Updated: Apr 21
Through the first eighteen (will be nineteen after tonight) games of the 2023 MLB season, the Cincinnati Reds are sitting at 7 - 11. That’s a .389 winning percentage. If you extrapolate that out to an entire season, the Reds win 63 games in 2023, one more than last year. Sorry to break that to anyone who took the over on the Reds preseason win total (it was 65.5).
So basically, the Reds are performing about how the wider baseball-world expected. Maybe a little worse. But still – it’s only been eighteen games. If they manage to sweep the surprisingly frisky Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend (and remember, the Reds took two of three from the Pirates in the season-opening series), they’ll be back to .500. It’s not Panic Time. We know what that looks like. Nobody needs another reminder of 3 - 22…
But what happened on Monday was a tough pill to swallow. The Reds, coming off a fairly-impressive series split against the defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies, were greeted by the smallest crowd in the history of Great American Ballpark – 7,375. Ouch.
Ironically, the Reds won the game, defeating the scorching-hot Tampa Bay Rays 8 - 1 behind an absolutely remarkable effort by the Reds bullpen, who had to step in for six stellar innings after starter Hunter Greene left after being hit with a comebacker. Jonathan India drew a walk and scored a run as he continued to build on an All-Star-caliber resumé, T.J. Friedl knocked in four runs, and “The New Guy” Kevin Newman went 3 - 4 with a homerun. It was a complete team effort - against a deep and talented Rays team - and hardly anyone in Cincinnati noticed or cared.
I’ll be the first to admit: I haven’t been to a game this year. I could rattle off a list of excuses, but what’s the point? You’ve heard them. You’ve probably used a few of them.
And I totally understand the frustration with ownership. I, like everyone, was absolutely livid about the way ownership utterly hemorrhaged the roster of key players both before the season and at the trade deadline, and after the way Phil Castellini implied that we were all too chicken to start rooting for a different baseball team, completely annihilating the majority of the goodwill that they’d managed to squirrel away over the last seventeen years. Well, Phil might have been half-right: people didn’t start watching another team, but they sure stopped watching the Reds.
In some ways, this was probably inevitable. People are still pissed off about 3 - 22. They should be. But we should still try and go to see our team. The frustration about the Reds last year was unlike anything I’ve experienced in over twenty years of living in Cincinnati. Didn’t we make our point?
And before you commence with my stoning, just let me say this: no one likes rooting for the loser. I certainly don’t. But the 2023 Reds aren’t the 2022 Reds, and this baseball season has already been unlike any other. The rule changes have been fantastic, stolen bases and singles are back, and the game moves at a wonderfully quick pace. The entire baseball experience has been upgraded. And while the Reds might be sitting at a lousy .389 winning percentage, it’s still only been eighteen games. Sweep the Pirates and back to .500, remember?
I’m not asking anybody to shell out their savings for a Reds ticket. Times are tough, no doubt. But for all my life, Cincinnati has been a baseball town - don’t we want it to stay that way? I’m obviously 1,000,000% down for the Bengals right now, but the Reds have given us five World Series. Five beats Zero, even if multiple owners have been coasting on those for 33-years.
The bigger issue is this: ownership might be the problem, but let me tell ya, poor attendance is not going to fix that. If your hope is that some Elon-Musk type, mega-billionaire is going to swoop in, save the Reds from those mean-old Castellinis, and start throwing around $300 million like he’s Steve Cohen, then you need to stop inhaling. If anything, that mega-billionaire will buy the Reds and move them right the hell out of town. Who wants to buy a small-market team with a mid-level roster and record-low attendance anyway?
And let me repeat: I’m just as culpable as anyone. But now, I’m putting Reds Tickets on my To-Do list. It’s worth it to me, not because I love giving money to mediocre ownership, but because I love baseball in Cincinnati, and I want that to be a thing forever.
There’s more, though – this team is actually fun. Seriously! Greene is still working to harness his prodigious gifts, but he has moments where he’s absolutely untouchable, best pitcher in baseball kind of stuff. And Nick Lodolo was leading the MLB in strikeouts after his first two starts. India is back to doing India stuff after an injury-plagued 2022, Tyler Stephenson has been steady, and youngsters Spencer Steer and Jose Barrero continue to improve. The cupboard isn’t bare.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine that this team will be contending this year. As I publish this article, the Reds are 20-innings deep in a scoreless slump. But that’s okay. This team isn’t built to win in 2023. But they’re already gearing up for 2024 – and beyond. The ink is still drying on the six-year, $53 million contract the Reds handed Greene, locking up the 23-year-old for the foreseeable future. A new contract for Lodolo could be next. There’s actual excitement bubbling at Great American Ballpark. It's worth checking out.