[Or: A story of warring impulses]

This is going to be a bit of a departure from how I’ve normally written on this site.

I have to confess, I didn’t watch last night’s game. Perhaps it was the delayed start time and the waves of Tuesday rainstorms that also served to dampen my mood. I can’t deny a bit of apathy, though.

I watched Monday night and let the first three innings whisk me away to a place where the standings didn’t matter and the offensive outburst could be appreciated for what it was—the Reds playing some good baseball. Of course, that feeling was tempered in the fourth. But even before that I second-guessed myself a couple of times when I clapped or pumped my fist in celebration. What would a win actually mean? Could it possibly spook the front office from trading away assets when they need to do just that? Do we actually have to hope for a final serious collapse to ensure this team doesn’t become the 2015 Phillies in two years?

Suarez double

I brushed those questions off as the hit parade continued, though I couldn’t help but let them have free reign in my mind from the fourth inning onward. Last week, in preparing to write an earlier version of this piece, I looked up a bunch of recent playoff teams’ records around 70 games into the season, trying to find any evidence of a team in a similar position to this year’s Reds making the postseason. I wasn’t really trying to convince myself this team had a shot, I was more concerned about examples other people—more optimistic people—could use to do just that.

A handful of teams lingered around or below .500 at the point in their seasons and made the playoffs. Only two clubs actually fit the profile before I got tired of hunting around Baseball Reference. The 2003 Florida Marlins were 33-37 after game 70 (Cincinnati’s record, as well, at the time I looked it up), finally climbing above .500 and staying there from July 1 onward. Cincinnati, of course, has not had the same fortune, though to be fair the 2003 Marlins played their 70th game a week earlier than the Reds did this season. The 1995 Seattle Mariners were a game better, but struggled with staying above fifty-fifty well into August. In addition, the 2007 Colorado Rockies were above .500 at 36-34 at the 70-game mark, but sunk below .500 a week later finally resurfacing from limbo in late July.

Now, here’s hoping no one in the Cincinnati front office is printing out that paragraph and showing it to Bob, Walt, and Bryan while shouting, “So, he’s saying there’s a chance!” It’s unwise to shoot for the moon now. The Phillies are the cautionary tale that lurks in the subtext of this Reds season. Cincinnati may not be as old as Philadelphia was when they reached their decline, but some of the same red flags—a lack of reliable pitchers in the bullpen, a black hole of a bench, and little sign of offensive talent arriving to help from the minor leagues—are there.

This article isn’t to beat the drum again for the Reds selling off as many valuable pieces as they can. It’s about the feeling I have while watching them play—knowing the team needs to pull off those trades and knowing that they won’t happen before the All-Star Game, this period between the beginning of July and the break beginning on July 13 seems bizarre and arbitrary. It flies in the face—the very ethos—of fandom. Fandom is present, it’s happiness in the moment as a purely reactive experience. Sure it’s made stronger by years of familiarity, by holding onto and remembering the happiness in those moments, but fandom rarely grows while waiting.

And that’s what this next 13 days is—waiting. It’s not all that fun to wait for a winning team to arrive. It’s even less fun to wait for a team to start rebuilding. And for the next 13 days, I’ll be trying to take the wins in isolation and understand the losses have a purpose this year. And when the All-Star Game finally arrives, I’ll enjoy it for the spectacle, for the celebration of baseball, and for a last chance to enjoy the sight of Johnny Cueto (and likely a few others) in a Reds uniform before obsessing over trade returns and prospect rankings. And then more waiting will begin.