Once in a while starting the season historically bad is a blessing in disguise.
The last two days against the Cubs would have been really excruciating for the Cincinnati Reds if the season hadn’t been over since late April.
Nonetheless, a weekend in Chicago started with great promise and ended up being a reality check.
Just when people were starting to think this team might be ready for prime time, they lost two afternoon games in embarrassing fashion at Wrigley Field.
Walking in the series-deciding run Sunday was almost too perfect because this was a weekend the Reds were in a very giving mood.
The Cubs’ scoring on an error would have been the most appropriate, but life rarely works out that perfectly. Joey Votto’s bizarre bobble of a ball at first base all but sealed the game a batter earlier, anyway, and the Reds lost 6-5 one day after losing 8-7 in a game they gave away about five runs with defensive miscues. (They won 3-2 Friday.)
What does it all mean?
Well, instead of entering this week 40-50 or even 41-49, they are 39-51.
After being 12.5 games out of first place a week ago, they are back to 15 out.
In the race for fourth, Cincinnati is 2.5 games behind the fading Pirates, who beat the Phillies on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak.
So, yeah, in the grand scheme of things the last two games don’t really matter.
Maybe winning them would have been more of that fool’s gold Votto talked about earlier this season.
We’ll never know, will we?
What we do know is this: The Reds can hit.
They’ve got a good-if-imperfect bullpen (of course even good bullpens give up runs occasionally, especially if they repeatedly have to get four or five outs in an inning).
The rotation is still a work in progress.
(We’ve been over this already, but it’s a long season and sometimes things do change. It’s my job to check in from time to time to see if that happened.)
At any rate, this was an interesting weekend to implode since it was against a Cubs team that the Reds aspire to be and one they happened to sweep the last time they played each other.
Those two fall-from-ahead losses also came after president of baseball operations Dick Williams said a winning June has changed their approach to the rest of the season.
Williams admitted they could have considered another total teardown with the way the season started (3-18).
Now they have something to build on.
"It helps knowing these guys can perform at this level. It reaffirms the belief we had coming out of spring training that we had a team that was capable of competing this year. We didn't see it in April.”
But the status quo ain’t gonna cut it even if the majority of their young pitchers evolve into quality, consistent performers (no sure thing).
The lineup is good. It needs to be better — especially when it comes to all-around talent, which is one of the shortcomings that shows up in the field.
The defense is atrocious. It would be the difference between contending and not even if they had a great pitching staff.
So instead of wondering if just maybe they had a miracle in them, the front office should have no second thoughts about doing whatever they have to do add more talent between now and the end of the year.
(Hopefully the fan base will be on board with that, too.)
They seem content to wait for deals that knock their socks off before moving some of their established players, but the debacle in Chicago is a reminder that would probably be a mistake.
Here’s more from Williams on approaching the rest of the season:
"You can be opportunistic. We want to have a very successful second half. We believe we'll have the players here to keep this momentum going.
"We also know as stewards of the franchise, you've got to play the short game and the long game. The long game is important. We want to put ourselves in position to be even more competitive next year and beyond.”
They’ve botched numerous trades since starting this rebuild, but the emergence of Matt Harvey, Scooter Gennett, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and a cadre of relief pitchers has offered a mulligan or two.
As is, this might be a good team eventually.
To be great, they still need to make some bold moves.
First-time All-Star Eugenio Suarez: “I’m so happy, and I know my wife, my family and everybody in my hometown is going to be happy for me. That makes me feel more happy.” #Reds https://t.co/2oRHEdea0y pic.twitter.com/DaPRkRZ3Rx— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) July 9, 2018