When I was seven years old, my parents and I went to an early-season football game between my hometown Eastern Kentucky University Colonels and Northeast Louisiana. With six seconds remaining NLU had the ball and a one-point lead. They were forced to punt, but a decent snap and kick would seal the deal. Things were looking bleak.
“Come on Taylor, let’s go home,” my mother said.
“Yeah, son. This game is over,” my father agreed.
“There’s still time on the clock! Let’s just see what happens,” I begged.
My parents acquiesced, and we sat down and looked up in time to see NLU’s long-snapper hike the ball over his punter’s head, and we watched, mouths open wide, as the Colonels’ Sean Little recovered the ball in the end zone for a miraculous EKU victory. I gloated the whole way home.
When I think about the 2016 Cincinnati Reds season, my mind takes me back to that game. Nobody gave my team a chance, but I had faith. And while the unwavering optimism of my youth has faded, as it almost always does as one ages, I still can’t help but feel a tinge of hope on the eve of another Opening Day. Is it unfounded? Almost certainly. Because if the pundits are to be believed, we’re going to need a heckuva lot more than hope to get through this season.
This year, most major publications are picking the Reds to finish dead last in the NL Central. The Reds’ current odds of winning the World Series are 300-1. But, like my parents back in ’92, the prognosticators have been wrong before. So for the sake of nothing more than providing hope in the face of what is shaping up to be a long season, let’s take a look back over the past few years to see where some of the playoff teams were picked to finish at the start of the year.
In 2015, the Houston Astros began the season listed at 25th on the Sports Illustrated Baseball Power Rankings. As you may recall, they were within six outs of beating the Royals in the Division Series. The Royals would go on to win the World Series.
Also in 2015, Sports Illustrated and ESPN had the Mets pegged as the 17th-best team on Opening Day. The Mets, as you likely know, would go on to win the NL Pennant.
In 2014, both Bleacher Report and CBS Sports picked the Orioles to finish 4th in the AL East. The Orioles would go on to win the Division before losing in the ALCS to the Royals.
In 2013, Sporting News ranked the Boston Red Sox as the 18th best team entering the season. The Red Sox won the World Series that year, defeating the Cardinals four games to two.
And, going a little farther back, in 1999 very few people gave the Reds a chance to compete in the NL Central. That team ended up winning 96 games and missed out on the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion, falling to the Mets in a one-game playoff for the Wild Card.
Every year we see a few surprise teams make a playoff push. Those teams prove that, generally speaking, preseason predictions are not particularly useful. Can the Reds be one of those teams this year? I wish I had my seven-year-old optimism back, because it seems unlikely. There are those pesky issues of pitching depth, players coming off injuries, and an abundance of youth. But if the Colonels can come back and win when all hope seems lost, and if Texas A&M can erase a 12-point deficit in 35 seconds to win an NCAA tournament game, and if the 1999 Reds can shock the world and win 96 games, then anything is possible.
I checked the standings this morning, and right now the Reds are tied for first atop the NL Central. They aren’t out of it just yet.