The Cincinnati Reds are going to play in the 2020 Major League Baseball playoffs. Apologies, but I just needed to see it typed out once more.
There are a wide range of emotions running through my veins at the moment - some sprinting, some jogging - and I’m going to try to take a deep breath and channel that into something coherent, even though it’s long past midnight ET as my fingers rattle this keyboard.
First and foremost, the Reds will play playoff games, and that’s tremendous. Big pressure, national TV audience, and a formidable club that’ll be a higher seed. Games, plural, unlike their most recent ‘playoff’ appearance from 2013, when a lone game decided their fate. They’ll get at least two this time around. At least.
Beyond that, it becomes a bit murky what’s fueling the heart rate this evening, at least once you eliminate the obvious.
Am I smiling as hard as I have smiled in ages because this particular team was left for dead by many, including me, just a few weeks ago? Am I doing so because of 2014, 2015, the godawful trades of huge stars that began the rebuild, 2016, 2017, the under the radar trades that proved bountiful, 2018, 2019, and the flex in the free agent market? Is it the combination of it all?
Is it relief as much as excitement? Am I stuck in enough of a funk from this hellacious, godawful year that any semblance of excitement feels tenfold what it otherwise would? Is this what the Dead Men of Dunharrow felt when finally let loose by Aragorn? Or is this what Charles S. Dutton was clapping about when Rudy finally, finally got his shot on the big stage and came through?
As I said earlier, there’s a lot going on in this brain, these veins at the moment. For the first time in a long time, though, it’s almost exclusively based on news that makes me chuckle, even if I can’t quite pinpoint a lone source.
There are two realities with these Cincinnati Reds at the moment. Two that, if looked upon objectively, would both calm the excitement and ramp it right the hell back up. I think I’ll try to walk myself through that in words you can read just to make sure I’ve got the landscape correct.
The reality is this is a Reds team that had high expectations this entire season, one that sported a starting rotation that was the envy of every club around and augmented it with big bucks splashed on offensive reinforcements. There are no obvious holes now that the bullpen sorted itself out mid-year, and the adjustments made at the trade deadline only served to enhance what was already, on paper, a club that screamed contender.
The parallel reality, however, is that this is a club that merely clinched a non-losing record with a mere two games left to play. They are 30-28, hardly the record of a club striking fear on record books in the annals of baseball history. They were so flawed as of two weeks ago that I rendered them a failure, noting at the time that while a miraculous finish could salvage the season with the expansion of the playoffs, they’d simply never gone on anything close to a run like that, and doing so would require a complete 180 of their momentum.
At the time, I alluded to the concept that this team, with so many new faces, was perfectly built for a 162 game slog, as their pitching depth and need to get to simply know one another for the first time would take just that - time. Perhaps they were not well equipped to morph into the sprinters needed to conquer this 60 game season, and that bit them early and often. As things stand today, it’s impossible to look at how these Reds are built and think anything other than that they’re the contenders many thought they would be back in March, back when this entire globe was in such as tremendously better place.
The Reds rotation is fierce, and peaking. The offense is not as formidable as it should be, but has seen proof of life from many of their key bats during the surge of the last few weeks. They have found their core relievers after many fell by the wayside, and while they’ll be the worse seed and underdogs against any club they face from here on out based on their July, August, and early September, there’s simply nothing about this club that suggests they can’t win a game more than they lose in four more series in the next month.
It’s a weird paradox, really. Having grown so accustomed to the normal size of the playoffs, it’s hard to be truly excited by a baseball team just slipping in. That said, at 30-28, there’s a ton about this current Reds club that makes me think they could win 65 of the 104 games that would remain in a typical 162 game season after game 58, and that’d be a 95 win team with eyes on the trophy.
None of that, much like none of the rest of our usual lives, got a chance to get spelled out plainly this year.
Every team dealt with it, of course. Every team was forced to react on the fly.
Who’s to say 60 games is an accurate representation of any of these clubs, really, when they were all built intricately for a much different design?
The fact is, the Reds were supposed to be good this year. The Reds were not good for much of this year, but this year granted reprieves to more teams than usual. These Reds are good enough now, and that made up for their lack of goodness earlier, thanks to the new rules. And what that provides them is an opportunity, one that they are perhaps better suited to achieve than they were to simply squeak into an expanded playoff field when 6 games under .500 earlier this month.
They have reached pinnacle one, which is the leveling of the playing field. And now level, and knowing what they can do when at their best, they might just have the proper steamroller to smash anything in their path, even if it took their specific brand of steamroller a bit longer to reach optimum speed.
I’ll leave it at this. I can clearly say that this club was built to be monumentally better than two games over .500, and the front office knows that. This, though, is not your typical two games over .500 scenario. This is a club peaking for the playoffs as a club that was built to peak for the playoffs, and somehow, despite fog and wrecks and sleet and ice, they’ve found their way to the playoffs anyway, and there’s not a thing in their path that should truly have them shivering in their stirrups.
It’s on, folks. It’s incredibly on.