Can the Cincinnati Reds Make the Playoffs, Despite a .500 Start?

You’ve heard it said before: baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Unlike other sports, most losses are not magnified because it’s a 162-game season. Teams can lose five or six consecutive games and still have a great season. It’s one of the beautiful things about baseball. That being said, at some point, teams have to pick up the pace and start winning on a consistent basis if they want to be playing in October.

It’s very possible for a team to start slow and still make the playoffs. I was curious as to how often it’s been done. So I did some research to find out what teams went on to make the playoffs and then have a deep run in the playoffs after playing at or below .500 in April and May. I looked up the month-by-month record for every playoff team from the last five years. In almost all of the scenarios, if a team either had a really horrible or even just an average April or May, their record in July, August or September was sensational. Nearly every playoff team had at least one big month at some point in the season, playing eight to ten games over .500.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates were one such team that stuck out from 2014 because they had an April record of 9-16 and still made the playoffs as a wild card team. The San Francisco Giants are another example of starting slow and then succeeding in the playoffs. In all three of their World Series titles over the past five years, they’ve made the playoffs because they’ve played incredibly well for two or three months.

The Giants started slow in 2010 (13-9 in April, 14-19 in May), but went 18-8 down the stretch. In 2012, they were 12-10 in April and 15-14 in May, but again in September, they went 19-8. Last season, it was the opposite. They made the playoffs as a wild card team because of the strong May they had, going 20-9, after the 16-11 record in April. Meanwhile, the other World Series team last season, the Kansas City Royals, also did not have the best start to the season, going 14-11 in April and 12-17 in May, but made the playoffs as a wild card team and never looked back.

The last time the Cincinnati Reds made the playoffs was the wild card game in 2013. While they hovered at .500 in the month of April at 15-13, May was by far their best month with a record of 19-8. However, they played mediocre baseball in the month of September, going 14-12, and lost the wild card game in Pittsburgh.

2010 and 2012 saw the Reds win the NL Central. In both of these years, the Reds were around .500 to start the season. But in both of these years, they also had one big month. In 2010, it was August when the team went 19-8. And in 2012, they went 19-7 in July. (You might remember that was the year Joey Votto injured his knee, Todd Frazier took his place at first and the Reds went on a ten-game winning streak).

Thus far in 2015, the Reds have played to an 11-11 record in April and are 2-2 through May 5. As the history shows, playing .500 baseball is successful during a season only as long as the team plays really well for a month or two. If the Reds keep hanging around .500 for the rest of the first half, they will need to win almost every night in August and September. Can it happen? Maybe. But from what I see on social media, fans aren’t very optimistic right now.

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