The Cubs, as is plain to anyone, are where the Reds want to be.
After going through several seasons like Cincinnati’s club is enduring now, Chicago has roared through the first half of the season.
The Cubs entered Wednesday nine games up in the National League Central, one year after a surprising appearance in the National League Championship Series. Loaded with young talent, they seem to be preparing for a long stay at the top, too.
Their rapid ascent begs an obvious question in southwest Ohio: Into a rebuild of their own, can the Reds replicate such a turnaround?
Easy to ask, the question isn’t necessarily simple to answer, but to begin we thought we would compare the pieces each team has now. Then we’ll look to what might be around the bend for Cincinnati as far as prospects and examine what else might need to be done to get over the hump from up-and-comer to bona fide contender.
While the Reds have a couple of players in the everyday lineup who might not be in the long, long term plans, in most cases they are still accomplished MLB players.
If, by some miracle, the team turns it around quickly, players like Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto could still be productive members of a good team next season even if their best days are behind them.
Younger veterans Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce could also be parts of a good team, but the more that looks like it could be true, the less likely they are to be on the team next season.
Meanwhile, 27-year-old Adam Duvall just made his first All-Star team and there is hope the best days are still ahead for Billy Hamilton, Eugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart, all of whom are 25 or younger.
That leads us to a somewhat surprising revelation: The everyday lineups are not that much different on paper.
With an average age of 27.3 years, the Cubs are only a year younger than the Reds. Both teams start three players 30 or over, and both teams have three players 25 or younger.
While the Reds have four players who have been named to an All-Star team – including Duvall – the Cubs have five headed to the 2016 Midsummer Classic.
The Cubs would appear to have more elite talent, though. While the Reds have only one everyday player in 2016 who was a first-round draft pick (Bruce), Chicago has three in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jason Heyward.
As far as pitching staffs, the picture is a bit different. The Reds’ rebuild has affected this area much more significantly than the lineup so far, as is made obvious by the fact none of Cincinnati’s starters are over 27. Chicago, meanwhile, has only one starter (Kyle Hendricks) under 30.
The Reds can also boast of better pedigree in the rotation, although that hasn’t counted for much so far this season when it comes to results (especially when facing the young, talented Cubs lineup).
The Reds start a first-rounder in Brandon Finnegan and a second-rounder in Cody Reed. John Lamb and Anthony DeSclafani went in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, while Dan Straily was a 24th-rounder. When healthy, Homer Bailey will give the Reds another first-rounder, and first-rounder Robert Stephenson might not be far away.
No Cubs starters were taken in the first round, but veterans John Lackey and Jon Lester both went in the second round. Their other three starters all went from the fifth through the 10th.
Now, how did these teams get this way?
The Reds built their division winners of 2010 and ’12 largely through the draft, and the remnants of that effort remain on the last-place 2016 squad. Five of Cincinnati’s everyday eight are homegrown while the Cubs boast only a pair of players they signed or drafted themselves.
(Until Bailey returns or Stephenson is called up, neither team has a starter who started his pro career with the organization.)
So what does that tell us? That what used to be one of the best teams in the division was built differently than the one currently on top.
What does that mean for the future?
We’ll take a look at how the Reds of tomorrow might compare (and how they were acquired) Thursday.