The Reds were 5 years removed from their World Series Championship in 1990. Of course, manager Lou Piniella had left to manage the Seattle Mariners after the 1992 season. Davey Johnson, who had led the Mets to a victory in the 1986 World Series, had been the team's manager since taking over for Tony Perez in 1993. The Reds really did not do much rebuilding since their WS of 1990. But they did go through a big makeover. In fact, coming into the season, one of the thoughts going through the mind of management was how the team needed to make a run for it now, as there was little youth to depend on in the next couple seasons.
Among 1990 regulars, Todd Benzinger, Chris Sabo, Paul O'Neill, Billy Hatcher and Eric Davis were gone. Among pitchers no longer around were Tom Browning, Jack Armstrong, Danny Jackson, Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton. While Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, Mariano Duncan and Hal Morris were still part of the everyday lineup, only Jose Rijo remained from the 1990 Reds. And Rijo's season ended in July. In fact, Rijo would not pitch again in the major leagues until the 2001 season.
The team's starting rotation was in disarray for the exception of the developing Pete Schourek (18-7, 3.22) and the veteran John Smiley (12-5, 3.46). The injury to Rijo and the continuous shuttling in of pitchers like Frank Viola, Pete Smith, Rich Reed, Kevin Jarvis and Tim Pugh led the team to trade for pitchers Mark Portugal, David Wells and Dave Burba. All three would pitch in the postseason. The bullpen had moved on from the days of the nasty boys, as they went to Jeff Brantley (3-2, 2.82, 28 saves) as the closer. Setting up Brantley were veterans Xavier Hernandez (7-2, 4.60), Hector Carrasco (2-7, 4.12) and Chuck McElroy (3-4, 6.02). The bullpen, as a whole, was less than spectacular.
Offensively, the team retooled itself with some veterans like catcher Benito Santiago (.286, 11, 44) and Ron Gant (.276, 29, 88). A couple younger players did have an impact such as Bret Boone (.267, 15, 68), Jeff Branson (.260, 12, 45) and Reggie Sanders (.306, 28, 99). Postseason CF Darren Lewis was acquired from the Giants with Portugal in the deal that sent Deion Sanders to San Francisco.
What stood out for this team was the strength of their bench. Duncan returned for a second stint with the Reds, being claimed on waivers from the Phillies in August. Ed Taubensee (.284, 9, 44) was as solid a backup catcher as there was in the game. The human pinch hit, Lenny Harris anchored a bench that also included OFs Thomas Howard (.302, 3, 26), Eric Anthony (.269, 5, 23) and 1989 NL Rookie of the Year Jerome Walton (.290, 8, 22).
Being able to go to Smiley, Schourek, Portugal and Wells in the postseason gave the Reds a chance against the Braves. Unfortunately, the Braves pitching was that much better. Johnson would leave as manager of the team after the season, maybe thinking that was their last chance. Ray Knight took over and led the Reds to a 81-81 1996 season. What was even more interesting was the fact that Joe Oliver, Sabo and Davis; all part of the 1990 WS Champion Reds, all were brought back to play for the team in 1996.