Reds' free agency whiff could come back to haunt them vs. Cardinals

The Reds swung and missed at signing former Cincinnati ace Sonny Gray.

St. Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins
St. Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

If the Cincinnati Reds hope to keep pace in the crowded NL Wild Card race, winning this weekend’s series against the surging St. Louis Cardinals is crucial. Cincinnati will have to confront and overcome a key free agency misfire to do so. 

Sonny Gray is slated to take the ball for Game 3 of the four-game series at Busch Stadium on Saturday — his first start against the Reds since being dealt to the Twins after the 2021 season — and, significantly, his first since shirking Cincinnati’s advances during this past offseason. Instead, Gray signed a three-year, $75 million deal with the division-rival Cardinals.

The Cy Young runner-up hasn’t missed a beat since joining St. Louis. Gray is in the top 10 among NL pitchers in ERA, WHIP, and opponents’ batting average this season. His nine wins, so far, are the most in a season since his 2021 All-Star campaign with the Reds, and he has limited opponents to just 57 hits across 83 ⅓ innings. This does not bode well for a Cincinnati lineup that holds an NL-worst batting average of .228 going into the series with St. Louis.

Will Sonny Gray make the Reds regret not signing him this past offseason?

Gray has only faced the Reds one other time in his major league career — a 2016 loss at Great American Ball Park as a member of the Oakland A’s. Despite being on the losing end of the effort, Gray went 7 ⅔ innings and only allowed just two runs on five hits.

Compounding Reds fans’ frustrations over missing out on Gray is the relative lack of success of Cincinnati’s free-agent signings. Their big pitching pickup, Frankie Montas, has struggled mightily and fallen to the back of the rotation.

Early season hopes were quickly dashed when Montas finished the first month of the season with a 4.19 ERA and 10 walks to 14 strikeouts. A trip to the IL compounded fans’ complaints about Montas’s performance.

The series against the Cardinals, culminating in the face-off against Gray, could be a turning point in the Reds’ season, both in the eyes of fans and in the standings. Coming off a demoralizing series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati needs to right the ship. A litany of injuries – TJ Friedl, Jeimer Candelario, Jake Fraley, and more – have put the Reds in a tough spot, and the team is on the verge of dropping out of contention, sitting 4.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot and six games under .500.

The Reds, though, have proven that one hot streak, like their seven-game run at the beginning of June, can drastically turn the tables. If Cincinnati wants to be in contention and possibly be buyers at the Deadline to mitigate the frustration of missing out on Gray, what better way to make a statement than beating the former Reds ace on his new home turf?

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