Entering the season, we knew this much about the Cincinnati Reds : Joey Votto was good.

Votto, whose contract will cover most of two more election cycles, is still the organization’s bedrock. The Reds have changed managers, general managers, and about everything else over the last handful of seasons — okay … except second basemen — yet Votto remains the constant. His skill set is largely unchanged, too. All he does is command the strike zone and the barrel alike, leading to walks and extra-base hits to the left-center gap. He doesn’t always behave like a friendly and down-to-earth face of the franchise, but he’s just that — the face of the franchise.

usatsi9385266.jpgThe face of the Reds’ franchise. USATSI

The Reds’ problem in recent years has been their inability to surround Votto with a legitimate supporting cast — to make Votto’s face one in a crowd, rather than the crowd. A pleasant development in Cincinnati’s season, then, has been the emergence of bit players. Shortstop Zack Cozart ‘s continued ascendance at the plate makes him a likely offseason trade candidate, but that’s okay. The Reds have reason to feel good about Eugenio Suarez (who has homered 20 times this season) and Jose Peraza (presently hitting .324). There’s also Adam Duvall , the team leader with 30 home runs, and Billy Hamilton , whose speed and defense merits mention.

None of the above are star-level talents — Hamilton would be if he could hit — but each has had moments that make you think about their future in Cincinnati — as opposed to whether they have a future at all. The Reds as a whole have provided sufficient reason to think about their future, too. After a brutal first half that saw them go 32-57 with a negative-150 run differential, their 30-26 second half (with a positive run differential) comes as a surprise. That’s the difference between a 58-win pace and an 87-win pace, after all — a disparity so great that it makes you scratch your head, given all the Reds did was trade away Jay Bruce .

usatsi9324902.jpgAdam Duvall leads the Reds with 30 home runs. USATSI

So is the dawn of a new competitive era for the Reds, or what? If you’re inside the Cincinnati city limits, you’re hoping as much — that this team can heart-and-hustle and mystify its way into wild card contention come 2017. Hey, if Robert Stephenson and Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed all take steps forward and … you get the point — and it’s the same point that’s going to prevent many outside of Ohio from buying in. The Reds have some intriguing young talent, but it doesn’t seem like enough — not now.

Besides, the Reds also have something else working against them: their division. The National League Central boasts the Chicago Cubs , who could well run the place for the next half-decade; the St. Louis Cardinals , who are as indestructible and omnipresent in October as Jason Voorhees; the Pittsburgh Pirates , who have a good farm system; and the Milwaukee Brewers , who might have the best farm system. Where does that leave the Reds over the next few seasons, if not in purgatory?

It’s a fair question — and as a result, you can’t help but feel bad for the Reds. There’s talent in place, there’s talent coming — there should be hope coming, too. But will it be enough? Will it ever be enough? Or will the Reds be relegated to the status where they’re good enough to flirt with success, but never good enough to seal the deal with a playoff berth?

We’ll find out in due time. For now, Reds fans, take solace in this: Votto is good.

Source: CBS Sports Headlines / The Reds have Joey Votto and maybe some hope to be contenders again