Blackburn: Stars aligning for Reds in all the wrong ways

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Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tony Santillan (64) speaks with Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson in the ninth inning of the MLB game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Saturday, May 28, 2022.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tony Santillan (64) speaks with Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson in the ninth inning of the MLB game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Saturday, May 28, 2022.

As another warm summer barrels along in Ohio, the Reds' faithful continue to be reminded of what happens when a tight-wad ownership, injuries and a third-rate bullpen sing in not-so-perfect harmony.

Windows break.

The 2022 season has been a plane crash somewhere between "Alive" and "Yellowjackets." Murphy's Law has reigned supreme — if it could go wrong, it has.

The 3-18 record in April, including an 11-game losing streak, spoke for itself. So has an 0-16 record against the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies. Five of their 47 losses have come via shutout. Teams have outscored them by 87 runs.

Twenty-four players had spent 1,098 days on the DL as of Monday, per Sportrac.com. No other team had reached 1,000. In comparison, the Reds had only 23 miss a combined 1,443 for the entire season in 2021.

Sam Blackburn
Sam Blackburn

Among the wounded luminaries: Luis Castillo, Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India, Tyler Naquin, Donovan Solano and Lucas Sims. All were expected to play prominent roles.

The bullpen, the biggest reason the team missed the postseason in 2021, ranks last in the MLB in ERA and has nine blown saves in just 23 chances. A back injury to Sims, the team's top reliever returning, played a key role.

In comparison, the Brewers, with Brad Boxberger and Devin Williams setting the table for the dominant Josh Hader, have blown only eight in 37 tries.

Translation: Bullpens matter. Just ask Joe Girardi.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 — at least from the owners' perspectives — gave plenty of teams reason to slash payroll. The Reds might as well have hired Edward Scissorhands to perform the honors.

In the span of a month, GM Nick Krall traded veteran starter Sonny Gray, placed lefty Wade Miley on waivers and let the team's most versatile pitcher, Michael Lorenzen, leave for the Angels via free agency.

The lineup took a bigger hit. All-Star Nick Castellanos wasn't re-signed after opting out of his contract. Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart was traded for a prospect. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez and All-Star outfielder Jesse Winker were traded to Seattle for little in the way of immediate impact players.

Chop, chop, chop. Rinse and repeat. Someone please hose off the blood.

Some of the lost offense was salvaged by the production with one-year deals to veteran outfielders Albert Almora Jr. and Tommy Pham and infielder Brandon Drury.  Almora's defense has been as advertised, but few expected a .267 average with 5 homers and 24 RBIs in 136 at-bats. Drury has been the team's best offensive player with 15 homers, 38 RBIs and an .858 OPS.

Had these players not produced, you're talking about one of the worst teams in MLB history, which is exactly what they were in April.

For the sake of fans' sanity, their play after April and a promising young rotation has at least made them viewable. With little else on TV during those weeknights in the summer, the diehards of Reds Country are thankful.

It's that rotation that provides the intrigue for the second half.

Steady Castillo and Tyler Mahle will no doubt be tantalizing bait for Krall to use for contenders needing a quality starter at the deadline, but with multiple years of control remaining, the front office isn't tipping its hand on their futures. Moving them would be another blow to the gut of Reds fans already surly.

Even without them, the future has plenty of ace potential.

Righties Graham Ashcraft (24 years old) and Hunter Greene (22) look like future anchors. When healthy, lefty Nick Lodolo (24) will be joining them — some services rank him ahead of Greene in the prospect ratings.

Righty Justin Dunn, who had a 3.75 ERA for Seattle in 2021, will be nipping at their heels when he returns from a rehab assignment. The former first-round pick was a centerpiece of the Seattle deal with lefty starter Brandon Williamson, another big arm with a snap-dragon curveball who figures to get a long look at the big leagues in 2023.

Those are a lot of quality arms, some of the best in MLB. They're the biggest reason for hope as another lost summer disappears in the distance.

They're also all starters, which doesn't do a lick to address the black cloud looming over the offices at Great American Ball Park — the back end of the bullpen.

In some respects, the team as it stands at its current state is a reliable setup corps and closer from being competitive with most of the National League.

Give Bell the bullpen Dusty Baker had for most of his tenure as Reds manager, and you can bet we would be hammering on him a lot less for his in-game decision making. His job would be far easier.

But that's not how it works in Reds Country. Investing in annoying matters like a reliable bullpen is simply radical thinking to this ownership group.

When it comes to roster construction, betting on health and counting on kids is always risky proposition. It's one of many hard lessons that will be learned in the coming months.

The biggest? Don't think with your wallet — it can only hurt the ball club.

sblackbu@gannett.com; Twitter: @SamBlackburnTR

This article originally appeared on Zanesville Times Recorder: Stars aligning for Cincinnati Reds in all the wrong ways