Shortly after the Cincinnati Reds wrapped a Top of the 1st that featured a single, walk, and a pair of stranded runners, the one thing that could make us all look beyond the dismal negativity surrounding the club happened.
Hunter Greene strode to the mound in Truist Park outside Atlanta, taking a Major League Baseball in his hand on a big league mound for the very first time. That Greene took that mound that day was spectacular in its own evolution, of course, but that was only one part of the equation about which I speak today.
His first pitch was caught by Tyler Stephenson. The first ball put in play off his pitching was hit to Jonathan India at 2B. Three former 1st round picks, the three biggest cogs around which the Reds plan to build going forward.
To date, that’s the one and only game all season in which the three of them have been on the field at the same time. The 3-20 Reds managed to win that game, by the way.
It’s not quite as Disney-ending, but April 13th stands out in a nearly similar way. The Reds lost that day 7-3 to Cleveland, but on the field in GABP that day were each of India, Stephenson, and fellow 1st rounder Nick Lodolo, Greene’s hopeful 1A in the Reds rotation of the future.
To date, that’s the one and only game all season in which the three of them have been on the field at the same time.
That an MLB team chose to embark on a rebuild and stop paying for elite, veteran players at market prices is nothing super surprising, sadly. The Reds have done it before, will do it again, and are hardly alone in that type of teardown. Oakland does it all the time, Kansas City chose to after their World Series title, and even the Chicago Cubs opted for that route, too. Doing so turns the eyes of the world towards the future again, and I think the biggest frustration I’ve managed to pull out of the absolutely abysmal start to Cincinnati’s 2022 season is that we simply haven’t had the chance to glimpse the future while at the same time feeling the sting of the recent past and the stench of the present.
That doesn’t even get to Jose Barrero, either, despite his presence as the highest ranked prospect on Baseball America’s latest Top 100 overall list that was revealed today. He’s been out all year after a busted hamate bone in his wrist and, obviously, hasn’t yet played with any of India, Stephenson, Greene, or Lodolo this year. He hasn’t played with Brandon Williamson, Elly De La Cruz, or Matt McLain, either, each of whom joined that group as Reds representatives on BA’s Top 100.
The reality I’m trying to keep telling myself is this - the 2022 Reds were doomed the moment the team gave away Tucker Barnhart and Wade Miley days after the end of their disappointing 2021 season. The writing was on the wall, the ceiling, the floor, and backwards on your forehead that the Reds would not be spending what it took to win in 2022. There were hopers out there hellbent on hoping anyway, which is fine, but every move made from that point forward only served to cement that 2022 would (or should) be a year in which you watch the baseball on the field and ignore the scoreboard and standings at all costs.
A 3-20 record is what it is, and it’s awful. That it’s there (and always will be in the team’s record books) is undeniable now, of course, but it really isn’t that much different than 5-18 or 8-15. They’d each suck, they’d each have zero relevance on the 2022 playoffs, and they’d each be the kind of start that would have anything beyond this year front and center on the minds of Reds fans. The only problem plaguing us now is that we’ve been robbed of the chance to really look forward with anything tangible.
How the Reds got to being the team with the worst record in baseball is, and forever will be teeth-grindingly frustrating. The ownership group and their smugness paired with their decade-and-a-half of failure made this teardown infinitely different than those in KC and the north side of Chicago mentioned above. Those, while surely annoying to their fans, came on the heels of great runs, and the decision-makers and check-cutters involved there at least had earned the right to ask for a little faith.
Where they are with the worst record in baseball, though, probably isn’t nearly as bad as the sentiment around it. The injuries and circumstances that have kept the future core of the Reds from playing more often together aren’t the kind of things that should truly damage their outlook for beyond 2022, and as mentioned, we’ve long known 2022 wasn’t designed to matter anyway. The hope when costs began being slashed back in November was always that India, Stephenson, Barrero, Greene, Lodolo, and maybe even Williamson and McLain would get to play together in big league stadiums for a bit this year, get their training wheels dented and scratched before losing them altogether, and we’d all get more excited to see what they’d be like in 2023 and beyond.
That, buried under the rest of this filth, still exists. That the baseball gods and the court of public opinion has managed to get a window to laugh at the team’s owners through the worst stretch of actual W/L baseball this ancient franchise has ever seen can even be viewed as a perk of the situation, not a stumbling block, as you just know it has to have pissed them off to no end. The fact is, however, that while it’s still eminently frustrating that those jerks are still the ones in charge of this club, what they’ve got as their next set of building blocks is undeniably exciting and close to getting its run for us all to see.