Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is back, but despite the Reds offense suddenly looking a lot more competent ahead of this weekend’s series against the St. Louis Cardinals, this ain’t exactly The Big Red Machine.
The Big Red Machine, the nickname given to the Cincinnati Reds (particularly its offense) in the 1970s, peaked in 1975, when they won a classic seven-game World Series against the Boston Red Sox following a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates and a 108-win regular season. The lineup was the stuff of legend–it includes two inner-circle Hall of Famers (Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan), a third Hall of Famer in Tony Perez, a would’ve-been-a-Hall-of-Famer-except-for-that-one-thing in Pete Rose, a future MVP in George Foster, terrific two-way players Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo, and future all-star Ken Griffey. The worst player of these eight by Wins Above Replacement was still at 3.1 wins, firmly above-average.
The current Cardinals may be closer to their franchise peak than the Reds, but they’re still not quite the caliber of the franchise’s most legendary modern team, the 1985 incarnation which won 101 games and stole the hearts of their fans, a jaw-dropping number of bases, and Don Denkinger’s life of anonymity. While the 1975 Reds had a clear advantage with position players (though the 1985 Cardinals lineup, including Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and MVP Willie McGee wasn’t exactly anything to scoff at), Whitey Herzog’s “Whiteyball” roster had the superior pitching–John Tudor had a Cy Young-worthy season if it hadn’t been for Dwight Gooden having perhaps the greatest post-World War II pitching season, and a solid 2-3 punch of Joaquin Andujar and Danny Cox, not to mention an all-around solid bullpen.
But which team was better? I have a guess, and you might too, but there’s only one way to truly, objectively settle this–computer games. And that is why I lined up the 1975 Reds and 1985 Cardinals in a best-of-seven series on Out Of The Park Baseball 2019. I will not interfere with the results of the simulations, though I did give the Cardinals home field advantage because, well, the series is being hosted on St. Louis Bullpen, so why shouldn’t they?
Game 1: The Game 1 matchup between John Tudor and Don Gullett represented the most obvious pitching advantage for the Cardinals in the series, and Tudor managed to carve up the Reds lineup in impressive fashion. Gullett wasn’t a slouch, either, allowing just two runs in eight innings, but Tudor’s shutout gave the Cardinals a 2-0 victory and a 1-0 series lead. The Cardinals scored their first run in the fourth, piecing together a run via a Tom Herr leadoff double, Herr advancing to third as Jack Clark made the inning’s second out, and Herr sneaking home on a passed ball with Andy Van Slyke at the plate. A Clark single in the sixth scored Vince Coleman and gave the Cardinals a treasured insurance run. Ironically, neither team stole a base, with both Cesar Geronimo and Willie McGee being caught once apiece.
Game 2: The pitching matchup of Fred Gorman vs. Danny Cox was less obvious Cardinals edge, but it was an edge nonetheless. But the Reds’ offensive edge won out, as the Reds evened the series with a 4-3 victory. Danny Cox allowed just two runs over eight innings and the Cardinals carried a 3-2 lead into the ninth, but the Big Red Machine got rolling off Ken Dayley. Johnny Bench doubled, advanced to third on a one-out Dave Concepcion single, and Cesar Geronimo drove home both runners with a one-out double. Dayley weathered the storm but the Cardinals were unable to equalize the game in the bottom half of the inning. Vince Coleman stole two bases in the game, while Ken Griffey stole one.
Game 3: Back to Cincinnati, the Reds took a somewhat more decisive Game 3 by a 6-2 final score. The Reds had three two-run innings, two off starter Joaquin Andujar and one off reliever Bill Campbell. The third inning included a Johnny Bench home run for the game’s second run, while Bench drove in the game’s third run, from Pete Rose, on a fifth inning double–he then scored run #4 on a Tony Perez single. Andy Van Slyke and Jack Clark RBIs helped to chip away in the seventh and eighth innings, but in the bottom of the eighth, a two-run Joe Morgan home run helped put the Cardinals away.
Game 4: Gary Nolan is arguably the best Reds pitcher, and Kurt Kepshire is arguably the worst among the Cardinals’ postseason rotation, so this somewhat must-win game comes down to a tricky matchup. And while the Cardinals struck first, thanks to a leadoff Vince Coleman single, subsequent Vince Coleman steal, and a Tom Herr single-turned-Vince Coleman run, the lead only lasted until the fourth, when the Reds tied the game with a solo Johnny Bench home run. A barrage of singles in the bottom of the fifth, mixed in with a sacrifice bunt and a Willie McGee error, gave the Reds two more runs, and while the Cardinals pulled within one thanks to an Andy Van Slyke single in the eighth driving in Jack Clark, this was as far as they could go. 3-2 Reds with a chance to polish off the series at Riverfront Stadium in Game 5.
Game 5: In a pitching rematch of Game 1, this time in Cincinnati, the Reds got off to an early lead, scoring three in the first inning. Griffey and Rose singled, and a Joe Morgan walk loaded the bases with nobody out. A George Foster hit-by-pitch brought home the game’s first run, and while a Johnny Bench GIDP did partially suppress the rally, it also scored another runner. A Tony Perez double, however, on a 3-0 pitch brought home Joe Morgan, and the Reds had a big early lead. But John Tudor settled down and the Cardinals clawed back. In the fifth, a Tom Herr single scored, of all people, John Tudor, and facing elimination, the Cardinals mounted a two-run ninth inning to extend the game. While the first two Cardinals recorded outs, Vince Coleman walked, Tom Herr doubled, and Willie McGee drove in both runners. Following a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth and top of the tenth, the Reds and Cardinals exchanged threats in the bottom of the tenth and top of the eleventh, but neither team relented. Jeff Lahti entered to pitch for the Cardinals, and retired George Foster. But on the first pitch he saw in the inning, eventual series MVP Johnny Bench cranked a home run to left field. The Reds win the series 4-1.
Luckily, like I said before, the 2018 Reds ain’t the Big Red Machine. The Cardinals should destroy the Reds. Here are the expected starters this weekend. All games listed by Central time.
Friday (7:15 pm)–Homer Bailey (1-12, 6.17 ERA) vs. Austin Gomber (4-0, 2.79 ERA)
Saturday (6:15 pm)–Luis Castillo (7-11, 5.07 ERA) vs. Daniel Poncedeleon (0-0, 2.08 ERA)
Sunday (1:15 pm)–Anthony DeSclafani (7-4, 4.34 ERA) vs. Jack Flaherty (8-6, 2.87 ERA)