The narrative surrounding the Reds has taken on some Dexter-esque identity that features mainly dismemberment. The Walt Jocketty blueprint is seemingly a failure following what will most likely be three playoff berths in five seasons upon the disappointing conclusion to this season.
If it's not a distaste for Jocketty, it's distaste for Joey Votto. It's disdain for Jay Bruce, who is currently suffering his worst professional season to date. One would think it's obvious that in seven years, Bruce's worst season comes during a campaign in which he literally had a knee surgery midseason, but that doesn't seem worthy of inclusion in the failed 2014 narrative.
That's been a common theme of late. Dismiss, dismiss and, in the face of countering evidence that says otherwise, dismiss again.
Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty has entrenched himself in the angry mob, wielding his metaphorical pitchfork and torch, preying on the tired and hungry who seek their anger manifested somewhere in print.
In a recent article on Cincinnati.com (subscription required), Daugherty authors,
The danger comes with ownership looking at 2014 as an aberration, writing it off as injury ridden, and keeps this team intact. Given the sentimentality – and the built-in boost from hosting the All-Star Game – standing still isn't out of the question.
The above illustrates the divide in the Reds community of late. There are those who feel like this season is the result of bad luck, crippling injuries and a disappointing bullpen that failed to reach expectations.
The latter, like Daugherty, will suggest that what we're witnessing right now is the genuine Jocketty product. They're convinced that even if the team had been healthy the entire year—the same team that had won 90-to-90-plus games in three of the last four seasons—what's happening now would still be happening.
USA Today's Bob Nightengale takes a mildly different approach to understanding what has gone wrong this season. In a recent article, Nightengale writes:
Price refuses to cite the long list injuries as an excuse, but the turnover has wreaked havoc on the roster. With 15 players going on the DL this season, the Reds have used their projected opening-day lineup in only 12 games.
How can two experienced sports scribes like Nightengale and Daugherty fall on such opposite ends of this debate? Nightengale ends his article with a quote that answers that very question:
If you don't win, nobody cares.
Of anything else that has been said about the 2014 Reds, that might be the most accurate comment from either side. When the team loses, no one cares.
Akin to what happens in Walter White's RV, apathy has slowly crystallized into pure angst. Not only have people (rightfully) forfeited the remaining 2014 schedule, but it seems like now they're willing to toss 2015 into the flaming dumpster along with it.
As a fan of the Reds, as someone whose sole interest is the success of this team and an eventual World Series, what I want to know is why. What is the evidence that leads everyone to the conclusion that it's time to C-4 this blueprint?
This is the same core of players that has made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. According to ESPN.com, this is the NL's third-best rotation in baseball. And isn't that what matters?
When you consider the fact that nearly every blockbuster trade made in 2014 was for starting pitching, why are we suggesting the Reds trade arguably the best starting pitching in the game? How does that make sense?
The St. Louis Cardinals, who according to ESPN.com have scored the same amount of runs as the Reds, elected to trade for more pitching.
With its pitching core, the Reds do not have to trade for more pitching. They have what everyone else wants, what rival GMs clearly believe they need to succeed in October.
People will cite the Reds' early exits from the last two postseasons, but Johnny Cueto may want a say in that discussion, since he wasn't able to pitch even one inning in 2012, a year in which he had the No. 5 ERA in the sport.
Cueto did pitch in last season's one-game playoff. It was his first appearance since June of that year. Are we sure that constitutes as a healthy Cueto?
Is anyone wondering how in the last two elimination playoff games, the Reds managed to allow six runs in each? And we're convinced offense has been what's held the team from clearing the playoff hurdle?
Cueto has managed to stay healthy for the entire 2014 campaign. That's wonderful news. Unfortunately, 15 other Reds haven't. Don't take my word for it. Check out the Reds' 2014 transactional log. It reads more like a patient chart than an MLB transactions list.
This isn't to suggest that 2014 is a sole product of bad luck and misfortune. That isn't true, either. But it's not the offense that's necessarily the issue. Everyone has known about the Reds offense, and frankly, when you consider the offense of the Cards and the Atlanta Braves, it's obvious that offense isn't the separator between teams in contention and teams that aren't.
Just ask the 53-78 Colorado Rockies and their No. 1 NL offense.
The Reds bullpen has really crippled the efforts of a scratch-work Reds lineup. It's a woeful 10-25. It has an ERA of 3.97, officially the second-worst bullpen ERA in the NL. Right in front of those Rockies.
How did it get so bad? Well, the entire back-end of the bullpen, from setup(s) to closer, started the year on the DL, allowing for guys like Trevor Bell and Nick Christiani to pitch instead, while guys like Logan Ondrusek and Sam LeCure were elevated to spots they probably shouldn't have been in.
Then there's the serious regression of J.J. Hoover, who had a very impressive 2013 season before this disaster of a year. While it was only April and parts of May, this Reds bullpen had already done serious damage. You can revisit the early season damage report here.
The Reds have played 50 one-run games this year. They have lost 31 of them. When you consider the fact that the Reds bullpen is tied for the second-most bullpen losses in baseball, do you think that this metric has more to do with offense, or late-game pitching?
Eighteen blown saves by the Reds bullpen is tied for fourth-worst in the game.
Which brings us back to the beginning. 2014 has failed. We cite the offense, while two other NL-contenders thrive with similar offenses as the Reds. We ignore the bullpen, which has the most losses in the sport and a higher ERA than any contender. We pretend that injuries don't matter, and make general statements like "lots of teams have injuries," while routinely offering no contending team in comparison.
We want to trade for a bat. And maybe they still will. But it will be the rotation and the bullpen that determine how far the 2015 Reds will go, not the offense. The two best Reds offenses we have witnessed have been the two most disappointing Reds teams since 2010.
What's needed is a restructured bullpen. In my opinion, the bullpen has hurt this team far worse than the offense has. And if the Reds can add a bat, that's great, but not at the expense of starting pitching, which many would argue that starting pitching is all the currency the Reds have to deal with.
Another great bat will be added. The NL's No.1 run creator of 2013 will be healthy again, some day. That's a major addition to the lineup we just witnessed get blanked by Travis Wood and the Cubs.
The Reds do not need a face-lift this offseason. Just a mani-pedi would suffice.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.