My son is about to turn 6, and suddenly, he’s a baseball addict.
For his first five-plus years, I fought a losing battle against his apathy toward all sports; suddenly, this year, he’s gotten excited about playing first basketball, and now baseball. At 6, of course, the games largely consist of a coach feeding a ball into a machine for a kid to swing and miss; the coach moving closer and lobbing a pitch for the kid to swing and miss; and the coach finally resigning himself to setting the ball on a tee for the kid to hack at until contact is established. But it has my son excited about baseball, so I’m all in.

My goal now is to help him learn a few of the rules and strategies of baseball; to that end, we’ve subscribed to Unfortunately, we live in the Reds blackout area, so my strategy was to pick an American League team and watch them throughout the season. The White Sox were the closest to us, but I quickly realized that watching the White Sox could lead to my son actually rooting for the White Sox, so that was out.

Ultimately, we settled on the Kansas City Royals.

IMG_1515Three weeks into this (a bit too successful) experiment, I have to admit … I love watching the Royals play. Brawling epidemic aside, there’s a fire in that team – a scrappiness – that’s fun to watch. They pitch well; their bullpen is fantastic. They play solid defense, they get each other’s backs, and they have the uncanny ability to string hits together. You get a sense watching them that they expect to win; that, when a player comes up with two on and two out, the whole team isn’t just hoping he’ll come up with the big hit. They’re expecting it.

I don’t feel that way when I watch (or, most of the time, listen to) the Reds. Votto aside, if a Reds player comes up with two on and two out, I find myself wondering if we’re about to see a strikeout or a pop-up. And maybe that’s a little harsh. But watching the Royals has reminded me of seeing that same thing in our Reds – in 2010, in 2012. Heck – I remember when Jay Bruce came up as the winning run against the Giants in that awful Game 5, and a part of me actually expected Bruce to park one in the upper deck, because that’s who that Reds team was (or, to paraphrase Brandon Phillips, “That was how we did it in Cincinnati!”).

But if watching other teams this year has taught me anything (and I’ve watched a lot of them – if the Royals aren’t on, Evan will watch anyone at this point), it’s that our Redlegs don’t have that scrap – that swagger. They don’t have the look of a winning team. More importantly, they don’t have the talent of a winning team.

Which brings me to the question: At what point does my love for the Cincinnati Reds mean that I should be rooting against them?

I’m not talking about rooting against individual players. I want to see Joey Votto hit .375, crush 35 home runs, and get into the MVP race. I want to see Anthony DeSclafani continue to be the pitcher he’s looked like so far this season. And I’d love to see Billy Hamilton get on base at a .350 clip and steal 100 bases.

But right now, I’m starting to hope that they do all of those things while losing more games than they win. Because this season is something of a critical juncture for our team: As we all know, Johnny Cueto’s contract is about up. Mike Leake’s contract is about up. Aroldis Chapman is down to his option year, and Bryan Price stands on uncertain footing at best. What happens over the next few months will have a large say in the Reds’ future success (or lack thereof), and frankly, I would rather see the groundwork laid for a strong 2016 and 2017 than watch the Reds muddle near contention in 2015. And the only way that is going to happen is if our favorite team starts to lose, and lose in bunches.

Marlon Byrd and Jason Marquis on the Opening Day roster showed us that we aren’t going all-in to win this year. Johnny Cueto on the same roster showed us that aren’t committing a rebuild. Instead, we’re floating in an amorphous middle ground, claiming commitment to winning consistently while illustrating commitment neither to winning now or later.

But losing … losing could change all of that. Losing early and often probably puts Johnny Cueto (and maybe Mike Leake) on the trading block at a time when we can get a good return (ready or near-ready prospects to take over LF and 2B spring to mind). And make no mistake about it: If the Reds aren’t in contention – and I don’t mean “hovering around .500” contention, but “have a legitimate shot at getting to and making noise in the playoffs” contention – then Johnny Cueto is a golden ticket that Walt Jocketty needs to cash. We can hash and rehash the Greatest Hits of Jocketty’s mistakes as GM; mismanaging Cueto between now and July 31 would immediately become his “Free Bird.” Unless we start losing now, I suspect that is exactly what will happen.

Of course, that’s not the only benefit to losing. Losing probably kicks Bryan Price to the curb – and in spite of my adamant defense of Price last season, his management this year (capped by his profanity-laced, “I’m in so far over my head, I don’t know which way is up anymore” rant) has convinced me he’s not the man for this job. Losing might even put Chapman on the block, get Marquis off the roster, and bring some Major League seasoning to guys like Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, or Jon Moscot.

All of these things would bode well for the Reds’ future. So at what point does rooting for losses become acceptable? When can we, as fans, start saying, “This isn’t going to be our year, but it’s a critical year, and it needs to be managed right – which means we need to lose?”

I don’t claim to know the answer to that; I’m not precisely sure where the fine line lives between “Giving Up” and “Protecting Our Long-Term Best Interests.”

But I feel like it’s coming soon.