It’s now officially the second half of the baseball season. Though many consider the All-Star Game to be the real midpoint, the Cincinnati Reds played their 81st game last week. A little rudimentary math will tell you that 81 is half of 162, so we’re now in the second half. Yes, this is the type of scintillating analysis that keeps you coming back to the digital pages of The ™ Cincinnati Magazine.
As we look back at the first half of the Reds season, I’m struck with one thought: It can’t get worse, right? I know what you’re thinking, and you aren’t necessarily wrong. When it comes to the ol’ Redlegs, we know it can always get worse. But I’m here to tell you that there are brighter days ahead.
Before we look forward to things to watch in the second half—and there is plenty to be excited about, I promise—let’s take a moment to reflect on just how bad the first half of the season was. Uh, it was very bad. Historically bad. There’s just no way to sugarcoat it.
The Reds won only three of their first 25 games. That’s the second-worst start of any team in baseball history; only the 1988 Orioles, who started the season 0-21, came out of the gates worse than the 2022 Reds. This is all old news. We’ve debated that horrific start ad nauseum.
After 81 games, the Reds’ record stood at 28-53. The last time Cincinnati had a worse record through 81 games was 1934, when the Reds were 26-54-1. Yep, way back in 1934, when, as local radio personality Lance McAlister noted, John Dillinger was killed in a shootout with the FBI, the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped, and the first Masters golf tournament was played. Also, future Reds Hall of Famer Gordy Coleman was born. It was a long time ago.
The comparison between the 2022 and 1934 teams is not encouraging, since the 1934 Reds are arguably the worst team in franchise history. They certainly had the lowest winning percentage in club annals, finishing the season with a 52-99-1 record in the days when clubs only played 154 (or 152 as the 1934 Reds did). I can’t imagine why they weren’t eager to make up those last two games.
By the way, the third-worst team in club history through 81 games was back in 2016, when the Reds had a 29-52 record. The Castellini era just keeps getting worse and worse.
So why should we waste the next three months of our lives watching this moribund franchise? Because it’s going to get better! I think. Maybe.
Things are already getting better, in fact. Over the weekend, the Reds swept the Tampa Bay Rays in three exciting contests. Sure, the Rays aren’t the New York Yankees (or Mets, for that matter), but they did make the playoffs a year ago and are in line to make it again this year. They’re not a bad team!
The most encouraging thing about the Rays sweep is that it was led by three outstanding performances from the starting rotation. Luis Castillo (who was named to his second National League All-Star team this week, as I predicted) gave up just one run on four hits, striking out eight in seven innings during Friday night’s series opener. Hunter Greene gave up one run in six innings the following day, then Nick Lodolo pitched five strong innings to pick up the win in his second consecutive strong start after returning from the injured list.
Castillo was injured and not yet on the roster during that awful season-opening stretch, and the Reds now have Greene and Lodolo at full strength. That’s a pretty good top-three in the rotation, and the next guy is Graham Ashcraft, who’s had some ups and downs recently but has been one of the breakout stars of the 2022 team. If you’re looking for a reason to watch this team the rest of the way, this group of fun young starting pitchers is a good place to start. (For the moment, we will ignore the rumors that the Reds might be looking to trade Castillo before the July 31 deadline.)
Those aren’t the only reasons to stay tuned. Tyler Stephenson is back in the lineup; he was 5-for-9 with a homer and two RBI in his first two games since returning. (He also made Joey Votto happy.) Stephenson is can’t-miss television. That kid is just so special, I don’t want to miss a single at-bat.
Jonathan India finally returned from a nagging hamstring injury, and he struggled mightily for a while (and that’s putting it kindly). But in recent days, signs of last year’s India have begun to emerge. He had four hits in last week’s doubleheader against Pittsburgh, and he’s hit in four of his last five games. His two-run homer in Sunday’s win over Tampa felt like a turning point.
Another youngster who it seems like we’ve been waiting on forever, Nick Senzel, has suddenly looked like the player who was a top-10 prospect in all of baseball just three years ago. In the last three weeks, Senzel is hitting .426/.475/.574 with a couple of home runs, a couple of doubles, and a walkoff RBI against the Rays.
One thing is evident about Senzel in recent days, as well: He’s obviously having fun on the field for the first time in a while. It’s easy to see why. Since June 23, he has the second highest batting average in all of baseball. If this is finally the emergence of the Senzel who has tantalized Reds fans for so many years, just remember: I told you so.
Sure, the Reds are still in last place, but they no longer have the worst record in baseball. And they’re just four games out of third place! But if you’re looking for reasons to watch the rest of the season, Castillo-Greene-Lodolo-India-Stephenson-Senzel-Ashcraft are seven pretty great ones. These players are the heart and soul of whatever the Reds are going to be over the next couple of years. I know I’ll be watching to see how they develop.
And maybe the Reds will even win a few along the way.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.