Luis Castillo was a lottery ticket with a big future, but his future was precisely why the Cincinnati Reds looked his way. When they acquired him, the Reds knew he was still a few years off, but held the kind of potential in his right arm to someday pay off big when the club was finally ready.
When Sonny Gray was acquired and extended, the Reds sent a signal that they were no longer merely searching for passable mediocrity in their rotation, and instead were buying into a cog both for now and for the few years into the future.
As news trickled out that the Reds had acquired Trevor Bauer, and had given up prized prospect Taylor Trammell to do so, the biggest screams came from those who acknowledged that the former Cleveland ace was only under team control through the 2020 season. In gambling on Bauer, the Reds made it clear that 2020 must be a primary focus, the primary focus, to make it all make sense.
With 6 games remaining in the 2020 regular season, the Cincinnati Reds have a playoff spot in hand, assuming they can navigate their way to the finish line with bow intact. And piloting their ship for the next three days will be that heralded trio.
The Reds, in effect, are already in their playoffs. To make the playoffs, they must act as they are in playoff series against both the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins this week, as both those clubs are in similar playoff-bound scenarios. Win and advance doesn’t start for the Reds next week - it must happen this week for next week to even matter.
That’s exactly what this was all about, wasn’t it?
There is certainly the argument that no, this wasn’t the hoped-upon arrangement. This club should be 10 games better than it is at the moment, on cruise control with a top seed already in place. That’s the route taken by similar rebuild-emergers in both San Diego and the south side of Chicago, for instance. But jumping straight to that platform just never seemed in the cards for this particular Cincinnati sports club, who has adopted the city’s mantra of taking the toughest route possible to success.
Given the parameters of where they sit - must win to advance - these Reds have exactly what they planned for sitting in front of them. They have their Big Three starters. Free agent bats in Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, and Mike Moustakas are healthy, available, and producing. Nick Senzel is back. Joey Votto has found his resurgence. Top prospects Jose Garcia and Tyler Stephenson are on-board for experience and reinforcement, while Aristides Aquino has thawed and returned with a punishing bat. Raisel Iglesias is posting career-bests in FIP and K/BB, and has taken the air out of his inflated HR/FB rate. Even Archie Bradley and Brian Goodwin, the trade deadline augmentations for the roster, have found vital roles in the expanded roster.
These Reds have a full cooler for their trek this week. They are neither lacking nor attempting to play with a hand tied behind their back. This is exactly the club the front office tried to build, wanted to build, facing exactly the kind of situation the front office looked forward to facing.
Despite the frustrations, highs and lows, and head-scratching we dealt with time and time again during this oddest of regular seasons, we - as fans - finally get the opportunity to witness something that’s been quite rare around the Reds for years and years. We get to see them presented with a fair shot on the big stage with their entire deck stacked and ready.
We, like the front office, get to see if all the moves made add up to something good enough.
It begin tonight at 6:40 PM ET.