Earlier this week, the Detroit Tigers visited Great American Ball Park for some scrimmage games. For the first time this year, the Reds bounded out of the home dugout and jogged to their positions. There were familiar faces on the infield corners: Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez. Nick Senzel ran to center field, eager to start his second season. Newcomers were sprinkled around the diamond: Shogo Akiyama in left, Nick Castellanos in right, Mike Moustakas at second base. Nick Lodolo, last year’s first round draft pick, toed the rubber and delivered a 94-mph strike to Tigers shortstop Niko Goodrum. As the pitch popped into Tucker Barnhart’s mitt, for the first time in months, things felt right.
Sure, it was just an exhibition contest, and the announced attendance for the game was precisely “zero.” But it was a brief moment of “normal” in a year that’s been anything but.
Opening Day is finally upon us, the start of a 60-game sprint unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And when the smoke clears at the end of this season, your Cincinnati Reds are going to be champions of the National League Central division, Sugar Bear. That’s my iron-clad, money-back guarantee to you, Dear Reader. Even better, you don’t have to take my word for it. The computers agree!
Baseball Prospectus publishes their Pecota Standings, a projection for the remainder of the season. (It’s math, don’t ask me to explain it.) Those number-crunchers say the Reds are going to finish 33-27, ahead of Chicago in the Central. Even better, Cincinnati’s playoff percentage (64.5%) far outpaces any other team in the division. (Chicago is next best at 46%.)
The geeks over at FanGraphs (I love nothing more than baseball geeks, by the way) aren’t quite as optimistic, but it’s close. They say the Cubs will win 32.0 games and the Reds will win 31.4 games. Now I really hope that I’m near a television when the Reds manage to win four-tenths of a game, but that’s beside the point. FanGraphs’ playoff odds say that the Reds, Cubs, and Brewers have roughly equal chances to make the post-season.
But enough computer talk. Lots of humans actually agree that my ridiculous optimism for the 2020 Reds is warranted. Check out the “experts” at CBS Sports: four of the six pick the Reds to win the division. One, my good friend Dayn Perry, predicts that the Cincinnati Reds will actual win the National League pennant and advance to the World Series. Yes, you read that correctly. This is actual proof that I’m not the only delusional person who thinks the Reds have a real chance to win a title this year.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi won’t quite go that far, but he’s pretty unequivocal in his praise of the Reds: “The Reds have one of the top two rotations in the entire sport. I believe they’re going to win the National League Central this year. Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer all together in the same rotation for a full season. Castellanos, Moustakas joining the lineup. Saurez and Votto already there. I love the Cincinnati Reds here in 2020. I look for the Cardinals to finish in second and claim a wild card.”
In the inimitable words of those old late night infomercials: But wait! There’s more!
Can we talk about the Vegas oddsmakers for a moment? Those sportsbooks don’t mess around, and they’re usually on the nose when it comes to odds. After all, they aren’t in the business to lose money. And both Caesars and the MGM have Cincinnati as the odds-on favorites to win the NL Central.
OK, both sportsbooks actually give the Cubs and Cardinals the same odds to win the division as the Reds. But according to this, only seven teams in baseball have better odds of actually winning the World Series. None of the others reside in Cincinnati’s division.
It’s clear that the computers, the experts, and the money guys all say the Reds should be really good this season. But there’s another reason why I’m optimistic: Every time baseball has a shortened season, the Reds rise to the top. Seriously, hear me out. Check out the last seven times baseball has been interrupted or forced to play a shortened season. (Sure, these were because of strikes or lockouts, but stick with me here.)
1995: A players’ strike limited the season to 144 games, but the Reds won the division and advanced to the National League Championship Series.
1994: The strike ended the season in early August and forced the cancellation of the World Series. But the Reds finished in first place when play stopped.
1990: Owners locked out the players, forcing cancellation of part of spring training, and Opening Day was delayed by a week. The Reds won the World Series.
1981: A strike interrupted the season, beginning in June and finally ending in August. Cincinnati finished with the best record in all of baseball, but because of the funky first half/second half playoff system implemented that year, they didn’t actually make the playoffs.
1976: This is a bit of a stretch, since the regular season wasn’t affected. But the owners locked out the players during spring training as the sides fought over free agency. The Big Red Machine went on to win the second of their back-to-back World Series championships.
1973: Similar to 1976, free agency was the cause and the result was a spring training lockout, with no regular season games being affected. Cincinnati won the division that season before falling in the NLCS to the Mets.
1972: A 13-day players strike caused 86 big league games to be missed. The Reds won the NL pennant before falling in a thrilling seven-game World Series to the Oakland Athletics.
I will concede that prior shortened seasons have absolutely nothing to do with the 2020 Reds and their hopes for this 60-game campaign. But doesn’t it just seem like the stars are aligning for us, finally? Is it possible that Cincinnati sports fans are actually going to get some good luck this year for a change?
Not only is it possible, it’s a guarantee. You heard it here first.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.