Does anyone even remember April anymore?
After a six game stretch that saw the Cincinnati Reds win every outing of the bunch, there’s finally a bit of optimism around these parts. Truthfully, it may not even have to truly be classified as optimism as much as it is simply non-pessimism, since we’ve finally had the chance to view enough decent baseball to not come to expect the worst possible scenario to befall our Reds at each and every turn of a game.
Joey Votto is far from toast. The busted thumb we thought might derail Eugenio Suarez’s first season under long-term contract hasn’t held him back a bit. Scooter Gennett is on fire once again.
On the mound, the team’s collective bullpen work just won a league-wide award after it’s lock-down performances over the last week. Luis Castillo doesn’t look ‘fixed,’ he looks good enough for us to question why we ever wondered if he was broken during the dismal weather of the season’s beginning. David Hernandez and Jared Hughes - the bargain basement additions to the relief core despite an overall blockbuster bullpen market league-wide - look like excellent additions. Amir Garrett continues to shine, Matt Harvey looked like, well, Matt Harvey, and Tyler Mahle continues to look like a legitimate cog in the future of the team’s starting rotation.
Hell, even with the horrendous beginning to the year, the team’s Pythagorean W-L expectancy - read: how the team’s record should probably look given how much they’ve scored and how many runs they’ve allowed - sits at 17-24 at the moment. While not at all good, that extrapolates to roughly the 68-94 records the club has posted in each of the last two years.
Is that last bit optimism? Is being in basically the same spot as the team was last October something to feel good about? Well, in a sense, it sure as hell is, especially if we can now officially point to the April woes as the bottom of this multi-year, precipitous rebuild. Because while that extrapolated 2018 record sure doesn’t look rosy in the grand scheme, it ignores perhaps the most important thing going for the Reds right now - which just so happens to be one of the most important things to have in sports at any juncture:
Momentum. For the first time in so damn long, the Reds look like they’ve built up some momentum, and while that’s a word/concept that’s often hard to distinctly define, I think in this current instance it’s pretty easy to point out how.
The Reds are heading into a 3-game road series against the San Francisco Giants, and I really, truly like their chances of another series win. Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, and Albert Suarez are starting those games for the Giants, and not a one of them sounds more imposing than Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, or even Matt Harvey in their respective matchups. Fresh off a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, booting the demons of previous west coast nightmares and turning this particular trip into an exorcism of the last handful of bad years seems like something that’s completely in the script at the moment, and it’s as revelatory a moment as I think I’ve had about the Reds in years.
Nebulous as ‘momentum’ and my own personal sentiments are, there are actually a few positive numbers we can look to for evidence that these Reds might actually be a lot better than they showed us for a month. After owning 30th and dead last in most every major pitching statistic for the better part of four full years - sometimes in historic fashion - the team’s overall pitching staff is actually creeping towards middle-of-the-pack status, and quickly. The team’s overall bullpen ERA sits at 4.22, which is good for 17th in MLB (while still having the awful numbers from Yovani Gallardo, Zack Weiss, and Tanner Rainey still on the books for good). The team’s overall starting rotation ERA - which at times was the worst in all of baseball this year by over a half a run - is now only the 6th worst mark in the game, and that comes after jettisoning that group’s worst performer (Brandon Finnegan) to AAA for refinement.
That’s hardly plaque-worthy, but when a steady climb takes you from ‘worst three-year run of pitching in the history of Major League Baseball’ to ‘somewhere not close to dead last,’ that’s a great step in the right direction. And given that it’s been pitching that has largely torpedoed any chance of the last few years being competitive, it’s an incredibly positive development to not only see the team’s arms throw well, but also to know that aside from Harvey, they’re all set to be around for multiple more seasons going forward.
Speaking of that last phrase, it’s also a bit exciting to land on the Baseball Reference page for these Reds, and to specifically look at their current WAR leaders. Topping the group at present are Suarez (1.6 bWAR), Votto (1.6), and Tucker Barnhart (1.3) - and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to notice that each of them are guys the Reds chose to extend as part of the future, too.
The Cincinnati Reds are still just 14-27, and sit a full 10 games behind the 1st place Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. That same Central, mind you, has four teams that are over .500 at the moment, all of whom are obviously ahead of the Reds in the standings.
These Reds are not going to win the division, and aren’t going to make the playoffs. They’re going to lose a lot more often over the next five months, too. That’s something that even the more optimistic prognosticators in our mix anticipated even before the godawful start to the season. That said, I think what many of us had hoped for prior to the season was for the current crop of Reds to show only that they’re no more than a few additional pieces away from being able to firmly compete with the rest of the NL Central, and the last week of baseball has helped show that’s still a definite possibility.
If we’re really willing to call April 2018 the bottom of this Reds Recession, then it’s truly more important to focus on how the team plays from that point forward - and, for the first time in years, what their actual record looks like in that time. If they can play .500 or so ball from that point until the end of the season, that’s precisely the kind of play that should give the front office enough gumption to beginning to add in earnest, not merely to make piecemeal signings at the fringes of the roster the way we’ve seen in recent years.
If this team - and this core - emerges from that abysmal April playing as confidently as they have so far since, we might well finally get to see some additions. Man, it’s finally nice to have a bit of fresh air around these parts.
(You might notice that I just wrote some 1200 words on optimistic views of the Cincinnati Reds, and that you read them all without once coming across the name ‘Nick Senzel.’ Though I’m confident his second vertigo bout isn’t something that we need to be seriously worried about, that’s merely coincidence that he’s out fighting it at the moment and also omitted. In all honesty, part of why I wrote all of this was due to this week being the first time I’ve been confident in watching the current Cincinnati Reds without feeling the need to reference what else they’ve got in the minors that we’ve not yet seen. For the first time in god knows how long, I don’t feel obligated to bank on a still-unknown to appreciate what they’ve got right now, and that was refreshing as hell.)