By HAL McCOY
The long, long, long season for the Cincinnati Reds finally ran its frustrating course Sunday afternoon in Wrigley Field.
By winning the final game, 3-1, over a spring training-like Chicago Cubs lineup, the Reds finished exactly the way they finished in 2016 — 68 wins, 94 losses. And they accomplished those 94 defeats by losing 10 of their last 12 games.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon started his regular lineup, then took them all out after one at bat. Reds starter Deck McGuire, making his second major league start, held the Cubs to no runs and two hits over five innings.
It was Cincinnati’s third straight last place finish in the National League Central and third straight year of losing 94 or more games.
It wasn’t the progress the Reds wanted to make while in their rebuilding mode, but that’s mostly because day-by-day there were more strange faces in the clubhouse than one finds in a Where’s Waldo picture.
It was like a tryout for a Broadway play, but there was no definite script to follow and everybody who came and went was given ample opportunity to impress.
Manager Bryan Price, who had his contract option picked up earlier this month for another season, wanted to have a 2018 starting rotation solidified. But with so many candidates, and so many ups and down by those candidates, it didn’t happen.
Veteran Homer Bailey, who pitched seven shutout innings in his final start in Milwaukee, is expected to anchor the rotation next season. Then what?
Anthony DeSclafani didn’t pitch all year and his health next year is a huge factor to the rotation’s makeup. If he is healthy, he’ll be in the rotation.
Based on what happened late in the season, rookies Luis Castillo, Sal Romano and Robert Stephenson will fill out the rotation. But a lot can happen in the off-season and during spring training, so the rotation is more of a question mark than an exclamation point.
The Reds used 31 pitchers this season, 16 starting pitchers and 10 rookies started 84 on the team’s 162 games. Overall, they used 47 players at all positions.
First baseman Joey Votto reached his only spoken goal, to start and play in all 162 games. And he put up similar numbers to the ones that earned him the National League MVP in 2010.
Votto is the first Cincinnati player to start all 162 games since Pete Rose did it in 1975.
In 2010 Votto batted .327 with 37 home runs, 113 RBI. In 2017 he hit two doubles in his final game and finished at .320 with 36 home runs and 100 RBI. He finished the season by getting on base in the final 32 games and was on base 321 times, by far the most in the majors.
MVP? Well, the Reds won the National League Central in 2010. They finished last this year and it is unlikely the voters will give him a second MVP.
The Reds offense was power-laden in a year when home runs flew out of ball parks all over baseball like frightened pigeons.
The Reds had three players hit more than 30 home runs (Votto 36, Adam Duvall 31, Scott Schebler 30), just the fourth time in franchise history it was accomplished. But the 97 total was the least of the four times it was done. In 1970 Johnny Bench (45), Tony Perez (40) and Lee May (34) combined for 124.
The Reds, though, did set a club record with six players with more than 20 home runs — Votto, Duvall, Schebler, Eugenio Suarez and Zack Cozart.
And the Reds had three strong run-producers with Votto driving in 100, Duvall 99 and Scooter Gennett 97 — and Gennett didn’t beoome a regular until around the All-Star break.
Cozart, who hit 24 home runs, needed a hit or two Sunday to hit .300, but didn’t make it. He nevertheless had a career year that probably will net him a nifty free agent contract from another team.
Billy Hamilton, who should win a Gold Glove for his practically peerless defense in center field, wanted badly to win the stolen base title and led most of the year.
But another late-season stint on the disabled list enabled Miami’s Dee Gordon to creep up on his and snatch it away the last week of the season. 60 to 59.
Questions for 2018? There are many besides the starting rotation.
If Cozart leaves, who plays shortstop? Will it be Jose Peraza, who hasn’t shown a high aptitude at the position. One veteran scout said, “Peraza is not a shortstop. He is a second baseman.”
But Scooter Gennett, under club control for the next two years, displaced Peraza at mid-season at second base.
Would the Reds move Eugenio Suarez from third base to shortstop, his natural position? That would make room for Nick Senzel at third base. Most teams, though, don’t like to move a veteran from one position to another, especially a guy like Suarez who worked his way in one year from an average third baseman defensively to a top-shelf defender, almost on the level of Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, the poster boy for third base.
How about the outfield. Jesse Winker showed late in the season that he is a major league player and, as Price said, “He is a regular player, not a bench player.”
So where does he play with Hamilton ensconced in center and Schebler occupying right field and Adam Duvall situated in left.
The Reds outfield led the majors in outfield assists with 40 and Duval led the majors individually with 15. Hamilton had 13.
Could the Reds make a deal and trade Schebler. While he has shown power and is stunningly good on defense, he is a streaky hitter, prone to long periods of strikeouts and pop-ups.
Winker has played mostly in right field, but is better suited to left. And with his arm, Duvall would be ideal in right field.
Price, though, is a strong supporter of Schebler and said, “This kid is only going to get better and better and I think he is going to be a star in this league.”
Those are things the Reds should determine before spring training, things they should accomplish over the winter as the rebuild continues.