When the Reds began a rebuild after their 2013 wild-card loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, they were expecting to wait three years before competing for the crown in the National League Central.
Well, it is now just over two months into the fourth year of the rebuild, and the team is still 15.5 games out of first place and 9.5 games behind the next closest team in their division. It does not help that every team in the division besides the Reds are above .500.
After last season, we knew that 2018 was not going to be the year the Reds found themselves competing again, but there were some signs of hope. Those hopes were quickly dashed after a historically slow start from the club.
From the first day of the season, it felt like mother nature was sending us a warning signal of how the season would play out.
Opening day, essentially a holiday in Cincinnati was rained out. It was a special opening day because for the first time in 50 years, all teams would start the season on the same day until the Reds and Washington Nationals foiled those plans.
The Reds were then swept in their first series of the season before stealing a win against the Chicago Cubs with a dazzling pitching performance from rookie Tyler Mahle. After that win, the Reds only won two of their next 14 games before firing manager Bryan Price. The young pitchers were key in a successful rebuild, and they looked terrible with the exception of a few starts from Mahle and Sal Romano. Luis Castillo, who the Reds were hoping would be their future ace, was the worst in their rotation.
Hopefully, under interim manager Jim Riggleman, they would be able to right the ship. They were swept in their first series under Riggleman by the St. Louis Cardinals but finished April with four wins and four losses following that series.
In the month of May, the Reds showed actual signs of improvement. The club nearly finished at .500, going 13-15, including a six-game winning streak. There are many positive takeaways from the month, despite still finishing with a losing record.
Castillo adjusted his arm angle and returned to form and has been improving with each start. Joey Votto, after a slow start, something he is notorious for, returned to form and is batting just under .300. Eugenio Suarez has been performing night in and night out at a level that puts him in the conversation of one of the best to play at the hot corner. Scooter Gennett has been on an absolute tear, hitting .398 in the month of May with eight home runs and 24 RBIs, earning the NL May Player of the Month award. Gennett also tacked on two Player of the Week awards during the month.
With the way the offense is performing lately, the Reds just need their pitching to continue to improve to show the league that they are ready to compete. Unfortunately, because of the awful start, the competing will not begin until 2019.
The Future of the Reds
While the team is trending upward, there are still many questions about what the club needs to do heading forward. The four-man rotation continues to be an issue that Riggleman cannot figure out. Can the rookies, both in the field and on the mound continue to improve, or will they regress as we approach the dog days of summer? With the trade deadline just two months away, what moves, if any, will the Reds make to improve their squad for years to come?
The Reds have had a four-man rotation in the outfield all season with Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker. The rotation is not working and two of them, Hamilton and Duvall, have been underperforming. Schebler has not been great, but he is playing much better than the two previously named players and has earned his spot in the lineup. Winker has been in a slump recently, but he is expected to be a part of the Reds’ future and needs to be in the lineup every day.
It is hard to say who should start and who should sit between Hamilton and Duvall, but they should not be playing almost every game. Duvall had a great 2017 campaign clubbing 31 home runs and earning a spot in the All-Star Game. The Reds keep hoping that he will return to last season’s form, but that does not seem possible with how poor he has been at the plate, with a batting average below .200.
Hamilton is one of the most exciting players in the league, both in the field and on the bases. The problem with him though is getting on base. He has a career on-base percentage below .300. For someone who wants to play every day that is unacceptable, especially when in most games throughout his career he has been hitting in the leadoff spot.
While Duvall looks lost at the plate, he should be starting over Hamilton. The Reds need to either bench or trade one of these two and neither have quality trade value at the moment. Billy is electric on the base path and one of the best we have ever seen play center field in Cincinnati but has never been great at the plate, and that is what ultimately earns you a spot in a lineup. If Duvall can find his swing in the next two months, he could potentially be dealt for a player with a chance to compete for a roster spot in the future.
The Rookies at the Plate
The Reds have two rookies in the field that they would like to see on the team when they are ready to contend. They are Winker, who has been seeing a decent amount of playing time, and Alex Blandino, who Price and Riggleman have not let have the proper chance to prove himself.
Winker has been a top prospect in the organization for the last few years and his call-up to the big leagues was highly anticipated. He began the season producing a solid slash line, but has recently regressed. Winker has spent his career in an organization whose best player has a patient approach and knows that walks can be just as valuable as hits. It is clear when you watch him step up to the plate, that he is a miniature Votto, but with less power. His patience and plate vision gives him the chance to succeed despite his lack of power.
While his slump may be concerning to some in his rookie season, it is not something that should get the fans or front office worried. Slumps happen and the pressure of performing everyday in a city that has been waiting to see their team win again can be overwhelming. Winker has shown he can perform at a major league level and should be able to return to his previous form soon. The case with Blandino is a curious one. He is thought of a player that can earn his spot in the crowded group of infielders Cincinnati has.
After Suarez went down with an injury, everyone thought it was his chance. For some reason, he was consistently left out of the lineup for two veterans that no one thought would even make the opening day roster. He has not been spectacular when he starts, but as a rookie that is hard to do when you are not getting consistent chances to perform.
If Winker can keep his approach at the plate and show that he is no different than any other player that has the occasional slump, he will be a key asset in Cincinnati for years to come. If Blandino ever gets his shot to play every day, he can prove to be a major league level player.
The New Guys on the Mound
While they may not all be rookies, the Reds have quite a few pitchers still finding their footing in the majors. Between Castillo, Mahle and Romano, the Reds have three pitchers who they believe will be key to their future success. As mentioned earlier, Castillo was a nightmare on the mound when the season started. He has pitched well in nearly every start since adjusting his arm angle, and despite letting up a grand slam that eventually lost him the game Sunday against the San Diego Padres, he continues to improve.
Castillo’s biggest issue, as is most rookies, has been going the distance. This is partially because Riggleman likes to pull him early to conserve his arm, but he also often racks up a high pitch count by the fifth and sixth inning. Mahle has been great for the club, but inconsistent. This is not something to be hung up about though, as rookies often times struggle to find consistency. Despite a few bad starts, he is poised to help the Reds compete for years to come.
Romano has had a bit of major league experience but struggled early on in his career. He is similar to Mahle, as his starts have consisted of many decent starts, sprinkled with a few above and below average outings. With the return of Anthony Desclafani Tuesday, he should be able to help the club and the young pitchers continue to improve. Desclafani has not seen the field or been with the club all season.
Having the presence of a veteran with ace material will be beneficial to the club all around, not just when he takes the field.
The Trade Deadine
When a team is in the basement of their division, the trade deadline is an interesting time of year. Winning ballclubs are searching for the player that will push them over the top, while the others are looking towards the future. The Reds are in the latter.
The team has a few trade chips that will be on the table by the end of July. The biggest trade chip is closer Raisel Iglesias. The movement on Iglesias’ pitches is one of the filthiest in the league. The Reds’ bullpen has been less than stellar the last few seasons, outside of the ninth inning. Between Aroldis Chapman and Iglesias, the Reds have been confident they will come away with a win with the lead in the final frame.
Gennett is another name that is often brought up as a trade chip. He has had a phenomenal year and a half in Cincinnati but is 28 years old in an organization with middle infielders to spare. His defense at a position that usually boasts quality fielders, is horrendous. The Reds need to decide if the NL Player of the Month’s offense is worth sacrificing defense and playing time of young prospects that could potentially man the position for years to come.
The other two trade chips the Reds hold, have much to prove before becoming of any value, Duvall and former Mets’ ace Matt Harvey. When the Reds acquired Harvey they knew they were not trading for their future ace, seeing as he is in a contract year and had not been the pitcher New York loved for a few years. Instead, they were hoping he could find his form in a city with far fewer distractions and become a valuable pitcher they could flip for prospects. If this happens, the Reds could receive some intriguing calls come July 31.
It is no secret this year has been a disappointment through the first two months. What the Reds faithful need to do is not give up hope.
The rebuild feels like it has been going nowhere since it is behind schedule, however, that is not the case. The team is showing signs that they are close to winning and if the rookies can continue to improve and the veterans perform at the level expected, Cincinnati should have hope for 2019.
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