Reds look toward 2017 as they close ‘16 with a loss

Joey Votto only had to look across the Great American Ball Park diamond over the weekend to find the ballclub he hopes his Cincinnati Reds emulate in their rebuilding effort.

He doesn’t want it done quickly. He wants it done, as he said before Sunday’s regular-season finale, “properly,” following the template used by the Chicago Cubs on their way to 103 wins, Major League Baseball’s best record and the National League Central Division championship in 2016.

“The Cubs waited it out and, suddenly, they are the best ticket in baseball,” Votto said.

Whether the Reds will meet Votto’s criteria remains to be seen, but they seem to be on the right track, even with their 7-4 come-from-ahead loss to the Cubs on Sunday.

Cincinnati pinned four runs on Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who went into the game leading the National League with a 1.99 earned-run average. That was one day after beating left-hander Jon Lester, who went into Saturday’s start ranked second behind Hendricks in ERA.

The Reds also were a Raisel Iglesias blown save away from taking two out of three from the Cubs after splitting a four-game series in St. Louis against a Cardinals team that was desperately trying to stay in the race for a wild-card playoffs berth.

Sunday’s loss left the Reds 36-37 (.493) since the All-Star break, under .500 but a vast improvement over their disastrous 32-57 (.360) first half.

“It was a tough first half,” said center fielder Billy Hamilton, who ended a third straight season on the shelf with an injury. “Everybody was talking about how bad we were, but everybody battled through it. We overcame it and everybody came together. We played really, really well in the second, but not as well as we could have. The young guys came through in the second half. Everybody says ‘Rebuilding, rebuilding,’ but I don’t think it’s going to be a long process. I think we can compete next year.”

The Reds finished 68-94 overall and last in the Central Division, four games better than last season but 36-1/2 games out of first place and six behind fourth-place Milwaukee.

“I’m not hanging my hat on finishing .500 or .490 in the second half,” manager Bryan Price said. “What matters is how we utilize 2016 to be better in 2017 and 2018 and 2019 and get more fans in the stands.”

Iglesias’ blown save was Cincinnati’s 25th of the season, one indication of the area that needs the most work before 2017 – the bullpen, which ended up allowing a major league-leading 102 home runs and 297 walks. It didn’t help that the starting pitchers ranked last in the majors with 859 innings and first in home runs allowed with 155. General manager Dick Williams, who is scheduled to move up to the top decision-making position when president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty goes into semi-retirement sometime during this off-season, didn’t duck that issue during a mid-game media session.

“Probably supplementing the pitching – the bullpen moreso than the starting pitching,” he said when asked his top priority. “The bench obviously is an area for improvement. I think, as far as our position players go, we’re in pretty good shape. A lot of that depends on our younger players. We won’t be playing the high end of the free agent market, but I could see us spending some money on the bullpen.”