I’ve often dreamed about a Cincinnati Reds team that actually gets off to a fast start at the beginning of the season. I dream about it because it’s so rare.

All of us remember the 3-18 disaster that started the 2018 season. The only silver lining was that Bryan Price was out as Manager. Due to that atrocious start.

And after the most dismal spring training I can ever remember was finished two weeks ago, I feared the same thing in 2021. I wasn’t concerned that the Reds had the worst record of any team in both Arizona and Florida—that didn’t matter. But I was worried about the injuries, the inactivity, the lack of innings worked by some pitchers, and a general malaise that I thought stemmed from David Bell.

But after the First Inning of Hell against the Cardinals on Opening Day, the Reds have been incredible. An offensive explosion coming off the heels of one of the worst hitting teams in Cincinnati history and the embarrassing ineptitude of not being able to score a single run in their playoff loss to Atlanta.

Fast starts are not a panacea to win the division. The Reds started off 8-0 in 1980 in a winning streak keyed by Frank Pastore’s last-minute start on Opening Day in which he pitched a 3-hit shutout. But McNamara’s Band leveled off after that and eventually lost a close race to the Houston Astros.

After winning the National League Central in 2010, the Reds started off 5-0 in 2011, yet finished below the .500 mark (79-83) in an incredibly disappointing season.

Even the 1999 Reds started off slow; They lost their first three games and were a very pedestrian-like 6-10 after 16 games. A win over San Diego got them over the .500 mark for good at 22-21 and they finished 96-67. But that slow start cost them the division and instead forced them into a 1-game playoff against the Mets in which they lost.

But there were two seasons that stand out for me in which the Reds got off to hot starts which were key for them in winning one National League pennant and another that resulted in a World Series championship.

1970

In Sparky Anderson’s first season with the Reds, he did some bold things right after spring training.

He took a 19-year-old pitcher with little experience north with the team and Don Gullett proved he deserved it. Anderson used him out of the bullpen, picked his moments and Gullett got better and better as the season went on. He was one of the best Reds pitchers that year in the World Series.

Sparky also put Wayne Simpson on the roster and in the starting rotation. Simpson was 7-13 at Triple-A Indianapolis the year before but the Big Warrior dominated that winter in the Puerto Rican League, followed that up with an impressive spring in Tampa and was 14-3 for the Reds in 1970 before he blew out his shoulder.

Anderson platooned a pair of rookies in left field – Bernie Carbo and Hal McRae. Both were productive. Tony Perez had a blazing April, hitting 10 home runs. Jim Merritt won on Opening Day and the Reds were off and running.

After Simpson beat the Cardinals 12-5 on July 26—a game in which 1970 MVP Johnny Bench hit three home runs and knocked in seven runs off Steve Carlton—the Reds were 70-30. The NL West race was over.

Injuries to Merritt, Simpson, and Jim McGlothlin caught up with the Reds. They finished 32-30 after that blazing start. But they got to the World Series.

1990

Lou Piniella’s team raced to a 9-0 start to start off this season. That increased to 32-12 and their best record during that year was 58-32 before they cooled off. The Reds starting rotation was solid, Jack Armstrong started the All-Star Game for the National League and Cincinnati went wire-to-wire for the first time ever. (The 1970 Reds fell to second place one day in early April but that was it.)

But that fast start was enough to hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers and after defeating Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the Reds and the Nasty Boys swept the defending champion Oakland Athletics.

I don’t expect a dominant start like those two teams by the 2021 Reds. But neither do I want a start that wipes out of the race. My confidence in David Bell is still lacking.  I just haven’t been impressed. He talks a lot but says nothing.

I predicted a 76-86 record at the end of spring training. Bell was a factor in that. I was sold on Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson but wasn’t sure they would play that much.

But I love their attitude as personified by Nick Castellanos. Loved that moment against the Cardinals that resulted in a 2-game suspension (which was a farce). Loved the attitude, the defiance, the emotion.

It reminded me of 1999. A team that was aggressive with guys like Greg Vaughn and Sean Casey.

The Big Red Machine had that inner conceit, a quiet confidence. They just went out and beat the hell out of you and knew they would do it.

But that 1999 team – and maybe this one – had a swagger to it.

28 Responses

  1. SultanofSwaff

    The narrative with the Reds is always that they have a good clubhouse where everyone gets along. IMO the fans could care less so long as the team wins. Give me more of what we’re seeing so far this year. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, at least we’ll know it wasn’t for lack of caring.

  2. Steven Schoenbaechler

    Like Nick C has said, “Winning cures many things.”

  3. LDS

    Good article. Their success thus far seems to be of the “inspite of Bell” variety. I still find some of his decisions unfathomable. And his comments, as you noted, tend to be vacuous. Let’s hope he doesn’t derail what could be a good season. It’s been a pleasant surprise.

    • Jim t

      Bell has forgotten more baseball then you’ll ever know. Aren’t you the guy that was questioning why he started Tyler over AA against a RH pitcher and all he did was club to Hr’s and drive in 7 runs. Don’t quit your day job.

      • RojoBenjy

        “Bell has forgotten more baseball”

        I agree

      • LDS

        I am. And I admitted that was a bad call. Nonetheless, knowledge of baseball and being able to manage are two different skills. Bell may be a encyclopedia of baseball knowledge but he is not a manager. And objectively, we have years of evidence on that point.

      • Doc

        The difference is, when LDS makes a call and it doesn’t work out, nothing is lost and Bell doesn’t write a commentary pointing out the poor management decision. Can’t say the same for when Bell makes a call that doesn’t work out.

        The site is already shaping up that if the Reds do well it will be due to the players but if they do poorly it will be Bell’s fault.

      • LDS

        Doc, I admitted my bad call. Bell sets the line up. Nothing the players can do about the lineup and the various changes and switches. I don’t know how good this team really is. I do know Bell is no Baker, Piniella, and certainly no Sparky Anderson.

      • greenmtred

        Doc: I fear that you’re right. The same situation occurred when Dusty was the manager. Second-guessing is part of fandom, I guess.

      • J.M.B

        I agree Bell knows baseball. Better than a writer.
        Doesn’t make HIS opinions in HIS article wrong.
        Yet I too struggle to like David Bells Belichek impression of monotone and saying nothing.

  4. Scott C

    Confidence (or swagger) can carry a team to a lot of wins. The flip side of that is that it can be easily shaken by a slump or a few bad games. The West coast usually is a downer for past Reds teams, lets see how they carry that swagger through this first trip out West.

  5. Magnum 44

    I believe this is a fragile team. I believe a slow start might of caused the wheels to fall off derailing this season fairly quickly. They are not out of the woods yet though I am hoping for this west coast trip we play at least 500 ball, and I will go from hopefull for a fun season to believing that this is going to be a great season.

    • Rex

      Yes it is a bit fragile but it has a lot of upside. Yesterday’s day off felt like the longest day of my life. AZ and SF both look weak but stronger by far than PIT. We will soon know if it is real or not. We will see if Hoffman and Deleon can hold it together.

      Speaking of fragile did anyone feel the way I did after STL put up 6 runs in the first on opening day?…I know I was not alone in feeling here we go again.

    • Amarillo

      We have a good chance to (and probably should) sweep the Diamondbacks. Yesterday the DBacks started 0 players with above a .200 average and the highest average was Josh VanMeter. Ketel Marte was put on the DL. The Giants aren’t much better with a .660 team OPS. I think we have a real chance to win 2 series on this road trip, and a 3-3 record would be a bit disappointing.

      • Roger Garrett

        I agree but we must continue with the same kind of effort and I believe the Reds will do just that.The young guys bring so much energy and with Big Nick making such a statement against the Cards I am confident going forward.This team has talent and all I want to see is for them to play hard every day and play the game the right way.You can and will lose games because the other team just beats you but if the Reds play hard and for each other they will win their share.The telling sign will be how they bounce back from losses.They have had a losing culture for so long and now maybe just maybe they are starting to learn how to win.

  6. Fanman

    This team has a swagger that is exciting. Even mild mannered Suarez got fired up in brawl. Got some really good arms that will carry this team. Stephenson is going to prove to be one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Good article John. I remember Pete Rose saying that 1970 team was as good or better than any team he played on. Injuries to starting pitchers derailed the World Series title. Thanks for serving. My son is a firefighter/EMT.

  7. JB WV

    Thanks Doug. Brings up memories of the 1970 WS which turned into the Brooks Robinson show. That 1999 team was the best that never made the playoffs. They played so hard and never gave up. Milwaukee had a mediocre club but won 2 of 3 in the final regular season series to set up the loss to the Mets. That hurt.

  8. Klugo

    Check back after the West Coast trip. They’ve been notoriously bad when visiting west teams of late. I’m eager to see how they handle this one.

    • RojoBenjy

      If they keep to their line drive approach in SF, I’m hopeful they’ll see some balls roll around in the outfield and we’ll get some triples! I don’t think Arizona should present a challenge if the Reds are for real, so I agree we will indeed see

  9. Daytonnati

    I almost think Bell does better when he has fewer options. But we will probably have to sit through a few Amir meltdowns before he comes to the conclusion that most of us have that Sims is probably the answer.

  10. kevinz

    One game at a time.
    Fun and exciting.
    Need Pitching and defense to be steady.
    For when the regression hits the offense.
    Team Won 12 of 15 to make the Playoffs.
    Get was a short season though.
    That can still bring Confidence.
    Plus add in the Chip for how they Played vs ATL.
    Health is the Key.

  11. Indy Red Man

    Swagger can be a double edged sword. For instance, Castellanos hit the go ahead HR in that first Pirates game on a 3-2 pitch and that was the first strike he saw. When you’re hot you’re hot, but the Cardinals professional (robotic) approach works for them over 162. Bottom line is they probably have the best offensive team in the division, but they have to play with a higher baseball IQ then they’ve shown in recent years.

  12. David Avis

    Even though I’ve lived in San Francisco for 68 years I’ve been a Reds fan since 1971. Even the Big Red Machine had trouble with the Giants when they came to SF and I would hear about it from my Giants fans friends. But I do remember a 4 game sweep in May of 1972 that put the Reds over .500 after a 8-13 start. I went to a doubleheader in that sweep. I knew that Joe Morgan would make us great. This year we need Castillo and hopefully Gray to pitch like last year and to avoid so many 1 run losses. The jury is still out on David Bell. David A

  13. Roger Garrett

    Bell is just like every other manager in that he is at his best when he does nothing but write out the line up card and then just set back and watch the game.Bell has shown he has this uncanny ability to over manage at times.By that I mean he just falls in love with match ups and double switches and changing relievers until he finds the one that doesn’t have it that day.Point from Weds game was I assume he wanted Amir to get some work and I am ok with that but it proves nothing in an 11-0 game.If he gets them in order its what should have happened but if he doesn’t then questions abound surrounding Garrett which they did.Only bad could come from it and it did.Garrett wasn’t ready to pitch and everybody could see it and Johnson goes to the mound and then he goes 1 2 3 and the game is over.Bell could have used anybody to pitch the 9th including me,well almost anybody.The game was over so what is the worse thing that could happen other then an injury.Right your closer gets hammered.Now is this on Garrett? Maybe but it should never have happened.

    • Frankie Tomatoes

      Garrett pitched once in the previous week. It was the right call to get him some work. Just because it didn’t go well doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision.

      • Roger Garrett

        I said I was ok with it.Never said it was wrong or right just said he didn’t have to make it at all and that is what Bell does.Maybe other managers use their closer in a 11-0 game just to get them some work.