CINCINNATI (AP) 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