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The Cincinnati Reds aren’t even good at being bad

Musings from 25 games under .500 in late September.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps that headline is a tad bit misleading, in some ways. The Cincinnati Reds are fresh off a streak of objectively terrible baseball, having lost a series on the road against the woeful Miami Marlins in thoroughly thumpless fashion. In the process, they actually set a team record for scoring futility, as former Red Reporter Fearless Leader Joel Luckhaupt pointed out in a Twitter thread last night that must’ve made his eyes burn.

The reality is, though, that the Cincinnati Reds have managed to not even be good at being bad this year, and that scoring futility is just one of the many ways.

For one, that putrid offense didn’t come with Dilson Herrera, Brandon Dixon, and Mason Williams getting everyday reps. There’s no Alex Blandino-sized hole in the batting order on a daily basis, no Tim Federowicz getting five starts in a row to point to as the reason behind the offense crapping out. In fact, that’s something that Jim Riggleman made objectively clear just last week in stating plainly that he would continue to play his regulars down the stretch - record, rebuilding, and need to see young players get chances be damned.

The byproduct has been an increasingly ground-down product. Eugenio Suarez, for instance, has started 18 of the last 20 games, and owns a putrid .569 OPS in 73 PA in that time. In his quest for the NL batting title, Scooter Gennett’s power has completely evaporated, and even he’s hit just .259/.317/.328 in his last 16 games. Tucker Barnhart - who was Riggleman’s go-to 1B to get Joey Votto a day-off rather than turn to any of the other young infielders - has been virtually non-existent offensively for quite sometime now, and owns just a .160/.192/.180 line in his last 17 games played.

The reality is that the Reds were trying like the dickens to win as many games as possible down the stretch in an already lost season, have been using their biggest names to try to do so, and it’s backfiring spectacularly in every way except the race for better draft position in 2019. Even there, they only project to finish with the #7 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, since there are over a handful of other 90+ loss teams that have managed to navigate their way to the top of that order more deftly than the Reds have this year.

In essence, the Reds have turned their course over the last few weeks of the season back to the method they employed prior to the 2015 MLB All Star Game - the one being held at Great American Ball Park. Despite a bad record, a roster that was both going nowhere, and a roster that had players that needed to be moved while they still had value, the club opted to hold on to some of their bigger names after the 2014 season in hopes that they could wear Cincinnati Reds uniforms in their home stadium in front of an All Star crowd. Losing, but while trying to maintain some semblance of relevancy, was the M.O. rather than simply focusing on getting better for the future, and that’s largely what we’ve seen from them again in this stretch.

Admittedly, they’re up against a bit of a wall. Had Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel both been healthy during this stretch and before, there’s certainly a chance the club would’ve both been playing better baseball for awhile now and that those two youngsters would be getting everyday playing time right now. Perhaps the club has just drawn a line on the prospect rankings behind them and moved on from the other young players they’d otherwise like to get a look at, which while a somewhat knee-jerk reaction on small samples would at least define their strategy at the moment. Still, everything we’ve seen from this bunch in September smells of a manager who thinks wins and losses with this ragtag bunch is what will ultimately land him the job beyond 2019, and is hell-bent on squeezing every last drop from a gassed group in a quest to do just that.

I think it’s incredibly short-sighted, both by Riggleman and by the front office if they view this managerial tactic as redeemable and, god forbid, something worth investing in for years into the future. The fact remains, though, that while the pitching has been awful for the entirety of Riggleman’s interim tenure, he’s found a way to wear down the position players to where they now look out of it, too. If that’s any indication of what we have to look forward to from this unit, well, color me awfully unimpressed, both in tactics and execution.

Losing with an eye to the future is one thing. Losing while trying to specifically prioritize winning - and doing so at the hands of another rebuilding club - is just plain being stubborn. Hopefully, the Reds front office is a bit less stubborn and a bit more open-minded when they again try to tweak the direction of this franchise this winter.