When I was seven years old, my parents and I went to an early-season football game between my hometown Eastern Kentucky University Colonels and Northeast Louisiana. With six seconds remaining NLU had the ball and a one-point lead. They were forced to punt, but a decent snap and kick would seal the deal.  Things were looking bleak.

“Come on Taylor, let’s go home,” my mother said.

“Yeah, son. This game is over,” my father agreed.

“There’s still time on the clock! Let’s just see what happens,” I begged.

My parents acquiesced, and we sat down and looked up in time to see NLU’s long-snapper hike the ball over his punter’s head, and we watched, mouths open wide, as the Colonels’ Sean Little recovered the ball in the end zone for a miraculous EKU victory. I gloated the whole way home.

When I think about the 2016 Cincinnati Reds season, my mind takes me back to that game. Nobody gave my team a chance, but I had faith.  And while the unwavering optimism of my youth has faded, as it almost always does as one ages, I still can’t help but feel a tinge of hope on the eve of another Opening Day. Is it unfounded? Almost certainly. Because if the pundits are to be believed, we’re going to need a heckuva lot more than hope to get through this season.

This year, most major publications are picking the Reds to finish dead last in the NL Central. The Reds’ current odds of winning the World Series are 300-1. But, like my parents back in ’92, the prognosticators have been wrong before. So for the sake of nothing more than providing hope in the face of what is shaping up to be a long season, let’s take a look back over the past few years to see where some of the playoff teams were picked to finish at the start of the year.

In 2015, the Houston Astros began the season listed at 25th on the Sports Illustrated Baseball Power Rankings. As you may recall, they were within six outs of beating the Royals in the Division Series. The Royals would go on to win the World Series.

Also in 2015, Sports Illustrated and ESPN had the Mets pegged as the 17th-best team on Opening Day. The Mets, as you likely know, would go on to win the NL Pennant.

In 2014, both Bleacher Report and CBS Sports picked the Orioles to finish 4th in the AL East. The Orioles would go on to win the Division before losing in the ALCS to the Royals.

In 2013, Sporting News ranked the Boston Red Sox as the 18th best team entering the season. The Red Sox won the World Series that year, defeating the Cardinals four games to two.

And, going a little farther back, in 1999 very few people gave the Reds a chance to compete in the NL Central. That team ended up winning 96 games and missed out on the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion, falling to the Mets in a one-game playoff for the Wild Card.

Every year we see a few surprise teams make a playoff push. Those teams prove that, generally speaking, preseason predictions are not particularly useful. Can the Reds be one of those teams this year? I wish I had my seven-year-old optimism back, because it seems unlikely. There are those pesky issues of pitching depth, players coming off injuries, and an abundance of youth. But if the Colonels can come back and win when all hope seems lost, and if Texas A&M can erase a 12-point deficit in 35 seconds to win an NCAA tournament game, and if the 1999 Reds can shock the world and win 96 games, then anything is possible.

I checked the standings this morning, and right now the Reds are tied for first atop the NL Central. They aren’t out of it just yet.

11 Responses

  1. David

    I would say for 2015, the Astros were on the road to becoming a much better team, and arrived a year earlier than the “experts” were expecting. The 2015 New York Mets had a terrific young pitching staff (including the ancient Bartolo Colon) and the over-hyped Nationals fell flat on their faces. There are still a lot of know – nothings out there that think the Cubs will lose again.

    The rankings of teams in many of these articles are by the so-called experts who really don’t pay as much attention and devote study to teams as a lot of self-educated fans, such as the the people who write for Redleg Nation and some of the really smarter commenters here (not me). I can remember Sparky Anderson remarking that as he was living in Thousand Oaks, California during the off season, the LA Media sold baloney by the pound, regarding the Dodgers. The Dodgers had a great baseball propaganda machine.

    Anything is possible, but a lot of things are plain unlikely.

  2. doofus

    Yes, your optimism will end up unfounded. All the teams you mentioned had pitching. Except for Joey V the Red’s cannot get on base even if you paid off the opposition’s pitchers. Then there is the Reds front office under WJ that always plugs the holes in the roster. The 1990 team was the only Reds squad that has surpassed my pre-season prognostication.

  3. Mark Tokarski

    I agree in total with your sympathies, but baseball with its long season has a way of killing hope slowly, one game at a time. Weaknesses become apparent, and then are exploited by opposing teams. By August, it is over. For fun this year I am going to hope they win the game I happen to be watching, and ignore the big picture.

    On the other hand, as I listen to the prognosticators, I ask only one question: Did you get it right last year? Did you pick KC? SF the year before? Most times the experts pick last year’s winner as this year’s likely winner. It’s the safe thing to do. Set them aside too. We cannot know right now who will be in the World Series. It’s too long a season with too many variables to project.

  4. Indy RedMan

    Lets just get most of our young pitchers back on the mound and see what happens? I think they’ll score a lot more runs this year but the pen is going to be horrific. If Mesoraco breaks down again then this is def a 90+ loss team. A huge part of their offensive potential is having his 2014 version in the lineup on most days.

  5. Will Gipp

    I still have hope. Would it be a bad idea for Billy to come off the bench whenever Cozart or BP get on in a good base running situation in a game? Then Peraza is used in a double switch to fill that hole and Billy goes to center. Gets Peraza max development time, rests older/injured guys, and Billy builds confidence with a scary amount of SB and runs. It would be fun to watch and he could show growth in bunting and getting on with his remaining ABs.

  6. Shchi Cossack

    As David so eloquently pointed out, “Anything is possible, but a lot of things are plain unlikely.” So what needs to happen if…?

    * The starting pitching for April is in total disarray, so the Reds must outscore their opponents during April, at least to finish the month at .500 ball. This can happen. The Reds must eschew the stupid sac bunt philosophy that curtails big offensive innings. We can only hope this happens.

    I expect Joey V to have a monster season and compete for the NL MVP, if not ‘walk’ away with the award. I expect Mesoraco to unleash his fury at the plate once again to the tune of a .900 OPS, but he must stay healthy. I expect Suarez to spray doubles across every outfield in the league to the tune of an .800 OPS. I expect Bruce to streak his way to another .800 OPS season. That’s a really good start. The question becomes Phillips, LF, Cozart & Hamilton. At least 2 of those for positions must contribute above league average results. That could happen.

    Once the starting pitching stabalizes in May with pitchers coming off the DL, the starting staff has to begin performing to carry their share of the load. In addition Stephenson and Reed must finish any preparations and development needed to become major league ready. The Reds don’t need to lead the division as spring turns to summer, but they must maintain contact with the division leaders.

    Come June and the Reds are deep within the NLCD race, things get serious. Forget about 2017 or 2018; the race in on in 2016. Since Stephenson has mastered his control in AAA and Reed has simply dominated the league in AAA, it’s time to promote with a vengenace and start rolling the dice. Stephenson and Reed go straight into the starting rotation along with Bailey and the next best 2 starters (Iggy & Disco probably, but Finnegan, Lorenzen and Lamb may have something to say about that competition). Simon, Straily, Moscot & the 3 starting pitchers from the starting rotation compete with Hoover & Ohlendorf to create a shut down bullpen anchored by Cingrani. Diaz et. al. are optioned to AAA. After the all star break, the Reds realize that Simon, Staily & Ohlendorf are not needed in the bullpen, even after successful performances during the 1st half of the season. The Reds thank them for their service as all 3 are traded for low level, high upside prospects. The pitching staff for the 2nd half competes with the elite starting pitching and bullpen staffs around MLB. Winker continued his 2nd half onslaught from 2015 and OPS’d .900 through the 1st half of the AAA season; his time is NOW! He takes his rightful place in LF at GABP. Peraza split his time between SS & CF for the Bats and OPS’d .750 with a .350 OBP. He is summoned to take over CF at GABP for the 2nd half of 2016. Schebler, Duvall, Hamilton, De Jesus and Barnhart form a highly effective bench for the 2nd half run and the Reds begin a charge to the NLCD title topped off by not only a sweep of the Birdies and Cubbies in the final 2 series of the season, but a shut out in every game of final 2 series.


    Not only that, but Stephenson, Reed and Bailey are lined up to begin the Division Playoffs.

    • Patrick Jeter

      “…if not ‘walk’ away with the award…

      Well done!

  7. TR

    I think the Reds will improve their win total by ten games to finish at 74-88 in 4th. place, and be ready to compete in 2017.

  8. Chuck Schick

    Whether they win 52,62,72 or 82 is irrelevant. Hopefully, they continue to have the courage to place development and the future above the present.