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Can the Reds bring the fun back?

Enjoying their baseball may be the key to saving this season.

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Outside of watching the Reds, I love watching English Premier League soccer. There’s a term that commentators use over there that doesn’t really have an American sports equivalent that I love. When a player has a good run of games when things are going right for them, or a team as a whole, they’re said to be “enjoying their football”. You can see it in their body language; they’re looser, they’re expressive, they’re making things look easy.

If you’re a Reds fan, you’ve seen it a thousand times too. Aroldis Chapman when he was doing somersaults off of the mound. Joey Votto during his MVP season when he knew pitchers were scared of him. Aristides Aquino when he came up last season. They were “enjoying their baseball”.

Who on the current Reds team is actually “enjoying their baseball”? Jesse Winker seems to be, in the midst of a breakout season. Trevor Bauer definitely is. Sonny Gray is too, but not as much as Trevor. Matt Davidson and Kyle Farmer seem to be, when they get playing time. It doesn’t seem like anyone else is. Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez are desperately chomping at the bit to get going. Shogo Akiyama has had some good, professional ABs, but still looks to be adjusting to MLB pitching. The rest of the players look to be there fighting for their professional lives.

As I said, I don’t think this is an effort thing as much as this seems to be a “nobody’s having fun” thing. I think the players are feeling some of the pressure of the shortened season and not getting off to a quicker start than they’d have liked to. As a result, it seems like there’s a hyper-professional setting, where everyone in the lineup is trying to get going. Nobody seems like they’re just plain excited to be there.

Even last year’s team had that, didn’t it? It had Suarez’s breakout year, culminating in 49 home runs. It had high-energy guys like Derek Dietrich and Yasiel Puig. It had the debut of Nick Senzel, and the exciting August of Aristides Aquino. That same spark plug is, for some reason, more likely to be seen getting takeout from the Chipotle on Mason-Montgomery Road than he is to be in the dugout at Great American Ball Park.

Meanwhile, the Reds roster is full of older guys who are out of options and playing to get to stay in the big leagues for one more day like their life depends on it. Travis Jankowski and Philip Ervin have been fortunate so far; Christian Colon and Josh VanMeter, not so much.

Is that the difference in attitude between this season and last? Tyler Stephenson got a few at bats and made the most of them in the one game he appeared in. We saw Aquino briefly when the season started. The Reds picked up Nick Williams off of waivers, a former top 25 prospect in all of baseball who needed a change of scenery. Why are they running Ervin, Jankowski, and VanMeter out there night after night?

This isn’t a question we would ask if the Reds were winning games. After 27 games, the Reds are 11-16. By the end of this week, the 60-game campaign will be more than half over. They will be not be a .500 team at the midseason mark. It’ll take the best run of baseball they’ve played all season to be a .500 team at the trade deadline. Despite an expanded playoffs this year, it’s pretty unlikely the Reds are headed there unless they figure this out sooner rather than later.

I see the effort, but where is the urgency? Why did Josh VanMeter and Christian Colon get 62 plate appearances between them to try to get this sputtering offense going? Why are Philip Ervin and Mark Payton getting starts right now? Aristides Aquino, Jose Garcia, Tyler Stephenson, and Jonathan India could be with the team tomorrow. I’d take one of them at this point. There needs to be some sort of spark injected into this offense.

The Reds came into this season with the promise of fun, didn’t they? Some new talent on offense, a rock solid rotation, Shogo Fever. Look around baseball and tell me that the teams with exciting young stars aren’t the ones lighting up the division standings too. The Cubs are riding a breakout season from Ian Happ to first place in the division. The Dodgers have been the best team in baseball, with a rotation led by Dustin May and Julio Urias. Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Slam Diego Padres! How much fun would it be to be a Padres fan right now?

The Reds enjoying their baseball again may be the only the hope to save this disappointing season.