Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Mahle is the key player down the stretch

The Reds will need Tyler Mahle to come up huge over his next two starts.

Following the offseason free-agent signing of southpaw Wade Miley, it appeared Tyler Mahle‘s spot on the major league roster was in jeopardy. Despite making 48 starts for the Cincinnati Reds over the previous two seasons, it seemed the 25-year-old right-hander would be the odd-man out in the rotation and a trip to Triple-A Louisville was in his future.

But like almost everything else, 2020 had different plans. Injuries to starters Anthony DeSclafani and the aforementioned Miley have allowed Mahle to remain in the rotation and make seven starts this season.

Now with ace Sonny Gray on the shelf, the Reds will be leaning on Mahle more than they could have ever anticipated. With a postseason berth hanging in the balance, Mahle’s next two starts will determine if the Reds are playing in October.

Currently, the Reds have to feel confident in what they’re going to get from starters Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo every time out. Bauer has arguably been the best pitcher in the National League while Castillo can be as dominant as anyone in the game on any given evening.

However, there are two things giving manager David Bell sleepless nights. He has continued to receive poor starts from veteran hurler Anthony DeSclafani and the fifth spot in the rotation has more questions than answers.

In order for the Reds to advance to the playoffs, they will need more than two dependable starters. At this point, we don’t know if or when Sonny Gray will return. Nevertheless, Mahle has proven to be more than capable of filling the role behind Bauer and La Piedra.

The California native is easily having the best season of his career. Mahle has posted personal bests in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP. Next, for pitchers who have tossed a minimum of 30 innings in the NL, Mahle ranks 12th in opponents batting average at .192 and is 15th with 10.9 strikeouts per nine frames.

Tyler Mahle will need all of that working and more because all signs point to him pitching the opener of the series against the Chicago White Sox. The South Siders, who visit the Queen City this weekend, own the best record in the American League. Additionally, the White Sox are the best hitting team in the junior circuit.

It will be strength versus strength as Mahle relies heavily on his fastball and slider, nearly 89% of the time, according to FanGraphs, while the Sox are the best in the American League against the heater and second best facing the slider. This is the type of opportunity for Mahle to seize and build a world of confidence with a positive start.

After his likely start against Chicago, it appears Mahle will be on track to pitch in either the series finale against the Brewers or take the mound over the final weekend against a powerful Minnesota Twins lineup.

Depending where the Cincinnati Reds are, as far as the postseason race is concerned, it’s possible Tyler Mahle could be your Game 1 starter should the Redlegs advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

In a year filled with obstacles, it’s only fitting that the season rest on the shoulders of a guy who wasn’t projected to make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. However, Tyler Mahle just may be the main reason the Reds end the six-year playoff drought.