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