Wait ’Til Next Year, Reds!

The 2019 season saw star players emerge and fade, a maturing 1-2 rotation punch, a Babe Ruth impersonation, and more losing baseball.
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One of these years, we will reach the penultimate week of the baseball season and I’ll write a dazzlingly fun playoff preview here in the digital pages of Cincinnati Magazine. We’ll revel in the possibility that the Reds could be on the verge of making a glorious run to the World Series, returning to their rightful place atop the baseball world.

 

Alas, this is not the season for that column. Instead, we’ll stick to examining how many positives we can take from the past six months. Next week, we’ll preview the upcoming off-season and look at the hard choices facing the Reds.

Honestly, I can’t believe the baseball season is winding down. Seems like just yesterday that we were forecasting “fun, fun, fun” for the 2019 Cincinnati Reds. Before Opening Day, here’s what I had to say about this year’s version of our favorite team:

We may get to see [Luis] Castillo mature into a dominant starting pitcher. Perhaps we’ll get to see Michael Lorenzen strike out the side, hit a homer, and then finish the game playing center field. At some point, we’ll see [Nick] Senzel finally run out of the dugout as a big leaguer. We will definitely get to witness the greatness that is [Joey] Votto working daily at his craft. That’s fun!

Moreso, even if the Reds are “only” a .500 team this year, that will still mean they’ll be playing meaningful baseball games deep into the season. I’m eager for a mid-September game that actually means something for a change.

Did the Reds go all-in to put a playoff team on the field this year? No, they did not. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have a heckuva good time watching this club. Cincinnati has a revitalized roster with some unique talents and maybe, just maybe, the parts to make a playoff run.

It’s very likely to be the most enjoyable season we’ve seen since 2012. Playoffs or not, I’ll take that. For now.

All in all, I don’t think I was far from the mark. Castillo did in fact mature into a dominant starting pitcher, going 15-6 with a 3.22 ERA and making his first All-Star team. In early September, Lorenzen did almost exactly what I predicted, joining Babe Ruth as the only Major Leaguers ever to hit a homer, get the win on the mound, and play centerfield in the same game. We finally saw Senzel on the Reds, and there was plenty to like. And Votto, well, there is reason for optimism there, too.

No, the Reds aren’t going to finish with a .500 record, primarily because they began the season with eight losses in their first nine games. But I think I was correct when I said this would be the most enjoyable season in many years, for a number of reasons:

1) The Reds played meaningful baseball and kept us hoping until mid-August. That’s an improvement over recent years anyway.

2) Eugenio Suarez had yet another brilliant season, cementing his spot in Reds history. With 10 games remaining, he’s just one off the major league lead in home runs. His 47 blasts broke the Reds’ franchise record for a third baseman, and Suarez still has an outside shot at catching George Foster for the all-time club record (52).

3) Castillo and Sonny Gray became one of the best 1-2 rotation punches in all of baseball. Refusing to be out-done by Castillo’s breakout campaign, Gray returned to form by posting an 11-7 record with a 2.80 ERA. Even better, he broke a major league record previously held by Nolan Ryan by allowing six hits or fewer in 32 consecutive starts.

4) Aristides Aquino announced his presence on the big league scene with authority, breaking a ton of rookie home run records en route to winning the National League’s Player of the Month award in his very first month in the majors.

5) Yasiel Puig was simply a delight.

All in all, this has been a fun team to watch most nights. From a competitive standpoint, the Reds certainly appear to be in a better position than they’ve been in any of the previous five years. And yet only the willfully ignorant fan could fail to notice the fact that the Reds are a deeply flawed franchise at a point in the rebuilding process when the picture should be far rosier.

Since Opening Day back in 2015, basically five full seasons, the Reds have compiled a record of 338-462. That’s a “winning” percentage of .423, a full 124 games below .500. If the Reds can escape last place this year—and they are 5.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh for the cellar spot, so that seems a safe bet—it’ll be the first time since 2014, when they also ended up in fourth place. The Reds have finished an average of 27.5 games behind the Central Division’s first place club in each of the last five seasons.

The primary reason for my frustration has been the extent to which it’s become obvious that the Reds mangled the early years of this rebuilding process. For instance, take a look at Philadelphia and Atlanta, each of whom started its “rebuild” at almost exactly the same time as the Reds. The Phils are still flawed but have been above .500 all season after flirting with it last year, and have demonstrated a willingness to spend money to chase a pennant. The Braves have a chance to win 100 games and are legitimate World Series contenders right now.

The Reds are (finally, slowly) moving in the right direction, and I really do have a lot of confidence in the individuals currently leading Cincinnati’s front office. In terms of modern, analytical decision-making, they’ve finally started to catch up with the rest of baseball under Dick Williams, Nick Krall, and company.

But I’d be lying—and I’ll never lie to you, Dear Reader—if I didn’t say that I’m completely out of patience with the rebuilding process. It’s time for more than just marginal improvement. Back in 2006, remember, Bob Castellini and the current ownership group made certain promises to you, the fan. They have failed to deliver on almost every single one of them.

If the Reds don’t go “all-in” during this coming off-season, I’m just not sure why fans would continue to waste their time with this franchise. I don’t take any joy in saying it, but why would we keep beating our heads against the wall?

The good news? There is a very clear and eminently achievable path to the playoffs for the Reds in 2020. More on that next week.

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. He wrote about the 1970s Reds as part of the magazine’s “10 Events That Shaped Cincinnati” package. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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