CINCINNATI – In baseball’s new bizarro world, Travis Wood had to be traded to the Cubs to be given the room to grow as a pitcher and the time to find himself.
That’s such a dramatic change from the final go-for-it years under Tribune Co. ownership. It probably slowed Jeff Samardzija, the promotion in 2008 and the bullpen/rotation back-and-forth, but hard choices have to be made in the heat of a pennant race.
[WATCH: Travis Wood's take on loss to Reds]
It’s become trendy to reassess the Sean Marshall trade, picking winners and losers, but the Cincinnati Reds aren’t playing for years of club control (see acquiring on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo for his walk year as a finishing piece).
That development wasn’t going to happen here at Great American Ball Park, where another sellout crowd (40,909) watched Wood come back down to earth against his old team in Saturday’s 5-2 loss.
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One big inning snapped the 26-year-old left-hander’s streak of nine straight quality starts to begin the season, a next-level performance that had the media asking if he’s becoming part of “The Core.”
But this is another warning sign when trying to project when the Cubs (18-30) will be able to compete. Five pitchers started 161 of Cincinnati’s 162 games last season: Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo.
With the Reds, where would Wood have gotten the 26 starts and 156 innings he gained during last year’s 101-loss campaign?
The Reds already have their core pieces in place for a sustained run in the National League Central. Bailey and Cueto are 27 years old, while Latos and Leake are only 25 years old.
Bailey is positioned to become a free agent after the 2014 season, while Cincinnati holds a 2015 club option on Cueto. Latos and Leake won’t hit the free-agent market until after the 2015 season.
That’s assuming the Reds (31-18) don’t lock them up with long-term extensions, the way they did with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, who started the rally with a walk and a single in the sixth inning.
Wood (4-3, 2.73 ERA) has gotten the bounces so far this season, but Todd Frazier’s groundball went up the middle for an RBI single. Derrick Robinson’s squeeze bunt scored another run, and the quality-start streak was over when Ryan Hanigan doubled into the left-center field gap.
“We’re not getting blown out,” said Wood, who gave up five runs in 5.2 innings. “We’re right there every game. We just got (to) find a way to keep scratching out runs, instead of that one inning where we get a couple and just kind of relax and lay back. We got to figure out how to keep pressing and keep scoring runs.”
The Reds also have the luxury of using Aroldis Chapman for 70 high-stakes, maximum-effort innings out of the bullpen rather than trying to stretch him out for 200 as a starter.
The Cuban closer hit 100 mph and blew away the Cubs in the ninth inning, freezing pinch-hitter Scott Hairston with an 85 mph slider to end the game and set off fireworks.
“This team’s got big boys, veteran guys, really smart guys on the field,” manager Dale Sveum said. “The lineup’s really good throughout and then the pitching they got is some of the best in baseball.
“The bottom line comes down to pitching. It’s tough to score. You’re in all these games, but you just can’t add on or score off their bullpen.”
With the Cubs now operating like a mid-market team, the Reds can match them in major-league payroll, and under this collective bargaining agreement no one can spend freely in the draft or international market.
The Cubs have lost six straight games, and 16 of their last 18 against the Reds, a team whose window of contention doesn’t appear to be closing anytime soon.