John Clay

For the Reds, it could get worse before it gets better

Adam Duvall is congratulated by Joey Votto (19) and Jay Bruce (32) after hitting a three-run homer to give the Reds a 6-3 victory during the Washington Nationals-Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Saturday June 4, 2016. Duvall and Bruce have been two of the few bright spots for Cincinnati this season.
Adam Duvall is congratulated by Joey Votto (19) and Jay Bruce (32) after hitting a three-run homer to give the Reds a 6-3 victory during the Washington Nationals-Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Saturday June 4, 2016. Duvall and Bruce have been two of the few bright spots for Cincinnati this season. Lexington Herald-Leader

We knew the Cincinnati Reds would be bad in 2016.

But this bad?

After all, here at the All-Star break, the Reds are 32-57. At that pace, they would finish 58-104, surpassing the 1982 team (61-101) for the most single-season losses in franchise history. The winning percentage of .358 would top only the 1934 Reds, who went 52-99 for a .344 winning clip. You get the drift.

If you don’t, how about this: Only the Atlanta Braves stand between the Reds and the worst record in Major League Baseball. The Braves are 31-58, one game behind Cincinnati.

True, this was expected. You don’t trade away Johnny Cueto, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake and expect to suddenly improve. By their own admission, the Reds are in a rebuild. And rebuilds are painful, sometimes even more painful than you expect.

It is also true precedent can work in the Reds’ favor. The Chicago Cubs lost 101 games in 2012. Last season, they were playing in the National League Championship series. The Houston Astros lost 100 or more games in three straight seasons from 2011 through 2013. In 2015, they took eventual world champ Kansas City to five games in the American League Division Series.

And despite the Reds’ record, there have been bright spots. New left fielder Adam Duvall, acquired in the Leake trade, made the NL All-Star team after hitting 23 home runs. Starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, finally healthy after spending most of the first half on the disabled list, has a 2.23 ERA after six starts. He has the look of a future ace. That’s about it.

30 of 30Reds’ MLB ranking in team ERA, bullpen ERA and walks

Meanwhile, however, expect the losing to continue. The offense has been inconsistent at best. The Reds rank 20th in the major leagues in runs scored, but 29th in batting average. Billy Hamilton is batting just .236 — will he ever hit well enough to take advantage of his speed? After a strong start, third baseman Eugenio Suarez is hitting just .228.

Pitching is the most persistent problem, however. The Reds are last in the majors in overall team ERA (5.46), bullpen ERA (5.76) and walks (386 — 56 more than the 29th-place Padres). Maybe new pitching coach Mack Jenkins, who replaced Mark Riggins on July 4, can engineer a second-half turnaround.

The three left-handed pitchers whom the Reds acquired from Kansas City for Cueto last season have been a mixed bag. All three are in the current rotation. Brandon Finnegan has shown promise but has a 4.71 ERA. John Lamb is 1-6 with a 5.43 ERA. Cody Reed, considered the best long-term prospect of the trio, has struggled mightily since being called up a month ago. Too predictable in his delivery and speed, Reed is 0-4 with an 8.39 ERA. Veterans in the clubhouse have made a point of counseling the struggling rookie.

There figures to be fewer of those veterans in the second half, and sooner rather than later. Jay Bruce has had a terrific season — 18 homers; 63 RBI — but no one expects the 29-year-old All-Star to be a Red by the end of the month. The same could go for shortstop Zack Cozart, who has cooled after a hot start. Excellent defensively, Cozart could be a key piece for a contending club down the stretch.

Then there’s 35-year-old Brandon Phillips, the second baseman who used his no-trade clause to quash at least one offseason deal. Phillips is hitting .259, his lowest batting average since he became a major league starter. Phillips plays while promising 22-year-old second baseman Jose Peraza, acquired in the Frazier deal, sits the bench. That can’t last much longer.

There are other new faces on the horizon. Once Bruce is dealt, 22-year-old Jesse Winker, considered the organization’s best hitting prospect, could be promoted from Louisville. The same could happen to 23-year-old Robert Stephenson and 24-year-old Amir Garrett, currently in the Bats’ rotation. After posting a 1.75 ERA in 12 starts at AA Pensacola, Garrett is 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA at Louisville. Stephenson, a former first-round draft pick, won two games in spot starts with the big club early in the year.

They are the future and the future is almost here. Look at it this way: The Reds have nowhere to go but up.

Cincinnati Reds’ worst seasons

Season

W

L

Pct

1934

52

99

0.344

2016

32

57

0.360

1937

56

98

0.364

1901

52

87

0.374

1931

58

96

0.377

1982

61

101

0.377

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