3 players who need to step up to keep Reds in contention

Injuries have crippled the Reds down the stretch, but they're still in the playoff hunt.

Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages
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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.

2. Elly De La Cruz needs to step up to keep the Reds in contention.

A lot of fans forget that Elly De La Cruz is just 21 years old. There was also so much media hype surrounding the budding young star that Reds Country couldn't help but be enamored by his monster exit velocity and lightning fast speed on the base paths.

But the strikeouts are piling up. No, it's not reason to abandon ship and declare the Reds shorstop a bust. Stop it! But it is concerning for a team that's trying to make a playoff push to have one of their most talented base runners unable to get on base.

De La Cruz has 122 strikeouts on the season. Through 341 plate appearances, that equates to a strikeout-rate of 35.8-percent. But since August 1st, De La Cruz has gone down on strikeouts 54 times in 134 plate appearances. That's good for a strikeout-rate of 40.3-percent.

Three times during that stretch, De La Cruz has worn the golden sombrero. But more alarming is De La Cruz's .263 on-base percentage over the past month. If De La Cruz is not on base, he's unable to use his greatest gift - his speed.

It's a lot to ask of a 21-year-old rookie, but with Jonathan India, Matt McLain, and Joey Votto out of the lineup, the Cincinnati Reds are going to need Elly De La Cruz to step up in order to keep them in playoff contention.

3. Will Benson needs to step up to keep the Reds in contention.

There was a stretch for about a month this season where no player, outside of Shohei Ohtani, has hotter than Will Benson. After that monumental home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers back in June, Benson went on a tear.

From June 6th through the end of July, Benson was hitting .322/.431/.652 with a wRC+ of 183 according to FanGraphs. It was Benson's world and we were all just living in it.

But the Reds outfielder has come crashing back down to earth since the calendar flipped to August. Over the last month-plus, Benson has looked a lot more human. The 26-year-old it hitting .225/.329/.338 with a wRC+ of 82 and strikeout-rate of 37.8-percent.

All those Reds fans who were clamoring for Benson to be moved up in the batting order are staying remarkably silent at the moment. Just like Elly De La Cruz, however, it must be stated that Benson is essentially playing in his first major league season, and you're going to witness ups and downs.

But, the Cincinnati Reds could certainly use a boost from their left-handed hitting slugger over the final few weeks of his 2023 campaign. With the additions of Hunter Renfroe and Harrison Bader, Benson's playing time may take a hit over the final month of the season. But when he gets opportunities, the Reds need him to cash in.