Can you believe that three years ago, THIS team was a 95 loss team? I mean can you believe it? When you think about all of the guys the Reds have on this roster, most of it homegrown, what were we thinking when we said we didn’t see all of this coming?
It’s April 5th, 2020, and the Reds are taking on the Chicago Cubs under the lights of Great American Ballpark on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Tomorrow will be Opening Day in all of baseball, but for one night, the Reds and Cubs will be the main attraction. After all, they’re the two teams that have everyone in baseball buzzing.
It was just last October that the Reds reached the playoffs for the first time since the rebuild, which started all the way back in 2014; a wildcard pairing with the Los Angeles Dodgers hailed victory, while a best-of-five series with the bitterly-rivaled Chicago Cubs sank the Reds in a heartbreaking Game 5 loss on the barely-recoginazble (after all of the renovation) Wrigley Field dirt and turf.
Not a single Cincinnati player or fan will forget Anthony Rizzo’s walk-off home run, when the Reds sent out their best bullpen weapon, Rasiel Iglesias, an All-Star closer, to the hill with 44 saves to his credit (looking highly poised for his 45th), only to leave in 5-4 defeat.
Even with the relative success of last year’s squad, the air is different around this year’s roster.
Many outlets have named the Reds their World Series pick; the “one-year-wiser” factor weighs heavy for a cluster of ESPN, MLB.com, and Bleacher Report pundits.
Fans are interested to see what third-year manager Barry Larkin will do with his club, considering they were finally the ones willing to make their first big splash in recent memory when, being the aggressors in a trade, GM Dick Williams acquired Andrew Benintendi from the now-rebuilding Boston Red Sox in exchange for considerable future talent.
Aside from Benintendi, the lineup looks relatively unchanged, including one the lone starting tenet from the 2013 playoff club, 36-year-old first baseman, two-time NL MVP, Joey Votto, who can still get on base like he’s fresh out a time chamber.
The outfield still features the same center fielder and speed champion Billy Hamilton. In left, a still promising, young Jesse Winker takes his third trip as a Reds regular, and the aforementioned Benintendi brings a five-tool presence to the hitter-friendly right field of GABP.
Around the infield, fans have grown familiar with Votto at first, Jose Peraza at second, and a newer fan-favorite in the young Nick Senzel at third, but are rightfully curious about a young shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez, who was given Larkin’s Opening Day nod over Eugenio Suarez, who had been a stalemate .255 hitter since the days of Bryan Price.
Trusting Larkin’s judgement on shortstops is a willing decision on the part of Reds fans, as it was Larkin who said that he sees a lot of himself in Rodriguez.
Rightfully, the fans aren’t particularly longing to see the position players on this chilly Sunday night in the stadium by the Ohio River; they’re excited to see their year-four ace, Amir Garrett, who his risen from his 2017 NL Rookie of the Year into a two-time all-star, including an impressive 2019 season, where Garrett finished fourth in Cy Young voting.
Garrett, who posted a 2.37 ERA, 232 K’s and an 18-6 record in 2019 will face the Chicago Cubs, who he’s owned since his rookie year; in his two playoff starts against the team, he gave up a single run in his 14.2 playoff-innings pitched.
Many fans have distanced themselves from the Reds of days past, as the product on the field now fills them with excitement as opposed to doubt; the hope of the city’s first championship since 1990 is a hot prospect. With Larkin in the dugout, the product seems attainable, or at least the new radio partner of Marty Brennaman, Sean Casey seems to think.
Who knows what this year will bring; it could let down, it could just prove another step towards future success/sustainability, or it could bring home Larkin’s second trophy as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
While Larkin still drapes his reserved-via-retirement #11 on his back, it’s his mind and wisdom, not talent and game, that will help position this season to go well or vice versa.
Is 2020 finally the year? Only time will tell.