Reds poised for season-defining homestand after sweeping the Yankees

NEW YORK — Heading into the All-Star break, the Cincinnati Reds should know exactly where they stand leading up to the July 30 trade deadline.

They finished off a sweep of the Yankees on Thursday to move to 42-45 on the season firmly in third place in the National League Central and 3 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the third and final playoff spot.

If the Reds can take care of business in the 10 games before the break, they’ll be clear buyers. Fail to do so and it could be time to look at selling.

That, of course, depends somewhat on what the rest of the teams in the league do, but winning seven of 10 would make it clear that the Reds must try to improve and attempt to claim one of the four playoff spots available to them.

“We know what’s on the line,” Reds manager David Bell said following an 8-4 victory. “The motivation, everything we need is there. We just need to go out and play the way we’re capable of.”

The Reds aren’t exactly where they want to be, or where they’d hoped to be coming off a surprising 2023 season. But they are fully positioned to contend for a playoff spot in the National League, where the third wild-card team advanced to the World Series last year. Of the nine teams in the NL on the outside of the six playoff slots, all but two are within six games of the Cardinals.

The only two NL teams clearly out of contention are the Miami Marlins and the Colorado Rockies, both of whom visit Great American Ball Park next week. The Reds’ 10-game homestand leading up to the All-Star break starts with three games against the 39-48 Detroit Tigers, followed by four games against the Rockies and three against the Marlins.

The team is also playing perhaps its best baseball of the season, splitting a series in St. Louis before coming to New York and becoming the first team this season to sweep the Yankees in a series of at least three games.

The Reds outscored the Yankees 16-10 in the series, taking leads early in all three games, each win going to a Reds’ starter with the bullpen doing its job by recording outs both big and small. The Yankees’ two superstars — Aaron Judge and Juan Soto — went a combined 5 for 25 with a home run and two RBIs each. The Reds’ marquee duo of Elly De La Cruz and Jonathan India performed similarly by going a combined 6 for 23, each with a home run and three RBIs between them. The difference is both scored four runs and the Reds hit seven home runs in the three games, each from a different player.

The Yankees have lost 13 of their past 17 games, but still boast the third-best record in the American League, trailing only the Orioles and Guardians. The Yankees are on the list of teams the Reds have taken their season series from along with perhaps baseball’s best team in the Philadelphia Phillies and the game’s best-paid team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Take away those three teams and the Reds are 31-39 against the rest of baseball and 2-4 against the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers.

The Reds did sweep the Rockies in Colorado in June before taking three of four from the Cubs from June 6-9. That series win against the Cubs at Great American Ball Park was the last series the Reds won before sweeping the Yankees. The Reds took the first game in four of six series in that span but failed to capture any of those series. That ended Wednesday night against New York in a game reliever Fernando Cruz compared to the team’s sweep of the Astros in Houston last year as part of its 12-game winning streak that propelled them to national relevance.

“It feels similar to that. The only difference this year is there’s more of an expectation to do it,” Reds catcher Luke Maile said. “I think there’s less of an underdog story, it’s more of a fair fight in our minds. We feel like we’ve been in these spots before, we know how to do it. But this was the first series where it felt like we executed from the start to the finish of a series and just felt like it was constant execution.”

Last June, the Reds followed that sweep in Houston with a three-game sweep of the Rockies in Cincinnati, something it could replicate next weekend.

The Reds still need to win at least seven of the next 10 games to avoid entering the break with a losing record.

“We can play with anyone when we put together complete baseball games,” said the Reds’ Spencer Steer, whose three-run homer in the fifth inning gave the Reds a 5-0 lead Thursday. “That’s just what we’re going to take away from this series, we played really clean and really complete baseball and when we do that, we can play with anyone.”

What the team needs to do now is do that not only against the best teams but all teams, starting with the Tigers.

(Photo of Elly De La Cruz and Jonathan India: Luke Hales / Getty Images)


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