We watch baseball because it’s fun. The strategy on and off the field invigorates us. Not only is the game fun, but we connect to family and friends through baseball and its tradition. As the World Series winds up every year, I always find myself fearing the long, cold, baseball-less winter that emerges.
In the same way, I long for Spring Training, which signals that warmer weather is coming, new life is on the horizon, and the crack of the bat will soon reverberate through my television set. Even when the Reds are bad, I watch or listen to almost every game and on some level, always enjoy it. But, quite frankly, the last two Reds seasons were not that fun.
Opening Day. Heading into the 8th inning, the Reds had clawed to a 2-0 lead on a balk by Francisco Liriano and a solo homerun by Jay Bruce. To defend the lead and send the hometown faithful away happy, Bryan Price brought in a pitcher with solid, late-inning experience: the incomparable Kevin Gregg. Four batters later, Andrew McCutchen sent a ball flying over the centerfield fence, and the game was tied. Even though the Reds came back and won that game, that homerun, given up by an aging pitcher past his prime, previewed the rest of the season.
The 2015 season was rock bottom, whether we knew it at the time or not. The Reds, feeling like they could contend if they got bounce back seasons from Joey Votto and Bruce, signed Jason Marquis and Gregg, and traded for Marlon Byrd. To say those acquisitions didn’t turn out well would be a laughable understatement.
Their core was made up of veteran players supposedly in their best years, and yet, they lost 98 games. Only four position players with at least 250 plate appearances earned more than 1 WAR. Devin Mesoraco had only 51 plate appearances a year after being an All Star. Homer Bailey blew out his arm after two starts.
I held on as long as I could, thinking that with better health and improvement from established players, the Reds could win with the core that found success from 2013-2015. But soon, it became clear the Reds were aging and not very good. With little in terms of young talent on the way, we had little to hope on.
Even the worst seasons have their redeemers, and 2015 was no different. Todd Frazier destroyed baseballs for three months and won an exhilarating Home Run Derby in Cincinnati. Votto put together an historic second half. In spite of his disturbingly low OBP, Billy Hamilton stole 57 bases, and when Billy runs, it’s fun. But, for long stretches of the season, watching the Reds was akin to a root canal: miserable.
I sat with my Reds gear on, almost embarrassed. The crowd at Progressive Field in Cleveland mockingly cheered with each ball that missed its mark. Soon, hitters stopped swinging just to see if it was possible: could Steve Delabar throw three strikes? I pleaded for Bryan Price to bring in a new pitcher, but in the back of my mind, I knew it wouldn’t matter.
“Ball four!” And the crowd applauded and laughed again. Delabar had just walked in four consecutive runs, and the Reds were on their way to a 13-1 defeat. It was a microcosm of the season, not only because of poor bullpen pitching but because injuries had led to Delabar’s signing.
Injuries meant that Tim Melville started the year in the rotation with at least 15 pitchers making two or more starts. Alfredo Simon failed to recapture his 2014 magic, and the Reds bullpen was so historically inept that recently, the writers of Redleg Nation briefly discussed whether the increase in home runs across the Major Leagues was in part caused by the Reds dumpster fire bullpen.
Many of the Reds young, interesting players spent significant time on the disabled list, including Anthony Desclafani, Michael Lorenzen, and Raisel Iglesias. Mesoraco and Bailey were again sidelined for the majority of the season.
The Reds looked interesting after the All Star Break, which roughly coincided with the call up of younger players and the restored health of others. But, most of the season was painful and involved players that have no long-term future with the team.
Thank God those days are behind us. As Wesley Jenkins recently pointed out, the Reds are young and potentially exciting again. We don’t know how good they will be, but I will enjoy watching the development of Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, and Amir Garrett far more than struggling through another veteran retread or AAAA filler.
I can’t wait to see how Jose Peraza performs in a full season of duty or how Scott Schebler develops. At some point this season, we will likely witness The Jesse Winker Experience. If Dilson Herrera’s shoulder is ever healthy, he will get a shot as well. Maybe, just maybe, Nick Senzel will knock a few baseballs around Great American Ball Park.
Gone are the Kevin Greggs, Ross Ohlendorfs, and Alredo Simons. Rarely will we see talented, yet bullpen-bound pitchers like Josh Smith making starts. Every game will feature numerous players that should be part of the next winning Reds team.
The Reds are young, seemingly talented, and should be fun again, even if they struggle at times. After two years of watching the Reds look old and directionless, I expect the current team to provide more thrills and fewer headaches.
I can’t wait.