimmermann Washington Nationals 2014 NLDS Game 2 79
Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers 2013 ALCS Game 3 79
Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers 2013 ALDS Game 2 79
Barry Zito Oakland Athletics 2001 ALDS Game 3 79
John Smoltz Atlanta Braves 1996 WS Game 5 79
Don Newcombe Brooklyn Dodgers 1949 WS Game 1 79
Mordecai Brown Chicago Cubs 1906 WS Game 1 79
Adam Wainwright St. Louis Cardinals 2009 NLDS Game 2 78

In the end, the only real difference between Castillo’s solid start (game score of 57) and Bauer’s historic one was that Castillo (and the bullpen) allowing runs ended agony after just nine innings. The Braves went up against Castillo swinging and swinging hard, an approach that proved effective, though they only managed to string enough hits together to score a single run, a double to center that scored Austin Riley from second. The .400 BABIP against Castillo (six of 15) could be described as only slightly unlucky; given the expected batting average of the balls put into play against him, we’d expect the Braves to have ended up with 5.3 hits on-average.

On the flip side, the Reds proved to be a bit unlucky against the Braves pitchers, putting 17 balls in play and only notching two hits. Based on the xBA of Cincinnati’s 17 balls in play, we would have expected two or three more of them to land as hits than actually did, with an average of 4.5 hits.

This was nothing new for the Reds, either, and it’s fitting that the team’s biggest weakness in 2020’s regular season proved to be their downfall. Going back 1910 for the NL and 1913 for the AL, the years strikeouts officially became a tracked stat, the 2020 Reds had the second-lowest BABIP of any team (.245), trailing only the 1968 Yankees (.241). And they really do have a case for rotten luck, too. I track BABIP vs. zBABIP for teams as well as individual players and from 2002-2019, the years for which we have advanced data available, the average zBABIP “miss” compared to BABIP was seven points. For the 2020 Reds, that miss was 57 points. Now you’d expect to see more volatility in 60 games than 162, but even if you simply track the total hit shortfall, a quantitative measure, the Reds almost did in 60 games what it took everyone else more than twice the games to “accomplish.”

Team BABIP vs. zBABIP, 2002-2020
Team BABIP zBABIP Diff H zH Missing H
2014 Padres .277 .300 -.023 1199 1276 -77
2004 Mets .282 .302 -.020 1376 1448 -72
2004 Expos .273 .291 -.018 1361 1432 -71
2003 Tigers .272 .292 -.020 1312 1382 -70
2020 Reds .245 .302 -.057 390 458 -68
2002 Royals .282 .300 -.018 1415 1483 -68
2010 Angels .281 .299 -.018 1363 1430 -67
2017 Pirates .286 .304 -.018 1331 1396 -65
2003 Athletics .273 .291 -.018 1398 1462 -64
2013 Cubs .275 .293 -.018 1307 1370 -63
2013 Marlins .280 .297 -.017 1257 1319 -62
2012 Cubs .286 .303 -.017 1297 1359 -62
2017 Angels .277 .294 -.017 1314 1372 -58
2005 Mariners .289 .304 -.015 1408 1464 -56
2005 Twins .291 .306 -.015 1441 1495 -54
2018 Diamondbacks .286 .303 -.017 1283 1336 -53
2016 Athletics .280 .295 -.015 1352 1404 -52
2012 Mariners .276 .291 -.015 1285 1337 -52
2020 Dodgers .276 .313 -.037 523 573 -50
2019 Mariners .287 .303 -.016 1305 1353 -48

The difference of three or four hits in fortune between the Braves and Reds could have proved meaningful in a scoreless or 1-0 game. But the delicate ripples of luck didn’t affect the final outcome as Raisel Iglesias’s two walks and two home runs allowed — a 107 mph Marcell Ozuna sizzler followed by an even hotter Adam Duvall line drive shot a few batters later — gave the Braves four insurance runs and Mark Melancon a ninth inning that was more of a casual tuneup than a high-pressure showdown.

Ian Anderson‘s great rookie story continued into his first postseason start. While San Diego’s addition of Mike Clevinger was the splashiest move at the deadline, Anderson was as valuable a de facto acquisition as any player in baseball and for the Braves, it was a life preserver. Mike Soroka’s ruptured tendon and the general lousiness of much of the rest of the rotation left Atlanta’s starting depth paper-thin, which isn’t what you want in a postseason with no mid-series off days. Outside of Max Fried and Anderson, Atlanta’s starting pitchers combined to go 4-14 with a 7.33 ERA over 163 1/3 innings, for -0.6 WAR. To finish 35-25 with that pitching depth was nothing short of a miracle.

Anderson struck out nine batters over six innings of work, getting the win, with the only flaws being a couple of walks and a pair of singles to Eugenio Suárez and Freddy Galvis. His Game Score of 75 is the 17th-best postseason debut for a pitcher 23 or younger, just behind Soroka’s 76 is NLDS Game 3 last year. (Sadly, former Brave Bill James only ranks third in this list of Bill James Game Scores.)

Whether the Braves end up facing the Cubs or the Marlins, the rotation will provide a greater challenge, with Atlanta in a worse position to find starting pitching for five consecutive games on five consecutive days than most of the other teams in the playoffs. But to unpack that, you’ll have to wait for our NLDS previews. For now, the Braves advance, while the Reds’ offseason begins.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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3 years ago

I think the craziest thing about the Reds and their completely toothless offense is that pretty much everyone is one spot too high on the defensive spectrum, and you would think that would lead to a better offense. But for whatever reason they are not stringing together enough to score.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone


That sounds like a terrible combination.

3 years ago

They seem to do okay because they’ve completely rebuilt their pitching staff. But you imagine they would have to be better if they didn’t have a third baseman playing at second, a guy who probably should be in right field playing at third base, and a first baseman playing in right field. It’ll get worse if the DH goes away and Castellanos doesn’t opt out (he probably won’t) because then they’ll have Winker, who should be at 1B, in left. At least Senzel looks like he can play CF adequately, although it won’t do any good if he can’t hit.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Suarez should be in right? He came to the MLB as a ss, and obv can’t play there anymore, but there never was any reason to think he’d be better in rf