Since last Monday, the Cincinnati Reds have won four games and lost just three. There have been numerous times in my life where stating something so incredibly obvious would have you questioning my sanity, and rightfully so. We know the sky is blue, that baseballs have seams, and that the infield has three bases and home plate.
After the Reds started the season in the most abysmal funk I think I have ever witnessed, though, the concept that the team could go a full week with more wins than losses became a thing I’m not sure I could tangibly hope for anymore. The team that boasted - for a time - the worst starting rotation in baseball, the lightest-hitting lineup in baseball, and the worst overall bullpen numbers in baseball sometimes looked like it might accidentally run just six players out for defense without noticing. They looked defeated from the outset most nights, and when their pitchers continued to give up 1st inning runs night after night, it was hard to truly blame them.
Last week, though, showed that there might be a bit of life left in this roster after all.
It’s worth highlighting the fundamental reasons behind the change of performance, and why it might well be more than a mere dead cat bounce. Joey Votto, for one, turned back into the Joey Votto we’ve come to love, as he hit .360/.543/.880 with 4 dingers, a double, and 9 walks in his last 7 games. The Reds also welcomed back both Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler from the 10-day DL, adding punch from both sides of the plate to help give the everyday lineup significant depth. Sal Romano turned in his best start of the season, and Tyler Mahle showed in back to back games that the no-hit stuff he flashed repeatedly in his minor league career has a very real chance of translating to the big league level.
Perhaps just as encouraging has been the support of the team’s front office, who has made a habit of both admitting mistakes quickly and doing their immediate best to correct them as best they can. The Cliff Pennington/Phil Gosselin bench experiment didn’t make it a full month into the season, as both were jettisoned to allow infielder Alex Blandino a chance to carve out a utility role - and he’s begun to impress, as well. The decision to keep Nick Senzel in the minors even after the season was old enough to allay his service time issues was a hot topic for a time, but that has allowed Jose Peraza to continue to play everyday - and he has flourished after a slow start to the year. Yovani Gallardo was canned shortly after his second miserable outing, and the reliever called up to replace him - Dylan Floro - has allowed just a lone earned run in his 10 IP, while commanding the strike zone completely as advertised.
The seven games played in that stretch admittedly came against the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins - the former still in a rebuild as deep as Cincinnati’s, and the latter coming conveniently on a long, long losing streak. They were certainly not the Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs. However, when the 2018 season began, it was rather common knowledge that these Reds were not yet built to go toe to toe with the powerhouses in the game - rather, the hope was to see enough incremental improvement on a young roster that the Reds could outpunch teams on their level and below them more often than not, and that’s precisely what we saw from them this last week.
In other words, we’re finally starting to see this club evolve into what the more realistic predictions expected from them in 2018, godawful three week start to the season aside. And given the young roster, the general admission that 2019 might be the better year to hope for more wins than losses, and the commitment to patience with this group from the front office, that might well be enough to still accomplish a lot of the goals that the club likely looked to check off in 2018.
It’s admittedly another tall task to already ask fans to ignore the win/loss ledger for another calendar year, but that’s something I think a lot of us already were chalking up before the season started. However, if you’re willing to do that, you might still have a chance to watch the Reds play some quality, competitive baseball for the next 130 or so games - and that’s still a large enough platform for them to take into the next step of their rebuild.