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What’s ‘best-case scenario’ for the rest of the 2022 Cincinnati Reds (we think)

They aren’t going to be the worst team ever. But what can they still get out of 2022?

Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Winning 9 of the next 15 games isn’t outlandish, even for these Cincinnati Reds, I suppose. They’ve won 6 of their last 10 after all, and the return of Joey Votto appears set for this weekend.

That kind of spate of solid play would lift the current Reds from their 10-26 record - currently the worst in all of Major League Baseball - to a record of 19-31. That’s still a very bad record, one that would probably still see them among the worst two or three clubs in the league at that point, but it’s precisely the record that has become something of a demarcation line for calling time on an existing season.

The 2019 Washington Nationals did that to the collective hivemind, as that was their record through 50 games in a season in which they went on to win the World Series. They didn’t abandon all hope after their dismal start, not even with it the first season since they let franchise-face Bryce Harper walk into free agency (and to a division rival). They, against every odd, flipped the script and won the whole damn thing somehow.

I’m not suggesting these 2022 Reds have that within them. Suggesting they can win 9 of 15 might be beyond my expectations for any point of the season until they get absolutely everyone back and healthy, frankly. So, even though they’ve found a way to play merely mediocre baseball and eschew the idea that they’re actually on-pace to be the worst team in baseball history, I do think the best-case scenario for what remains in this baseball year is some combo of good health, consolidation, and figuring out what’s around here that should get tied down and protected for the next few seasons.

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

That’s a rebuild, by the way. It’s what the Reds already began doing roughly a year and a half ago, and it’s what we’re just going to have to slog through again for the next couple of months. That means playing in games whose outcomes are meaningless, unfortunately, despite the fact that every day of development, every pitch seen and thrown having a great bit of meaning for how the Reds make their decisions for down the road.

Right now, the Reds are running quite a bit under their best-cast trend line, and that’s due mainly to some unfortunate health issues. It’s undeniable that the Reds are counting on both Jonathan India and Nick Lodolo to be foundation pieces of this franchise for the coming years, and both have been felled by non-structural injures that have kept them from getting regular reps so far this year. Jose Barrero, too, has been sidelined after hamate surgery, while Tyler Stephenson has repeatedly had to step aside due to fouled-off baseballs continuing to chase his helmet like magnets. Best-case, though, that fearsome foursome joins Hunter Greene to form the pièce de résistance both for the bulk of 2022 and all of 2023 (and beyond).

Being able to see that group begin to take on big league opponents on the regular should help the Reds front office see precisely what they have at the highest level, what on which they can bank immediately. Best-case, that’s the top 40% of a pitching rotation and an up-the-middle 2-4-6 that could be the envy of most teams in the game, and it’s hard not to dream on that kind of in-house potential coming good all at the same time. Add-in the fact that Matt McLain is still slugging ~.600 at AA Chattanooga right now, and another infield component could be ready to be unleashed with that fivesome this calendar year, too.

For the moment, that appears to be the bedrock on which the Reds are trying to build. That’s a good bedrock, too, assuming each gets right to the point where they can all take the field together regularly at some point in 2022, and that’s ultimately the biggest goal for what’s going on this year, I believe.

Minnesota Twins v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Beyond that, in identifying what you concretely do have right now, that’s going to swing the spotlight immediately to noticing what you might have that’s ready for as early as 2023. That’s determining if Graham Ashcraft has a good-enough third pitch to claim a rotation spot, or if a move to the bullpen is in the offing. That’s wondering just how quickly Andrew Abbott can continue to climb given his seeming perfection of the skillset that was gifted to him, and if he’s the kind of under-the-radar arm that could emerge as a an option quicker than we ever imagined. It’s sorting out whether Vlad Gutierrez can settle in as a reliever, if Alexis Diaz can tackle high-leverage outs the way he’s tackled everything else so far, and just what they truly have in Connor Overton.

All that combines to let the Reds what they decidedly do not have. Or, rather, what they’re going to need. If you know what you’ve got, what you don’t, how much what you have is going to cost, and how much you’re going to be able to spend, that unlocks that final variable - is what you’ve got to spend enough to get what you don’t yet have, but need?

That’s not just free-agent splashing, either. That’s determining if you’ve got what it takes to tie down Tyler Mahle or Luis Castillo to a long-term deal, or if it’s time to begin to explore whether moving either will get you pieces that fit in with everything else that’s been outlined so far. (Since we’re talking best-case intentions for this season as a whole, I should add that seeing both return to anything akin to the form they’ve posted prior to the dismal start to 2022 will be vital for this regardless of which direction it sends the decisions). It’s also determining whether or not any of the current crop of outfielders can feasibly be counted on for much of anything going forward, a situation where I’m worried the pretty easy answer is going to be ‘no.’

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect world, this is exactly the kind of thing that you’d expect to see happening in all 30 MLB ballparks. Teams getting their youngest big-league ready parts the vital experience they need after having mauled enough minor league competition, though doing so alongside enough polished products to keep winning actual games this season a co-priority, too. Sadly, that last caveat has once again evaded the Reds, and writing this entire article has evoked memories of writing thing similar in so, so many of the last 7-8 years, too.

No, the best-case scenario for these Reds isn’t going to include scoreboard watching, standings breakdowns, and what the weather looks like for October showdowns. Yes, the best-case scenario is going to see if the Reds can get enough good fortune paired with the admittedly solid talent within their franchise to pour a heavy enough footer in 2022 to make building up as early as 2023 a reality.

Is that disappointing? Of course it’s damn disappointing. This is the Cincinnati Reds we’ve been forced to come to know for the better part of the last three decades. It’s decidedly not nothing, though, so we’ve got that going for us.

Syndication: Cincinnati Albert Cesare via Imagn Content Services, LLC