Reds stayed pat, paid for it in playoffs

The Reds kept their lineup virtually intact in the offseason,
convinced it was ready for a push deep into the playoffs. They
didn’t add anything at midseason, thinking they were still
fine.

They paid for those decisions in another playoff flameout.

A 6-2 loss at Pittsburgh in the wild-card game on Tuesday night
marked the third straight quick exit from the playoffs for a team
that’s learned how to win 90 games during the regular season but
can’t translate that success to the playoffs.

”I think everyone has to hold themselves responsible and figure
out a way to take the next step because we changed the culture
around here,” outfielder Jay Bruce said. ”We’re a winning club
now. I’m proud of our season in that aspect.

”But we need to take the next step,” he added. ”We need to
find a way to do that.”

This one ended so much like those others.

The Reds won 91 games and reached the playoffs in 2010 as NL
Central champions, breaking the franchise’s 15-year playoff
drought. They got swept by the Phillies, but considered it a first
step for a young team.

Last year, they won 97 games and the first two playoff games in
San Francisco before returning home and getting swept away. This
year, they won 91 games and a wild card berth, but dropped their
last six games overall, including the one-game playoff at PNC
Park.

Good seasons, ugly endings.

”In our eyes coming into spring training, we wanted to build
off what happened last year and we didn’t do that,” shortstop Zack
Cozart said. ”We made the postseason but this isn’t what we
wanted.”

The biggest problem down the stretch was an inconsistent offense
that went through one of its periodic downturns at a very bad time.
The Reds scored only 2, 0, 1, 3, 2 and 2 runs in those last six
losses.

The starting pitching, which had been the team’s strength all
season, also came apart. The Pirates clinched home-field advantage
for the wild card playoff by sweeping three games over the weekend
in Cincinnati, hitting six homers in one game. They kept it going
at PNC Park on Tuesday night, hitting three more.

Those last four games were telling.

The Reds didn’t make any upgrades in July, deciding a
right-handed hitter was too pricey. By contrast, the Pirates added
outfielders Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau to fill holes in the
lineup. Byrd had six hits including a homer during the first two
games in Cincinnati over the weekend, and homered again on Tuesday
night.

”Marlon Byrd proved a fantastic addition,” first baseman Joey
Votto said. ”Kudos to the front office for coming up with that
trade because he beat us up pretty good.”

The Reds’ only significant change after last season was getting
center fielder Shin-Soo Choo from Cleveland. The deal worked well –
Choo led the majors in on-base percentage by a leadoff hitter. He
got a one-year, $7,373,000 deal to avoid arbitration and will be a
free agent.

The Reds kept the rest of their starting lineup intact and got
less than they needed. The quickest playoff exit yet showed the
Reds that they’ve got to change.

”It’s very difficult because it’s like – I don’t know,
unbelievable actually,” manager Dusty Baker said after the game.
”Our club has been through a lot of things on and off the field.
Our club has stuck together. We realize I guess now we still got
some more work to go. We’ve got some improvements to make.”

They’ve got to figure out what to do in the leadoff spot with
Choo a free agent. Billy Hamilton made a September splash with his
speed, but struggled to hit at Triple-A.

The cleanup spot also is a big question. Ryan Ludwick tore
cartilage in his right shoulder, returned in mid-August and batted
only .240 with two homers and 12 RBIs. His fill-ins struggled.

Votto was an enigma. The Reds’ highest-paid player led the NL in
walks for the third straight year, but most of his numbers were
down significantly. He played all 162 games and batted .305 – his
second-lowest career total. His .491 slugging percentage was a
career low, and his 30 doubles were a career low for a full season.
His 73 RBIs were his fifth-lowest total.

”Offensively, never really got it going this year,” the 2010
National League MVP said.

The rotation stands to lose Bronson Arroyo, who completed his
contract and could be replaced by left-hander Tony Cingrani.

That six-game losing streak to end the season provided plenty of
evidence that unlike the last offseason, some things have to change
this time around.

”Having good seasons and winning in the regular season is all
fine and dandy, but you play … to win championships,” Bruce
said. ”And we haven’t been able to get it done. We have to figure
out a way to do a better job.”

AP Sports Writer Will Graves and freelance writer Chris Adamski
in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay