Yesterday’s dramatic pair of Game 163s gave us the Los Angeles Dodgers as victors of the National League West and the Milwaukee Brewers - led by likely NL MVP Christain Yelich - as the owners of the 2018 National League Central title. The Dodgers pipped the Colorado Rockies, who will play in tonight’s NL Wild Card game against the Chicago Cubs, who were felled by the Beers despite the game taking place in Wrigley Field.
It’s been quite the uphill climb for the Brewers, and one we’ve been able to witness firsthand while watching them eclipse the Cincinnati Reds in almost every way possible. Those Rockies, too, have had quite the augmented effort to improve, with their investment in the development of young pitching and a pile of bullpen money powering them to a 91 win season and a postseason appearance.
The thing is, it wasn’t too, too long ago that both teams were absolutely abysmal. In fact, a glance back to the 2015 MLB standings shows that both finished with identical 68-94 records, the Rockies finishing dead-last in the NL West with such a mark and the Brewers a 4th place finisher in the NL Central that year thanks only to - you guessed it - an even worse 64-98 Cincinnati club.
A gander at that particular 2015 Brewers club shows just how far they’ve come, too, in case you’re wondering on the surface exactly how deep their rebuild went in comparison to what the Reds have employed. The fact is, it’s been even deeper than Cincinnati’s in many ways, since the only player who was both a member of the most regular everyday eight in Milwaukee in both 2015 and 2018 was Ryan Braun, while the Reds had each of Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton, and Eugenio Suarez as the playing time leaders in their respective positions that year.
Adam Lind. Jonathan Lucroy. Scooter Gennett! Jean Segura, Khris Davis, and Aramis Ramirez. Heck, even Gerardo Parra played the role of super-sub on that 2015 Brewers team, and he’s long gone, too. Even the pitching side was completely ripped up and tossed, as the likes of Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Francisco Rodriguez, Mike Fiers, and Jimmy Nelson were key parts of their 94 loss campaign (with Nelson still around but sidelined for all of 2018). The fact is, the Brewers managed to shed an entire roster’s worth of players and completely rebuild it in a timeframe that’s nearly identical to the Reds eventual decision to move the likes of Johnny Cueto, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and others.
The only thing is, though, that Milwaukee’s plan has seemingly worked.
Over on the Rockies, the turnover was slightly less pronounced, although it did still signal what became a complete overhaul of how they do business. Gone is Troy Tulowitzki, who picked up a bulk of the SS time while healthy. Gone, too, are Corey Dickerson, Wilin Rosario, Nick Hundley, Brandon Barnes, Daniel Descalso, Justin Morneau, and Jose Reyes. It’s also safe to say that their collective 5.04 ERA pitching staff is unrecognizable next to their 2018 staff, too.
What’s even worse, is that those two franchises aren’t the only ones who have managed to pick up the pieces while the Reds spent time deciding whether the rebuild should have granite counters or glass-front cabinets. Both the Atlanta Braves (67-95) and Oakland Athletics (68-94) were busy losing hand over fist in 2015, too, and both now sit in playoff positions in this 2018 postseason.
What’s just as concerning - if not more so - is that the final 2016 standings tell a somewhat similar tale. The Reds, of course, backed up their 64-98 campaign from 2015 with a 68-94 record in 2017, in essence going nowhere. The Braves, too, had a putrid 68-93 season in 2016, while Oakland had a similarly miserable 69-93 mark. And, both the Brewers and Rockies showed limited, albeit significant progress, finishing 16 and 12 games under .500 that year, respectively. That’s not the second point here, though; rather, it’s to point out that the Tampa Bay Rays - who just had a 90-72 season in 2018 and missed the playoffs thanks to a brutal AL East - had a Redsy 68-94 record as recently as 2016, too, and that doesn’t even touch on the odd case of the Minnesota Twins, who were a debilitatingly awful 59-103 in 2016 yet still managed to make the AL playoffs after the 2017 season.
In other words, the Reds have been stuck doing 54 in a 55 in the right lane while almost every other team playing catch-up actually hit the accelerator and starting making up ground. Only the San Diego Padres and, to an extent, the Chicago White Sox still seem to be lagging behind in the standings.
The fact is, the Reds have managed to do some rebuilding, and they haven’t gone from good to the absolute worst team in baseball. There is some foundation around, after all. That said, the way Major League Baseball works is bent on how well you do against your peers, not how many questions you think you answer correctly enough. Getting decent pieces back and getting decent production from the hauls of traded away players is well and good, but if that production isn’t better than what the other team puts out, then...well, then the rebuild isn’t going well enough.
Rebuilds are neither linear nor able to be directly compared, of course, but the fact is that the Reds is moving decidedly slower than the ones of their peers, and this particular postseason is going to highlight that every time you tune in and watch it. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what it will finally take for the Reds to put their chips in and make the kinds of moves that will hit their own gas pedal.