Cincinnati retained manager Gus Schmelz, who led the team to a franchise record 81 wins in 1887. The Red Stockings were also quiet during the off-season, as pitcher Lee Viau, who signed his first professional contract, would be the only major signing by the team.
John Reilly had the best season of his career, hitting .321 while leading the league with thirteen home runs and 103 RBI, as he became the first Red Stocking to crack 100 RBI in a season. He also had 83 stolen bases. Hugh Nicol hit only .239, however, he once again stole over 100 bases, finishing the season with 103. Nicol and Reilly tied for the team high with 112 runs scored.
On the mound, Lee Viau led Cincinnati with 27 wins and a 2.65 ERA in 42 starts. Tony Mullane and Mike Smith each finished with over 20 wins as well, with 26 and 22 respectively.
The Red Stockings began the season red hot, as they had a 12–5 record before winning ten games in a row to be 22–5, three games ahead of the second place St. Louis Browns. Cincinnati would then fall into a major slump, going 5–16 in their next 21 games to fall into fourth place, seven games out of first. The Red Stockings would remain in the pennant race until late in the season, however, the team finished the year in fourth place with an 80–54 record, 11.5 games behind the first place Browns.