The Cincinnati Reds lost their 76th game of the 2021 season last night just minutes after the St. Louis Cardinals won their 17th consecutive game, concurrent cataclysms that rang the death knell on the chances this Reds season went anywhere. And before we get to much deeper here, before we get too emotional, that’s what this post is really all about.
This was, as we have come to expect, yet another failed season for this franchise. In the most objective sense, this club tried to make the playoffs and did not, perhaps the clearest failure in their long, long string of failed seasons of late.
It was a different kind of failure than those we slogged through, of course. This was no rebuild year, no season with nebulous objectives as part of a multi-year plan to no longer be a doormat. 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 all kind of roll together into one big gumball of season in my mind, all geared towards some future attempt at contention and therefore not singular failures on their own, but that, too, makes the disappointment of how this particular campaign collapsed that much more frustrating.
This was a year for which we waited years. When Dick Williams and Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini knocked down that load-bearing wall and gutted the old kitchen back in 2015, this was the new open concept living space they promised. This is what we lived in a hotel room during construction for, only to see this upon returning for the big reveal.
Keep in mind that this is year two of the emergent phase. The 2020 season was foiled before it even began due to the veracity of the global pandemic that still grips us to this date, but even what became of that season ended with a dud on the Reds side of things. Sixty-two total games played, as many losses as wins, nary a run scored in a pair of ‘playoff’ games, and ‘playoffs’ that only existed because of a one-time expansion to include half of all the teams out there. That, you’ll recall, was in year one of The Great Reds Spendathon, the first year after which they finally, mercifully spent money in free agency like the rest of the sport in which they play has done for years.
It’s that last aspect that has this season’s futility especially disconcerting. This isn’t a franchise that has ever dipped its toes into free agent spending, and they’ve now had both 2020 and 2021 to reap any rewards from their would-be $164 million outlay prior to last season. Over-thirty year olds in Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama, and Wade Miley were brought in to augment what was supposed to be an otherwise readymade club, the theory being that it might require paying them for longer than you’d like in order to reap rewards on the front-end of their times in town.
This has been the front-end, though, and it’s not been good enough. And with those contracts still on the books, it’s a very valid concern whether or not the frugal, mid-market Reds will have the dedication to treat those as sunk costs and invest again in the club this winter while they’re still paying elsewhere. Failing to commit to that kind of investment would be one thing if it looked like the club was good enough around them to make up for it, but despite the breakthroughs we’ve seen from Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson this year, I’m not convinced that’s a core that can make that claim.
It’s all a matter of perception here, obviously. With so little to go on as Cincinnati fans, we allowed this ownership to get away with deliberately not trying for a full five years under the ruse that they’d get around to trying at some point down the road. Buying into that meant we couldn’t treat single seasons as failures for a period of time, since they were part of the future attempt to try that they’d get around to at some point. Those years passed, we finally got this ‘try,’ and this try didn’t pan out, either. We waited for it for years, and it failed.
I think that’s what stings about this particular morning, the first of this year in which watching baseball in 2021 seems more like a continuing education seminar than something passionate. There are plenty of other franchises out there who, if they went 84-78 or whatever, would treat is as a blip on the radar, a minor frustration, and move on from it towards realistic expectations almost immediately. Here, however, these kinds of even potentially promising seasons have been so few and far between that this feels even more disappointing, as if their once in a large number chance was squandered.
Like Halley’s Comet, or if Luke missed that exhaust port with his proton torpedo.
Hopefully it’s not quite that extreme. Nick Castellanos is as good as gone, unless the Castellinis are willing to commit a big sum of money to a player again entering an age-30 season. Moose and Shogo will be 33 going on 34 off of back to back disappointing campaigns, while Miley’s $10 million team option will serve as something as the barometer for this team’s expected frugality this winter. Still, this team will have the indomitable Joey Votto back alongside what could still be a damn good slate of starting pitching, with Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo along for the 2022 ride, too.
There’s hope that the Reds can finally cobble together a string of competence to finally make the sting of only winning 84, 85 games in this rebuilt year feel like a blip instead of a squandering of a generational chance. That’s the kind of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ concession to this franchise that I’m just not sure I’m willing to give them anymore, though, since that’s pretty much how we got here in the first place.
Until next year, folks.