October 1, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker (12) looks on before a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Where Do The Reds Stand?

A 97 win season.  A polarizing manager.  An injured superstar.

Those three phrases merely scratch the surface of the 2012 Reds.  After a tumultuous week, I know it took this Reds fan several days to digest and heal from what took place.  There were many layers.  First the immediate “we just witnessed an epic collapse” feeling, then the “life goes on” phase, and finally the “what happens next” wondering.

This Reds team was good.  Very good.  A few bad games won’t change that.  If you’re in a place where reading an unbiased, quite informative summary of what happened the last three games of the NLDS, and specifically, Game 5, is something that interests you, go here and check out Jeff Sullivan’s commentary.  He really does a great job putting everything in perspective.

Fans and media love to attach narratives to everything.  Behind every event there must be a story.  The Reds collapsed, the Giants have heart, Dusty can’t manage in the playoffs, the Reds will be back, etc etc.  These are the stories that stem from the need to make sense out of what happened to the Reds this year.  Maybe some of these themes will end up defining the next several years, maybe they won’t.  Would the Reds have lost three straight games with another manager at the helm?  Would the Reds have been in the playoffs with another manager at the helm?  These are questions to which we will never have answers.

What makes it all interesting is how it actually plays out.  The Reds resigned Baker for another two years.  His player first attitude and clubhouse management could lead to two division titles.  Or his handling of the lineup and pitching staff could cost the Reds more wins, potentially in October.

Just because one of these outcomes occurs doesn’t mean the other wasn’t just as likely.  I think we as fans are becoming more educated all the time, but I still find too many people falling victim to the idea that a season or even a series can turn on a single event.  Even last week, you can point to at least five moments where, had any one of them gone the other way, the Reds are probably still playing.

Personally, I would have been perfectly fine if the Reds decided to move on without Baker.  No, he wasn’t the only one to blame for the way the season ended, and no, we aren’t going to fire Brandon Phillips or Ryan Hanigan because they mishandled situations as well.  However, Baker’s mishandlings are different, because for the most part, he does them on purpose.

Brandon will acknowledge the fact that he shouldn’t have tried for third, and I can assure you no one felt worse about it than he did.  Baker’s in game moves aren’t by accident.  They are by design.  Meaning, they will likely continue to happen in this manner while he’s still chewing on his toothpick in our dugout.  The Reds are making a conscious choice that anything he did to hurt their chances of winning the NLDS is incidental.  The cost of keeping a manager who took you to 97 wins.

That said, I don’t think having Dusty as manager is a deal breaker.  Honestly, I became a Dusty fan this season.  I bought into the intangible effect he supposedly has on a clubhouse.

But what will really make Reds fans feel better is the notion that 2012 wasn’t their only chance.  That we’ll find ourselves here again the next year, and the next.  Pieces are in place, and ownership has indicated that they are willing to commit resources to putting a quality team on the field.  Having a few young stars and a solid pitching staff doesn’t guarantee you 90 wins.  Many things have to go right during a baseball season in order to find yourself still standing after 162 games.

The Reds have taken steps to ensure they have a good chance of being there again soon.  All we can do now is watch.  Well, that’s not true.  We can talk about it, and speculate, and criticize, and pull our hair out, and yell as loud as we possibly can.  And really, that sounds pretty great to me.

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