The Cincinnati Reds are in a bit of an odd predicament as we barrel towards the final 40-some games of this 2018 season, and it has my brain in a bit of a bind regarding how to think about it. At 52-67, they sit a full 15 games out of the NL Central lead, which is a moot point at this juncture. Similarly, they’re behind 11 other NL teams in the race for a Wild Card spot, meaning even the most unlikely of turnarounds at this point wouldn’t land them playing postseason ball.
Normally, when a team’s at that point in the standings while simultaneously in year X of a seemingly endless rebuild, there’s at least the future of the franchise to turn to. For the Reds, though, that’s completely not the case this year, and that’s what has me pondering exactly what the hell I’m supposed to take away from watching this particular vintage of the Reds this year.
A quick perusal of the current roster shows that each of Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler are sidelined. Winker, of course, was having a stellar offensive campaign in this, his rookie season, before shoulder surgery ended all chance to watch him blossom down the stretch. In a similar vein, Schebler was having an offensive breakout season before a shoulder injury derailed things a few weeks back, and while he’s likely to rejoin the team at some point in the near future, how much he’s pushed down the stretch after his second serious shoulder injury in two years remains to be seen. That, you’ll notice, is the projected starting corner OF for the Reds for 2019 and going forward, and we don’t exactly have that to tune into every night for the rest of this year.
In the infield, Nick Senzel’s finger injury has him busted up and out for the year, so the chances to see the team’s top prospect - and one of the handful of most elite prospects in the entire game - are done for this year, too. Alex Blandino, another rookie who at times showed promise, is also out for the year with his torn ACL, so finding out how he can contribute is off the table, too. Dilson Herrera, for all of his prospect promise, stays glued to the bench most every evening, meaning he’s another young bat that we’ve not truly had the chance to see play.
In fact, if you take a quick gander at MLB.com’s list of the Top 30 prospects currently in the Cincinnati system, there’s a very real chance that you won’t see a single one of the team’s top 10 actually called up at any point for the rest of the season, even with September’s expanded rosters. Beyond that, there’s a legitimate chance you only even see two of the entire Top 30 brought up - Tanner Rainey and Keury Mella likely have the best chances - and Mella just got optioned back to AAA yesterday after allowing a barrage of dingers in Sunday’s contest. Jose Lopez and Lucas Sims have 40 man roster spots and have been reasonably decent in AAA, but the logjam of starting pitching at the big league level already sits some seven deep potentially after Cody Reed’s recall yesterday, meaning their chances of actually getting mound time are near nil. Shed Long and Jose Siri - both already on the 40 man roster - could conceivably get call-ups, but with both currently integral parts of a Pensacola roster that’s on-course for the AA Southern League playoffs, it’s likely they won’t - and, if they do, it won’t be until the playoffs end in the third week of September. Even then, it’s likely the Reds will be reluctant to start their respective service clocks this early in their MiLB careers.
On the individual side of things, there aren’t even the usually dependable pair of league-leaders to follow in Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton. Votto, whose dinger power has completely evaporated, hasn’t homered since July 9th, and his usually dependable second half surge hasn’t yet shown up to boost his already Hall of Fame worthy pedigree. Hamilton, on the other hand, has been chasing a stolen base title for a handful of years now, but his lack of steals so far this season means that’s not even in the cards. Realistically, it’s only the NL-lead in RBI being chased by Eugenio Suarez that’s at all in the realm of possibilities, assuming you simply take for granted that Votto will hold on to his nearly insurmountable lead in OBP and catch Bryce Harper for the league-lead in walks.
The reality is, the Reds are grinding their way to the finish line with an injury-riddled squad, and are doing so in a manner that’s designed to scrape out as many wins as they possibly can despite a roster that suggests they’ll likely still do more losing than winning as the season plays out. They’re jamming hard for roughly the #9-10 pick in the 2019 draft, still playing all their veterans over the few still-healthy young players who have the most promise, and including the likes of Matt Harvey and Homer Bailey in their starting rotation despite a wealth of other, younger options still in the system.
It’s a strategy that’s not necessarily looking backwards, over a shoulder at the success the team had at the beginning of the decade. It’s not that daft or blase. However, it certainly doesn’t appear to be looking forward much, either, both due to circumstance and a rigidity within the management in the dugout towards trying to eek out every win possible this year. If anything, it’s looking at its own shoes, trying to tune out what’s around it, and walking methodically towards the 27th out of game 162 as diligently as possible.