If you’re even a casual fan of the Cincinnati Reds, you likely know that the Reds were swept by the Washington Nationals this weekend, in the opening series of the 2018 season. If you’re not a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, I’m not sure why you are reading this. Perhaps you’re a member of the ever-growing legion of my devoted fans—hi, Mom!—and you insist on reading every word I write, regardless of your interest in the subject matter. If that’s the case, welcome to the digital pages of Cincinnati Magazine. The pleasure is all yours, I’m sure.
However, if we make the reasonable assumption that you’re here because you’re interested in words about the local baseball nine, you’re probably a little unhappy about the performance of the Redlegs in the first three games. Or a lot unhappy, if the “measured” reaction of most Reds fans online is any indicator. I’m here to tell you to step back from that ledge, my friend. It’ll be okay, I promise. Let’s not overreact to one (admittedly bad) series of Reds baseball.
First of all, the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade just took place on Monday. So that means that Monday was Opening Day, right? Everything that happened before Monday was just spring training. The Reds are 1-0 and in first place! Isn’t that how this works?
No? Okay, let’s try this one: the Reds have only lost three actual regular season games since last September. This is an actual fact that can be confirmed with only a modicum of research. Three losses in six whole months: that’s not so bad!
You’re not buying that either? Then let’s get serious for a moment. There are a number of really good reasons why we shouldn’t overreact to an 0-3 record right at the start of the season. The first of those reasons is that the Nationals are a really good baseball team. They won 97 games last year (and 95 the year before), and Washington is widely expected to be among the strongest contenders for the National League pennant again in 2018.
I know I tried to make the case last week that the Reds are going to the playoffs—because they are—but even the most optimistic of Reds fans wouldn’t expect Cincinnati to be a better team than the Nationals this season. So, in the grand scheme of things, losing three in a row to a good team can happen to anyone. No reason to overreact.
Besides, did you notice who was pitching for the Nats? Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez; all three of those guys finished in the top six of National League Cy Young Award balloting last year, with Scherzer winning his third trophy. And even so, the Reds scored twelve runs in the last two games, the contests started by Strasburg and Gonzalez. (Sure, they were shut out on Opening Day, but the offense wasn’t the problem after that.)
In fact, after this weekend, I remain firmly convinced that the Reds offense is going to continue to be productive this season. Just the fact that manager Bryan Price twice in the first three games had Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez batting one-two in the order makes me optimistic. Those guys are going to get on base, and when they’re on base in front of Joey Votto on a regular basis, the Reds are going to score runs, period.
Even better, Cincinnati’s starting pitching was actually pretty good, all things considered. On Opening Day, Homer Bailey went six very strong innings, and only gave up a single run (and that run was due primarily to shoddy defense). Luis Castillo had command issues, causing him to leave a few balls over the plate, but his stuff looked just as good as it did last season—he struck out six, four of which came on filthy changeups, and walked just one—and Castillo did nothing at all to cause anyone to lose faith in his bright future. On Sunday, Sal Romano surrendered two runs in a 34-pitch first inning, but settled down to demonstrate the Romano we saw during the second half of last season, finishing with a quality start in six innings pitched.
And those are just the losses; Tyler Mahle was brilliant in game number four. After the historically bad performance of last year’s collection of starters, it’s refreshing to see pitchers with actual upside starting games for the ol’ Redlegs. (The bullpen…well, that was a disaster this weekend. But at least three relievers the Reds are going to be counting on are currently injured. That’s an area that will improve soon.)
No, losing three games to start the season is not good. I’m certainly not telling you that you should be happy about it. But I’m also here to tell you that it isn’t an omen, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Reds are going to be bad again this season. After all, it can happen to the best teams.
In fact, it happens all the time! Let’s just took at the three teams that won 100 or more games last season: the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Indians, who won 102 games in 2017, had two three-game losing streaks in the first two weeks of the season. They had at least one three-game losing streak (and one four-game streak) in each month until September. Seven times last year, Cleveland lost at least three games in a row.
The Indians didn’t lose the first three games of the season, but is there any functional difference in getting swept in April versus August? No, obviously. But there is so much anticipation for Opening Day and the new season that it feels different. It just seems worse, especially for fans of a team who have suffered through three consecutive 90-plus loss seasons. It feels like confirmation that we’re due for another rough year.
The Reds may be headed for bad times in 2018, but don’t draw that conclusion just because they lost three in a row to the Nats. Take last year’s World Series champions, the Houston Astros. The ‘Stros suffered through a three-game losing streak in the first week of the season, and had one losing streak of at least that many games in every single month. That includes a five-game losing streak in August, and a four-game streak in September. Somehow, they still won 101 games.
And then there’s the Los Angeles Dodgers, who went 104-58 in 2017, the league’s best record. The Dodgers had three-game losing streaks in each of the first three months of the season, and it only got worse after the All-Star break. In August, Los Angeles lost five in a row. In one stretch of September, they lost four in a row. In yet another September stretch, the Dodgers memorably lost eleven consecutive games. Yet somehow, it was a pretty good season.
I’m not saying the Reds are going to win 100 games this season. (OR AM I???) I’m just saying there’s little difference between losing the first three and losing three at any other time in the calendar. Even good teams lose three in a row, all the time, every single season.
After what you all have been through in recent years, it’s very understandable that this fan base might be frustrated. I get why you’re impatient. I’m getting sick of the losing too. A season-opening sweep certainly isn’t good, and you can’t sugarcoat that. But don’t take it as evidence that these are the same ol’ Cincinnati Reds. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
After all, this team is going to the playoffs, remember?
Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, and the founder of Redleg Nation. His first book, “The Big 50: The Men and Moments that made the Cincinnati Reds” is available now, in bookstores and online.