Cincinnati Reds: A Team on the Rise in the Wrong Division

The Cincinnati Reds have hope, something they’ve been devoid of for the bulk of the current decade. Unfortunately for the Reds, the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals are in their division — blocking them from success in the near future.

The Cubs are deep around the diamond, have a stout starting rotation, and recently signed Craig Kimbrel to anchor the backend of their bullpen; the Brewers have an electric offense and deep pitching staff; while they’re 32-32, the Cardinals have the talent to turn things around. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a respectable roster and are a half game ahead of the Reds in the National League Central.

The Reds are in last place. Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be optimistic about where they’re heading, but it shows how the Reds’ progress isn’t significant enough to the point where they’re playing for the postseason.

Out of the six last place teams in Major League Baseball (Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, Reds, San Francisco Giants), the Reds have the most intriguing roster, from a handful of perspectives.

Joey Votto is, of course, the face of this franchise, but he’s far from the end of Cincinnati’s offensive intrigue, especially in a season where he’s hitting an uncharacteristic .256. Eugenio Suarez, who has been one of the most underrated players in the sport for some time, continues to be a productive source of offense. The big swinging right-hander is hitting .265 and has totaled 14 home runs and 41 RBIs this season (which ranks fifth among third basemen).

His left side of the infield partner, Jose Iglesias, has also been a reliable force at the plate. He’s performing like his contact hitting-self and currently sports a .291 batting average. Keep moving clockwise around the Reds infield, and you come across Derek Dietrich, who has been one of the best free agent signings of the offseason.

The left-handed hitter has totaled a career-high 17 home runs, as well as 37 RBIs this season and has done so while playing for a $2 million salary; Dietrich has more than made up for the absence of 2018 All-Star second baseman Scooter Gennett.

Go 200 feet back, and 23-year-old rookie center fielder Nick Senzel is hitting .273; left fielder Jesse Winker isn’t getting on base at the rate he did the two years prior, but is working the count and has totaled a career-high 10 home runs; Yasiel Puig is holding down the fort in right field — although struggling at the plate with an uncertain future in Cincinnati.

The Reds infield has been a positive, but first-year manager David Bell‘s starting rotation has been the most encouraging aspect of their season thus far, most notably young right-hander Luis Castillo.

Castillo showed glimpses of promise in his first two years in the big leagues, but this season he’s putting it all together and establishing himself as the team’s ace. The right-hander owns a 2.26 ERA, has totaled 90 strikeouts, and pitched through six innings in eight of the 13 outings he has made. Castillo has also surrendered just six home runs, as opposed to the 28 he surrendered in 31 outings last season. Given his four-pitch arsenal (four seamer, changeup, sinker, and slider), he’s able to keep hitters guessing and is doing so at an elite level — one worthy of All-Star Game consideration.

After coming over in trades with the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals, veteran right-handers Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark are finding success with the Reds.

Gray is giving the Reds length, pitching to his strengths, working out of trouble, and owns a respectable 3.65 ERA. Before the regular season began, Gray agreed to a three-year, $30.5 million extension with the Reds, which keeps him in Cincinnati through 2022 — including a team option for 2023. Given the way he’s pitching, the contract looks like a bargain for the Reds.

Like Gray, Roark has been efficient. While he’s pitching roughly five innings a start, Roark has worked out of trouble, triggered groundballs, and been a reliable force on the rubber every fifth day; he owns a 3.74 ERA. The fact that Castillo and the two veterans are finding success merits applause considering the high-octane bats that roam in the NL Central. The same goes for the arms who they hand the ball off to late in games.

The Reds quietly have one of the best bullpens in baseball. Whether it be All-Star closer Raisel Iglesias, Jared Hughes, Amir Garrett, or Michael Lorenzen, Bell has several reliable relievers he can pivot to.

When we pinpoint young teams on the rise, the Reds are rarely mentioned, and that’s greatly due to the teams in their division. If they’re going to overcome their division rivals, the Reds have to continue to make big-boy moves on the trade and free agent market; the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals do, so why shouldn’t the Reds? They have the assets to make a blockbuster trade and are going to have a lot of money to spend in the offseason.

The Cubs aren’t going anywhere. Their core is just scrapping its potential, and president Theo Epstein is always looking to wheel and deal. The Brewers positional core is intact for the foreseeable future. In theory, the Cardinals have the shortest championship window of the three teams given their veterans, but they still have established stars. And the Pirates are always competitive, regardless of whether they’re a threat to make the playoffs.

If you placed the Reds in another division — excluding the American League East, which is headlined by the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox — they could have a winning record and be playing for a chance to compete in the postseason for the first time since 2013. However, we can’t do that, and the Reds have to work with the hand they’ve been dealt — and it’s a fierce one.

The Reds are a team on the rise in the wrong division.

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