There are a thousand things one can say to try to illustrate just how miserable and bleak the first few weeks of this season have been for the Cincinnati Reds. With just two wins against 13 losses, they have the worst record in Major League Baseball. It’s their worst start to the season in nearly a century. All of the soft-serve machines in the entire city has been replaced by non-fat sugar-free frozen yogurt. Aside from a labor dispute and general strike, this is probably the worst imaginable way for baseball to treat us right now.
Fans are upset, the manager is running empty on public good will, the players are open and vocal about their self-loathing, and Mister Redlegs has been replaced by a considerably less jocular Willy Loman caricature. It sure feels like absolutely nothing is going right for the team right now.
Of course, that isn’t true, though. While the bad news and rotten luck have sucked all of the oxygen out of the tri-state area, there have been a decent number of really positive developments this season. So in the interest of journalistic integrity and giving equal coverage and being fair and balanced and whatnot, here’s a not-exhaustive list of actual good things that have happened for the Reds so far this season.
Homer Bailey looks like himself again
It was early August of 2014 the last time Homer Bailey looked like an actual solid big league starting pitcher. Since then, he has dealt with one crippling arm injury after another, undergone a half-dozen-or-so major surgeries, and on the incredibly rare occasion when he was healthy enough to pitch for the Reds, he got his brains beat out of him.
But in the first four starts of this season, Homer, now 32 years old, has looked every bit the sturdy front-of-the-rotation pitcher he was all those years ago. He has notched an impressive 3.42 ERA, a 1.056 WHIP, and most importantly he has only surrendered two home runs. All the caveats about small sample sizes and such apply here, but that doesn’t diminish just how fantastic it is to see Ol’ Hoss again. There was a substantial chance that he was irrevocably broken, so it’s a huge relief to see that he is fully recovered.
Tucker Barnhart is worth every red cent of his contract
After a fantastic breakout season, the Reds awarded their young catcher with the financial security of a sizable four-year contract extension. And then his entire body fell apart and had to be put back together again with spare parts harvested from the local homeless population. But that was four years ago.
With Devin Mesoraco suffering from one faulty labrum after another, Tucker Barnhart was able to capitalize on the opportunity created. He broke out last season and established himself as one of the finest backstops in the league, posting a .347 OBP and winning a Gold Glove. I’m usually weary of giving players contract extensions on the back of a career-best season, but so far in 2018 Tucker has earned bit of it. His scorching 155 OPS+ is the best among the regulars. In a lineup with nearly everybody struggling mightily, Barnhart is playing at an MVP pace.
Amir Garrett is pitching better than everybody on the entire planet
Heading into Spring Training, Garrett wasn’t even really on the list of Guys to Watch. With so many of his cohort finishing the 2017 season on a high note, his cringe-worthy struggles landed him near the bottom of the pecking order. So it sure seemed like the plan all along was for him to start the season in the Louisville rotation.
But all he did in Arizona was front on some bustas. He earned himself a spot on the Opening Day roster, albeit in the bullpen. He has taken full advantage of the chance to prove himself, striking out ten and walking only one in 8.1 innings out of the bullpen. He has yet to give up a run. Some folks, including yours truly, are kinda salty that he isn’t in the starting rotation, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth here. The Reds’ pitching staff is worst in baseball in home runs and total runs surrendered and in collective ERA, so that makes Garrett’s atomic arm all the more atom-smashingly awesome.
Jesse Winker’s plate discipline is every bit as advertised
I feel like the story of Jesse Winker’s ascent through the minor leagues as a premiere hitting prospect has been pretty much worn out. There have always been concerns about his glove, his power, his athleticism, and whatever. But the one thing that has never really been in question is his advanced approach at the plate.
Maybe you think I’m really reaching here in including Winker as a bright spot so far this year. His OPS is an uninspired .650. He has exactly zero extra-base hits. There is really no denying it - just like pretty much everyone else in the lineup, the kid is in a slump.
But while all of that is true, his on-base percentage is a fantastic .400. See, that’s the really great thing about a hitter like Winker: even when he is slumping hard, he is not a black hole in the lineup. Even when he is hitting a paltry .250 with zero power, he is still able to avoid making outs. And that’s the most important thing a hitter can do at the plate. Even when he isn’t helping the offense, at least he isn’t hurting it, either.
Even at 2-13, they are only nine games out of first place
Maybe this is stretching it a bit too far. Coming into the season, there weren’t many who were willing to say in public that they believed this Reds team was ready to make some noise in the NL Central. And quite honestly I don’t think they will this year.
But what I want to emphasize here is that it is important for us to keep things in perspective. The team has lost eight-straight games and they have the worst record in baseball and it’s the worst start to the bleuh bleuh bleuh whatever. There are 162 games in the season and the Reds have only played 15 of them. They are at their worst and the Pirates are flaming hot, but even so the gap between them is just nine games. That’s not nothing, but it isn’t some insurmountable deficit, either.
So yeah, this season has been heart-achingly brutal, but we all need to take a deep breath right about now. This is far from over. And more than that, we have some legit crap to be smiling about, too.