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What exactly are we looking for in the rest of this Cincinnati Reds season?

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Winning? Is it still ‘winning?’

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds just had a big 4-game weekend series at home against the rival St. Louis Cardinals, a prime chance to do some standings-climbing in front of their home fans.

They didn’t.

That, of course, came exactly a week after the Reds had a big 4-game weekend series at home against the rival Chicago Cubs, a separate prime chance to do some standings-climbing in front of their home fans.

They didn’t then, either.

The first August that actually mattered in recent memory has, to date, been a fuse-burning dud for the Reds, in all reality. They split both those series, split with the Atlanta Braves, and countered their emphatic 2-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels with an epic drubbing by the Max Scherzer-less Washington Nationals, whose 3-game sweep of the Reds effectively ended any and all chances the latter had at making noise in 2019.

Now, the Reds sit 7 games under the .500 mark, 7.5 games back in the NL Central, and 7.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot behind an arsenal of other would-be contenders. That’s actually a game further below the .500 mark than they were when this August of relevance began, and we’ve officially reached the point in the season where the Reds would need to rip off 39 consecutive wins to finish the season with the same record they had back in 2012.

I’m pretty certain that’s not going to happen. Still, they’re going to play those games.

Next up is a stretch of games that will lack any and all semblance of relevance compared to the gauntlet the Reds ran to begin this month, as none of the teams on the upcoming docket are going anywhere this season. You could easily put yourselves in their shoes and say the same about the Reds, too, I’ll admit. First up, the Reds will welcome the San Diego Padres to GABP beginning tonight, and will do so while star Padres rookie Fernando Tatis, Jr. is now lost for the season. The Padres might well be on the cusp of shutting down Chris Paddack, too, their budding rookie pitching star, too. Like the Reds, the mid-rebuild Padres boast ample good pieces alongside a sub-.500 record, so perhaps there are wins there for the taking.

Then, the Reds will travel to face both the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates, owners of the two worst records in the National League. The Reds did manage to sweep the Marlins back in April, outscoring the hapless fish 21-1 in a 3-game set at GABP to help begin to wash away the memories of the awful 1-8 overall start to the season, but that’s somewhat offset by the lackluster 5-8 record they’ve cobbled together against the Pirates this season, a storyline that’s often swept under the table while focusing on the two major brawls between the clubs this year.

So yes, that’s 11 games in a row against middling or bad competition, and the idea that the 2019 Reds are going to make it to .500 pretty well rides on this particular stretch.

Is that a goal worth pursuing? Debatable.

Is it a goal that’s achievable at all? Debatable, too.

The fact is, though, that it sure seems like a real, live goal of these Reds, whether it’s silly or imprudent or whatever.

This Reds team is neither tanking nor concerned about their 2020 draft position. The moves they made to bring in Trevor Bauer, Kevin Gausman, and Freddy Galvis show that, as well as show a commitment to spend to win in 2019 instead of the penny-pinching ways we’ve seen from them over recent seasons. The commitment to playing Jose Iglesias every single day shows that win-now mentality, too, as his age and contract status would otherwise suggest he’s not a piece that’s going to be a part of the next winning Reds team.

Unlike previous years, though, the bulk of who we’re going to watch don Reds uniforms the rest of this season truly is what we’re probably going to see next year. While the winning hasn’t materialized enough in 2019, you get the sense that the Reds feel like they’ve cobbled together the bulk of a 25-man roster that can win in upcoming seasons, and that there aren’t many drastic changes set to take place between now and the start of the 2020 season. In that regard, what we’ll be watching for the next 39 games is neither retread players destined for other organizations at season’s end going through the motions on a bad team, nor will we be truly watching for rookies with September call-ups trying to make a big splash in their cups of coffee. Those rookies are already here, have been for awhile now, and there aren’t really any of them left to call-up this year.

What we’re going to see is the 2020 Reds getting in practice for next year, in essence. A trial run where the games don’t really matter now, but the experience, in theory, of learning how to win them will matter down the road. It’s certainly an odd thing to root for, but that sure seems like the M.O. under which the front office and roster are operating at the moment.

I’m not sure if losing while trying to win is more or less frustrating than losing on purpose, but the former has certainly been what we’ve been watching with the 2019 Reds for a change. At least, that’s what the first 123 or so games have been. Now, it seems the eyes are on 2020 while the 2019 Reds are still playing, but these last 39 games sure seem somehow entwined with what we’ll be watching all next season, some kind of launching point or building block or extended pre-season. Hopefully, there will be the right kind of growth to wrap this season, and it will spillover into a promising, breakout 2020. That sure seems to be what the Reds themselves will be watching for.