Reds deserve better than last place, but may have to settle for winning the trade deadline

The Cincinnati Reds, 18-23 and in last place in the National League Central, are not where they wanted to be. You can argue they aren’t where they deserve to be, either. The Reds entered Tuesday tied for baseball’s eighth-best run differential — right there with the Boston Red Sox and just behind the New York Yankees — and some 3 ½ games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates for fourth place in the division. Every other team with Cincinnati’s run differential or better has a winning record, and seven of the eight (the Red Sox being the exception) have won at least 60 percent of their games. The Reds need a five-game winning streak to reach .500. Ouch.

Run differential is thought to be more telling over smaller samples than won-lost record for obvious reasons. Two teams can each go 5-5 over 10-game stretches, but the team who outscored their opponents by 10 runs during that time is probably better than the team who gets outscored by 10. The Reds sure hope that proves to be the case over the rest of the season, since their 24-17 Pythagorean record would have them in second place in the division — and, obviously, in the thick of the playoff race.

Blame Cincinnati’s poor performance in one-run games for the gap between its projected and observed record. The Reds are 6-13 in such contests — notable since no other team in baseball has played or lost as many one-run games. Do the math and you’ll realize that nearly 60 percent of the Reds’ defeats this season have been by a single run. That’s either somewhat encouraging or not at all, depending on your perspective.

The analytical rule of thumb is that one-run games are coin flips, largely subject to variance and luck rather than skill. To win close contest after close contest is to tempt fate. Of course, the counterpoint is that teams can influence Lady Luck by having a strong (or weak) bullpen and/or manager. Sure enough, the Reds can blame closer Raisel Iglesias for his input into their record — already Iglesias has been charged with five losses and two blown saves on the year.

No matter how one divvies up responsibility, the Reds are in an unenviable situation — one that leaves you feeling at least a little bad for them. Cincinnati’s misfortunes go deeper than being stuck in last despite solid results — and it’s because of what they did over the winter.  

Remember, the Reds spent the offseason acquiring a number of veterans on expiring deals to make a run at their first winning season since 2013. They traded for Sonny Gray, yet Tanner Roark, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood (who hasn’t pitched in the regular season) remain impending free agents — as do Derek Dietrich and Jose Iglesias, each of whom has turned into a valuable contributor after joining the club in the spring as a non-roster invitee. Each of the above would draw interest were they placed on the trading block.

At some point over the coming two months, the Reds are going to have to make a call on whether they should buy, sell, or stand pat ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Unless the Reds go on a tear or collapse entirely — thereby solidifying they are/were not a legitimate threat to claim a postseason spot — it’s not going to be an easy decision. 

Sometimes, baseball teams don’t get what they deserve. Consider the Reds, bold winter and quality run differential in tow, the freshest evidence of that.

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