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The ‘win-now’ Cincinnati Reds are already short on time

These aren’t your same-old Reds, and the new premise involves ‘actually winning games.’

Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The timer at the bottom of this CMS tells me I stared at this completely blank slate for a full 17 minutes before writing, and this pathetic sentence is the first I could muster. On a moderately related note that I’ll explain further in a bit, I wrote my 2,300th article on Red Reporter dot com over the weekend, an obscene number that began in earnest back in the 2011 season.

I’ve written a lot about the Cincinnati Reds, specifically those Cincinnati Reds. You know, the ones that exploded on the scene in 2010, stubbed their toes in 2011, and charged back with a 2012 season that seemed poised to go down as one of the best in team history until...I guess we don’t need to elaborate on that right now. More specifically, though, I followed those players, even after the 2013 disappointment and the subsequent teardown that peaked during the 2015 season, the first of a now borderline handful of completely awful seasons of baseball.

Those Reds became ‘the same old Reds’ to me, really. The battered, broken former top prospects and draft picks, cast-aside pitchers and pitching prospects acquired in bulk as the team rebuilt, waiver claims, afterthoughts, and a dugout full of coaches and managers with connections dating back a decade. Those were the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 Cincinnati Reds, the ones that were doomed to the NL Central cellar from day one by even the most optimistic of prognosticators.

Critiquing that assembly became old hand in a hurry, but the depth with which those Reds continued to flounder at least inspired a dark sense of cynicism that carried us through, say, the last 141 games of the 2018 season after the team nose-dived to a 3-18 start that quashed any and all hopes of a miracle season. What that 3-18 start did do, though, was begin a series of events that finally, mercifully flushed so much of the last remnants of those Reds down the loo, as it rendered Bryan Price jobless and the front office on an early, months-long quest to put new leadership in the dugout.

In April of 2018, two things became quite clear: the 2018 Reds were already irrelevant, but the 2019 Reds were going to be something different.

Indeed, these Reds are quite different. David Bell is at the helm, flush with a coaching staff that appears to be the envy of many in the baseball world. There’s Sonny Gray - and the some $50 million commitment to him the Reds appear willing to pay. There’s a completely overhauled outfield fronted by the inimitable Yasiel Puig. There’s a versatile, capable set of utility players, headlined by burgeoning cult hero Derek Dietrich - who, with team control for the 2020 season still left, looks the part of another savvy front office salvage. There is a real, live pitcher in Luis Castillo looking the part of a real, live staff ace, and that’s a sight that we’ve waited for as Reds fans since the Johnny Cueto glory days.

These Reds, in both cost and stature, are a far, far cry from those Reds. On paper, and in intent, there is almost nothing in common with the purpose of the two. Yet here we are, two weeks into the 2019 season, and the Reds have once again nose-dived to the bottom of the NL Central standings, their 8 game losing streak having them off to an even worse beginning to the season than they had in that dumpster fire of 2018.

There is an easy, albeit rather inexplicable explanation for the foibles we’ve seen this year. A walking, talking, uniform-wearing oxymoron of a team, really. The outfield, which on paper suggested a glut of too many good bats for too few PAs, can’t hit its way out of a paper bag at the moment despite - on paper - being the single greatest source of power the team possesses. The bullpen, no longer just a haven for failed starters and cast-off mop-up men, has been a complete disaster, with the biggest earners of the bunch being the ones who have disappointed early and often.

Even luck appears to have abandoned them to this point. The team’s collective .208 BABIP is the damn last in all MLB, for one, and just one season after posting a league-worst 10-29 record in 1-run games, the team is off to an 0-4 start in 1-run games this year - also, as you might guess, the worst such record in the league.

This isn’t ‘Billy Hamilton hitting leadoff for the fourth straight year’ level ineptitude, and it’s not a ‘keep letting Homer Bailey serve up meatballs because he’s making a lot of money’ subplot. It’s a revamped, new-angle unit with significantly fewer obvious flaws, but somehow, some way, the pervasive frustrations that we watched play out day after day after day for the last handful of years have still managed to filter through to this group, too.

The result, for me at least, has been a terribly convoluted way of watching baseball games, damning existential forces for 9 innings while waiting for inevitability to fire a bolt from the sky at the wrong side of the scoreboard. Before this season, though, that had become easy. You knew how things were going to fail for the Reds when they had 40 year old Bronson Arroyo on the mound trying to get opponents out with aging frisbees. You knew the Reds weren’t going to get the big 2-run go-ahead single when the next hitters due up were Jordan Pacheco and Cliff Pennington and Tyler Holt.

What we’ve watched in this early season action from these Reds, though, hasn’t been the sound of inevitability raining down, it’s been something entirely different, something we haven’t been privy to watching for five years running.

It’s been - with apologies for the lack of a softer word - failure, pure and simple. This is no rag-tag bunch, this is no over-matched AAAA squad. This is a team that’s deep, that’s talented, that’s versatile, and that’s healthy enough to go toe to toe with the best clubs in the game, yet they have completely failed to launch through a critical start to a critical season.

These Reds still are, and still will be better than those Reds, top to bottom. What’s different now, though, is that we’re watching - and they’re playing - with a weight of expectations that hasn’t existed in so long that we damn near forgot what that sensation felt like, and it’s that specifically that has fueled the groans we’ve moaned through this 1-8 start. Couple that with the revamped roster’s bevy of players who are set to be free agents at season’s end - and who are set to be trade bait at the July deadline if things don’t improve - and there’s a hyperconcentrated weight of expectations that Reds fans, present company included, haven’t had to process since at least the 2013 season.

That’s a long, wavy way of saying the start to this season has been incredibly disappointing. It will get better - how could it possibly get worse - but that’s no longer the premise of ‘watch the Reds play baseball’ anymore. The premise, thanks to the overhaul we saw this winter, is no longer ‘watch the Reds get better.’ The premise, which bore the expectations and current disappointment, finally evolved into ‘watch the Reds win games,’ and that’s a premise that means the 1-8 start matters now, matters in July, and matters in October.

If they’re 2 games under .500 in mid-July and trade away Puig, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark, this start will be why. If they miss the second Wild Card by a game and watch the St. Louis Cardinals make the postseason instead of them, this awful start will be why. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to wrap my head around that as a Reds fan.

These Reds are supposed to be good now, and they’re running out of time to keep that premise realistic.