April 7th, 2008

How the '95 Reds recovered

Since they’re the more recent of the two teams in baseball history that started out 0-6 and still got to the playoffs, I figured it would be worth a history lesson. Not only did they have the misfortune on a bad start, they faced the added disadvantage of a shortened schedule thanks to the lockout that winter.

In fact, that was part of what was working against them when the season began. Because MLB lost the first three weeks or so to the season, they had to pick up the schedule on the fly. So the Reds played their first two games at home against the Cubs, hit the road for San Diego without an off day, then came back to Cincinnati after a three-game sweep to the Padres.

Three of the six opening losses were one-run games. One was an extra-inning loss to the Cubs, another a comeback loss to the Padres, then a getaway day loss in San Diego which the Reds scored three with two outs in the top of the ninth to tie it (including a Barry Larkin home run), then lost it without giving up a hit in the bottom of the ninth.

After a shutout back at home to Curt Schilling and the Phillies, it looked like a low point. Then after the Reds finally won a game, they lost two more, including a five-hit shutout to Bobby Jones, John Franco and the Mets. When they scored runs, they couldn’t hold opponents, and when the pitching was decent, they couldn’t score. The only thing going right for them was Larkin, who was hitting lights-out and still had trouble scoring runs early.

Two weeks after that blanking by the Mets dropped the Reds to 1-8 and five games out of the NL Central lead, they were back at .500, having run off six straight and 10 of 12. And they kept on winning, largely with great pitching. They won 10 of their next 11 through the end of May, on top of the Central five days later, and they were 29-14 on June 12 after a four-game series sweep at Houston. They got 18 games over .500 by the All-Star break and topped out at 31 games over .500 by the end of August, at which point they topped the Central by 14 1/2 games.

Larkin, you might remember, won NL MVP honors that year in somewhat of a surprise over Colorado’s Dante Bichette and his 40-homer season. Statistically, Larkin wasn’t lofty that year, but was all-around excellent. The real standout? Pete Schourek somehow won 18 games, the only time he ever finished with double-digit victories.

I’m not saying it’ll happen again. I’m just trying to give an idea how the Reds pulled it off. They finished with an 85-59 record and a nine-game lead on the rest of the pack in the division. Considering their 1-8 start, that means they went 84-51 from that point on. That’s the record the 2006 Tigers held on Sept. 1 before they limped down the stretch.