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Reds focused on Wild Card chase: ‘We know what’s at stake’

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Unable to secure sweep, Cincinnati’s attention on crowded NL postseason picture.

NEW YORK — September 17, 2023 – By: Betelhem Ashame –

Over the course of a long season, series wins are the name of the game. But at this time of year, as the Reds seek to claim one of the final two spots in the hotly contested National League Wild Card race, every game matters from here on out.

That means the job wasn’t finished for Cincinnati when it took the first two games of this weekend set against the Mets (69-80) at Citi Field. As manager David Bell put it before Sunday’s finale: “That doesn’t make today any less important.”

With their sights set on a sweep, the Reds came up short for the second time on this road trip against below-.500 opposition, suffering an 8-4 loss in the getaway game. They faced the same fate days earlier against the Tigers in Detroit.

  • Games remaining (11): vs. MIN (3), vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
  • Standings update: The Reds (78-73) are a half-game out of the third NL Wild Card, trailing the Marlins and Cubs (both 78-72, with Miami holding the tiebreaker over Chicago). Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over Arizona, which moved into the second NL Wild Card spot, after winning the season series 4-3, but Miami holds the tiebreaker over Cincinnati. The Reds hold the tiebreaker over the Cubs.

“Of course, the results are going to be what gets us where we’re going,” Bell said after the finale, “but for us as a team, I think we’re doing a good job — I know we’re doing a good job — of really paying attention to things that we can control. The idea is, ‘Yes, every game is important to win. Every play is important to make.’ But you have to turn the page really quick.”

It was a missed opportunity in many ways for the Reds, especially considering that the Marlins swept the newly minted NL East champion Braves and the D-backs have a chance to do the same to a team they’re all chasing in the Cubs.

Noelvi Marte, who’s hitting .415/.455/.537 this month, got Cincinnati on the board first in the opening frame, lining a two-out blooper into center field for an RBI single. But the Mets’ bats took over from there, with Francisco Alvarez launching a go-ahead two-run double in the third inning off Reds starter Brandon Williamson.

Making his second start since being activated from the COVID-19 injured list on Tuesday, Williamson also allowed New York’s first run of that frame on a wild pitch with the bases loaded.

“We know what’s at stake,” Williamson said. “It’s not like we’re going out there and saying, ‘Oh, we won the first two; we can take today off.’ It’s just how the cards fell.”

That was one of several mistakes the Reds made in what was once a tight contest after Nick Senzel pulled one back with his 12th home run of the season in the fifth. Marte and Christian Encarnacion-Strand made errors in the field in the first and fifth, respectively, while reliever Carson Spiers added a throwing error in the seventh. Marte’s mistake went unpunished; the latter two did not.

Still, the Reds seemed capable of pulling off yet another comeback — they lead the NL with 46 come-from-behind wins this season.

Daniel Vogelbach put those hopes to bed in the seventh, coming to the plate as a pinch-hitter and skying a bases-clearing double off the wall in center to stretch the Mets’ lead to 7-2. Encarnacion-Strand smashed his second homer in as many days in the eighth to try to revive Cincinnati’s chances, but the club didn’t have anything left in the tank after that.

“That made it feel a little bit more out of reach,” Bell said of Vogelbach’s big hit. “Up until that point, you really feel like you’re a couple baserunners away from getting the tying run to the plate. [We’ve] had that happen quite a bit for us. So we know — being on the other side of that — the importance of adding on runs when you’re playing good teams. And that’s what they were able to do.”

This world, in which the thinnest of margins can make all the difference, is where the Reds now live as they try to become only the third MLB team to make the postseason the year after a 100-loss season, following the 2017 Twins and 2020 Marlins.

The young club is learning firsthand what it means to be in must-win territory.

“We’re going to continue to be challenged,” Bell said. “We’re going to continue to face situations that we have to be strong and stay together and work through. And if we continue to do that, we really feel good about where we are.”

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