Amazingly, after the all the adversity the Cincinnati Reds have faced over the past few weeks, the team is still in the hunt for the NL Wild Card. The Reds are currently locked in a four-way tie with the San Francisco Giants, Miami Marlins, and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Though the Reds schedule is markedly easier than the other three teams, no team has greater injury concerns than Cincinnati. The Reds have four players on the COVID-19 IL and just lost Graham Ashcraft for two weeks. Matt McLain will miss another two to three weeks as well with an oblique strain.
That's going to thrust some of these young players into the spotlight down the stretch. Which three Reds player need to step up to keep Cincinnati in contention?
1. Alexis Diaz needs to step up to keep the Reds in contention.
This is by no means a jab at Alexis Diaz. The Cincinnati Reds closer has been one of the most consistent performers for manager David Bell all season, and it's just his second season in the big leagues. But this is the time of year when stars separate themselves from the rest.
Diaz is one of the top relievers in all of baseball. The right-hander is tied with San Francisco Giants closer Camilo Doval for the league-lead in saves, and has blown just two saves all season. Diaz is also amonng the Top 5 relievers in strikeouts and appearances.
There's no doubt that Alexis Diaz is absolutely gassed. After throwing 63.2 innings last season, oftentimes in much lower-leverage situations, this season, Diaz is already at 58.2 innings of work with about a month to go. Also, don't discount the fact that almost all of Diaz's innings have come with the game hanging in the balance.
But the 26-year-old has struggled with free passes of late. Though it's been an issue all season, Diaz's walk-rate has jumped from 10.4-percent through the month of July to 16.3-percent since August 1st. The Cincinnati Reds will need to have Alexis Diaz at his best down the stretch in order to remain in contention.