CINCINNATI -- The list of things the Reds had to do better this year is pretty extensive, but this item should have been fairly high: Avoid several soul-crushing losses to the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs won 15 of 19 against the the Reds last year, and a good number of the losses were complete beat-downs. That can’t happen again if the Reds want this season to be any different than last year’s.
“In order to do that, you’ve got to play well against every team in the division," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "You can’t have some team run roughshod over you over the course of 18 or 19 games.”
The Cubs did just that. Let’s look at some numbers:
The Cubs outscored the Reds 143-69.
The Reds hit .215 with a .646 on-base plus slugging against the Cubs. The Cubs hit .285 with a .902 OPS against the Reds.
The Reds' ERA was 6.99 against the Cubs.
The Cubs won 10 of the first 11 against the Reds. The scores were 5-3, 8-1, 9-2, 16-0, 8-1, 13-5 (Reds’ one win), 9-0, 11-8, 7-2, 9-2 and 10-4.
The 16-0 loss was a Jake Arrieta no-hitter. Jay Bruce said afterward it was the worst loss he ever experienced.
There were probably a couple others against the Cubs that made Bruce’s bottom 10.
“They really beat us up in the rotation and the bullpen,” Price said. “We were down by so many, so frequently -- I hate to say the games were out of reach -- it was asking too much of your team to be that far behind early in the game and expect to consistently get back in the game.”
No one outside the clubhouse expects the Reds to be much better this year. It’s different inside the clubhouse. The good start going into this weekend's home series with the Cubs has reinforced that.
“Winning the World Series, winning your division and winning 100-plus games or whatever they won, that’s the goal,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “In order to win our division, we’ve got to go through the Cubs. Obviously, playing them better and playing them closer is a goal of ours.
“We want to be at the top of the division. That goes without saying.”
The struggles against the Cubs are a recent phenomenon. The Reds lost the series 6-13 in 2015, but won the previous five season series. The 2016 record is the second worst against the Reds in club history. The only time they were worse was in 1945 when the Reds lost 21 of 22.
The reason last year was so bad was largely because of the way the Cubs beat up on the bullpen.
So far, the bullpen has been light years better this season. For that reason, the Reds have only been out of two of the 15 games they played entering Thursday.
“Whether it’s the Cubs or the Cardinals or the Pirates or the Brewers, we have to be able to compete within the division,” Price said. “I think we’re a different team in the sense that we have a much better structured bullpen than we did last year.
“It’s a new year. We have new and/or improved personnel. I think that makes a big difference. I think we’re all looking forward to the series.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org