Opening Day of the 2023 baseball season is upon us, and apathy reigns in Cincinnati. After posting the lowest attendance figure in Great American Ball Park history one year ago, the Reds have had trouble selling out this year’s season opener, once the hottest ticket in town. (Update March 29, 11:30 a.m.: Opening Day tickets are now sold out.)
Reasons for apathy among the fan base are evident to everyone who hasn’t been asleep for a quarter-century. The Reds lost 100 games last year for only the second time in franchise history, and they followed it up with an off-season in which management did little to improve the club. Ownership slashed the payroll another $25 million. Rinse, repeat.
So, no, I can’t blame any Reds fan for being apathetic. After all, I’m in year four of my personal Castellini boycott. The Reds have not won a playoff series since 1995, and that streak isn’t likely to end soon. If the lost generation of Reds fans aren’t quite ready to hop aboard the bandwagon, it’s completely reasonable.
On the other hand, I am deep in the throes of my annual bout of spring fever. I’m genuinely excited about the upcoming Reds season! To be certain, I don’t expect the Reds to be very good—though 80-plus wins isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility. But this year’s team will be markedly more interesting than last year’s club, and there are plenty of great reasons for you to head down to the old ball yard or tune in (presuming the games will actually be televised).
Let me begin with a guarantee: The Cincinnati Reds will not lose 100 games this season! I don’t expect this declaration to be featured on any club promotional materials, but I do think this year’s team will be “good enough” to avoid the dreaded century mark. After all, literally everything had to go wrong for the 2022 Reds to descend to those depths. Cincinnati experienced a historically bad start (3-22) that was exacerbated by a flukish number of injuries to key players. The club used a team-record 66 players over the course of the season, mostly also-rans and never-wases, and they still barely reached the 100-loss total.
Everything can’t go wrong for a second consecutive year, right? The computer projections seem to agree with me, for what that’s worth. FanGraphs sees the Reds going 69-93, while Baseball Prospectus projects a 70-92 record. The “experts” at USA Today are more negative, placing the Reds at 64-98, while Vegas has the Reds over/under for wins at 65.5. Sure, they all predict that Cincinnati will finish in last place, but no one is projecting 100-plus losses!
In all seriousness, I can’t wait to watch this year’s Reds start playing real games rather than the fake Arizona version of recent weeks. The single biggest reason for that is the brilliant young pitching trio of Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft. Over at The Athletic, Eno Sarris called Cincinnati’s group of boyish hurlers “the best young big three in 15 years” and added this:
“But another fun aspect of this trio is how they’ve come up together, and they’re so young. They have the chance to be the best trio of starters on one team that young and that good in a long time.”
Those guys aren’t the only kids expected to play a prominent role. You already know Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson, but they’re still young (both are 26) and, now that they’re healthy, claim to be on a mission. Spencer Steer, who came over from Minnesota in last year’s Tyler Mahle trade, has a great bat and seems destined to get the lion’s share of playing time at third base. And I’ve already told you how irrationally excited I am about CF Will Benson, a former first-round pick who will be on a big league Opening Day roster for the first time.
Then there are the other kids. Top prospect Elly De La Cruz, as expected, didn’t make the Opening Day roster, but there remains the tantalizing possibility that he will make his major league debut at some point this season. The same goes for Noelvi Marte, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Matt McLain, and Brandon Williamson, among others. Cincinnati’s future will become the present very soon, and I’m looking forward to it.
Ultimately, however, the main reason I am anxiously anticipating the season is because it just may be our final ride with Joey Votto. He announced this week that he would not be ready for Opening Day, the first time in 15 years that Votto hasn’t been able to meet the opening bell. But the all-time Reds legend has been clear that he expects to perform well when he does return to the lineup. “I mean this, seriously, I think I’m going to play well,” Votto said recently. “I think I’m going to perform well offensively. If not, I’m going to retire. End of story.”
I don’t want to consider the possibility that Votto might retire, but I do intend to savor every opportunity to watch him play this year. Just in case.
Let’s be clear: The Reds aren’t a great baseball team at the moment. There will be some ugly days. The fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation are suspect at best, and the bullpen, despite a fun young closer in Alexis Diaz, looks to be a disaster waiting to happen. There are question marks up and down the lineup.
But perhaps the team is on the verge of turning a corner from uncertainty and mismanagement to something that is, at the very least, interesting. “I’m excited about changing the narrative of our team,” Votto said before the team’s first workout at GABP this week. “It has to happen quickly. People have to start saying the Reds are a real handful of a team.”
Have we reached the inflection point? Only time will tell. In the meantime, buckle up. Another baseball season has arrived, and we have six months of the Reds ahead of us. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing or not.
Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.