For the first decade of the 21st Century, the Cincinnati Reds were not a successful baseball team. They played no postseason games; they won zero division titles; and they finished above .500 only once.
In half of those years, however, they began the season in a manner similar to the 2017 Reds, winning more games than they lost and inspiring cautious optimism among a historically jaded fan base. (Even from three time zones away, I was just as cynical as anyone, as whenever the Dodgers announced their home schedule for the year, I always hoped for the Reds to visit early in the season before the team inevitably crashed and burned.)
Cincinnati’s unexpected hot start this year made me curious to look back at the early but short-lived success ofÃ‚Â other recent Reds teams. While the below won’t make you feel any more bullish about their prospects for the rest of the season, perhaps it will help to better prepare you for how things might play out.
Behind new manager Bob Boone, the Reds began the season by going 14-10 in April and were tied for first after a May 1 victory over the Dodgers. The rest of that month was a wash, though, as the team won just six of its next 31 games. The Reds went on to finish the year 30 games under .500.
Boone’s Reds got off to an even better start the following season by going 16-9 (.640) in April, a month in which Danny Graves racked up 10 saves. After a May 18 victory, the team held a five-game lead in the NL Central and was still tied for first as of July 1. From there, however, the Reds played 12-under ball for the remainder of the season and ended up in third place with a final record of 78-84.
In Dave Miley’s first season as manager, the Reds over-performed in April and May, beginning June with a record of 30-21 and a 2.5-game lead in the NL Central. Just 10 days later, they’d find themselves looking up in the standings for the rest of the season. Their record in the second half was a dreadful 29-45 (.392), and they wrapped up the year 10 games under .500.
Jerry Narron took over for Miley halfway through the 2005 season and won exactly half of his first 92 games as manager. The following year, the Reds stormed out of the gates by winning 17 of 25. While they played sub-.500 ball for the remainder of the season, they were still tied for first after an Aug. 24 victory, at which point they held a record of 67-61. The team then imploded over the final six weeks, losing 21 of its final 34 games en route to finishing third with a record of 80-82.
In Dusty Baker’s second year as skipper, the Reds experienced modest early-season success and were tied for first with a record of 20-14 following a May 13 win. Over the course of the rest of the year, however, the team lost 12 more games than they won, finishing the campaign with a record of 78-84. It could have been worse, though, as a pitiful July in which they lost 19 of 27 was offset by a terrific September in which they went 18-9 and showcased their potential in the season to come.
After a May 17 victory, the Reds were eight games above .500 and held a 1.5-game division lead. The following day, they began a six-game losing streak, their first steps on a march toward a disappointing final record of 79-83.
After a fair April, the Reds went 19-8 (.704) in May and were 13 over as of June 1. For the rest of the season, however, they were simply OK, playing slightly-above-.500 ball before stumbling into the postseason on a five-game losing streak that helped to seal Baker’s fate.
At the end of the first half of Bryan Price’s first season as manager, the Reds enjoyed a record of 51-44, largely on the extent of a strong June in which they won 18 of 28. The wheels came off in a major way in the second half, though, as the team won just 25 of 67 after the break to finish the year 10 games below .500.
It’s the smallest of sample sizes, but still, the Reds won their first four games of the season, including two in dramatic walk-off fashion. They then proceeded to lose 38 more games than they’d win, nearly eclipsing 100 losses for only the second time ever. The second half was particularly ignominious, as the team went 25-51 (.329).
It remains to be seen whether the Reds’ surprising 7-2 start will mark the high point of the 2017 season, but if recent history is any guide, it’s probably wise to buckle up and prepare for a bumpy ride.
If the 2017 Reds can finish at .500, I’d call phase 2 of the rebuild a success (get the young players playing time, at-bats and learn which players can really contribute to a winning ball club). Phase 3 is the development of young pitching (which can be also be part of phase 2).
The reason I feel more optimistic than in years past is based on arms. Currently, the Reds have an abundance of good young arms in the system. I have not studied the quantity or quality of arms in the seasons mentioned, but if we have reason to be optimistic, I’d say it’s due to the strategy of investing in young arms.
Plenty to like regarding Mr. Williams strategy – and if we can play .500 ball over the course of an entire season, I like our chances to compete in 2018 and beyond.
I agree. I see this team as a .500’team. Then next year maybe they are contenders again.
I think there’s definitely more reason to be more optimistic nowadays than in most of the “hot start” seasons mentioned above, when there didn’t seem any sort of long-term strategy (or at least, none that I could see). Ultimately, though, this year’s record doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as next year’s.
Thanks for doing this research. I’m waiting for the wheels to come off completely this season. Does anyone have any thoughts or explanations as to why this is a recurring issue with the Redlegs?
I’m guessing the Reds aren’t the only team who often fade as the season progresses, but I’ll let someone else investigate that!
While I admit it’s not entirely fair to compare certain eras against others, I think it’s safe to say that more often than not, there hasn’t been sufficient depth to fill voids created by injuries, nor has the front office made the necessary moves if true contention was indeed the goal. Even if the wheels come off this year, though (and considering the state of the rotation, they well might), there seems to be more of a long-term plan now than in the recent past, when the approach to building a roster seemed more akin to spit and duct tape (plus a former Cardinal or two).
Spit and duct tape,and a former Cardinal or two. But mostly a former Cardinal or two. Thank pointed ears and pitch forks the practice of Jocketty and getting former Cardinals is over.I would guess it was starting pitching. Those teams in the 2002 – 2006 period had some good hitters and offensive players, but the pitching stunk at times. Offense will only carry you so far, and the losing streaks were probably bad pitching combined with hitting slumps.
In recent years- does the Reds winning coincide with Hamilton get on base? Just from thinking about Hamilton’s hot stretches- seems like there is a connection.
I thought he was borderline All-star in 2014 by break and they had a great run after he got off to a poor start.
That sounds like an interesting research project for a rainy day! It seems that his teammates think so, however, for after his recent walk-off single, he said he was told something along the lines of “When you go, we go.”
Would that be as simple as looking at his performance in wins vs losses? or is there more to it?
Just saw your article. Very interesting read — and hats off (no pun intended) for working so quickly!
I think August and September are going to be pretty rough in terms of W/L as our pitching tires out/hits innings limits and more rookies are mixed in as the roster expands, but I’m really enjoying this team. It’s been said before, but the difference is that this is young & upcoming talent they’re trying out, rather than re-treads who don’t have a long term future with the team. I get excited to see the young guys and have much more patience when they fail, rather than trying to get excited about Jim Edmonds in the outfield. (That’s a bad memory. Ownership should sign Luis Robert just as penance for that one.)
I think there’s a good chance of that pitching wall coming sooner than August/September, but it depends on how soon Bailey, Finnegan and Disco return. Regardless of the cause, I think stretching out Reed is a good thing, and I wish they’d consider any/all options so they’re a bit better prepared next year if the injury bug strikes yet again.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m having a blast watching this team over-perform and hope it keeps up for the next five months. Baseball’s a marathon, though. I think as long as we don’t expect anything unrealistic this year (especially considering the state of the starting rotation) and treat each win as gravy, the journey will continue to be fun.
I haven’t looked back at early signs of past rebuilding teams turning the corner, but it might well be a good omen and a possible turn-the-corner moment that the Reds didn’t throw in the towel and battled back to (and then above) .500.