Welcome to (the real) Opening Day – Cincinnati, Ohio


There isn’t a debate when the baseball season begins in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2015. It begins when the first pitch is thrown on Monday afternoon, at Great American Ball Park, by Johnny Cueto against the Pittsburgh Pirates. No offense to the games that proceed this one (including the one played for “Opening Night” at Wrigley Field featuring National League Central rivals in the Chicago Cubs hosting the St. Louis Cardinals), but they don’t (and won’t) hold a candle to what will happen in Cincinnati. St. Louis may even have the self-proclaimed “Best Fans in Baseball”, yet they still will not have a bigger Opening Day celebration than Cincinnati will.

(Credit: JD Rentz)

This isn’t a history of Opening Day traditions; that topic has been covered too many times before. This is a celebration of renewed hope in the Queen City that few other cities could ever hope to embrace. Expectations for the 2015 season happen to also be incredibly low, thanks to national “experts” who have deemed it to be so. Underestimating this team may be an honest assessment … or it could poise them for a position of “underdog” status that propels them to greatness. To this day, championships still have never been won on paper.

I won’t compare the 2015 Cincinnati Reds to any other team than themselves because doing so would be disingenuous. However, when it comes to predicting who will win a division, clinch a post-season bid, or even be successful in the playoffs is a speculative process at best. Until the games are played, the wins and losses are tallied, and the final standings are known, experts are no different than any of the rest of us Joes who support the teams we do. The core of this team, however, does have something very much in its favor – it made the playoffs three of the prior four years before last season, a season marred by injuries to many key contributors. That last point isn’t an end-all excuse, but it proved to be incredibly important in derailing the offensive production in 2014. That’s where this team has a great opportunity to be different.

Expectations come to mind as most relevant when they are exceeded, and the 1990 club was the marker by which any others in this franchise could possibly hope to be measured. Who was favored to win the NL West in 1990? Well, it wasn’t the Reds, who had finished a distant 17 games back of the division-winning Giants by the end of 1989 with an underwhelming 75-87 record. The consensus pick (by The Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Inside Sports, among others) was the San Diego Padres, who had been runner-up one year prior to those same Giants while finishing with an 89-73 record. Although we know how 1990 ended (with the Reds going wire-to-wire winning the division while starting their season on the road no less due to a work stoppage that delayed the start), it was the Padres who would, ironically, finish in the same position of 75-87 and 5th place that the 1989 Reds had been. What was the consensus pick of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds? On average, third place at best, which placed them middle of the pack behind the Giants again but on par with or maybe slightly better than the Dodgers. There seemed to be a clear delineation that both the Astros and Braves would be at or near the bottom (which they did). More importantly, these were the days before Wild Card play existed – and the Reds weren’t considered a likely playoff team.

Mar 23, 2015; Surprise, AZ, USA (Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Are there reasons for optimism? Yes, every team starts with a 0-0 record as the season begins. Where that ledger ends in October is another story altogether. The success, if it is to be realized by the 2015 squad, hinges on health, contributions by major players, and unexpected contributions by the supporting cast. It’s a refrain that could be said by the vast majority of contending teams. The elements of luck, timing, and circumstance can matter just as much as talent and heart in the outcomes of so many games. This team doesn’t lack talent or a history of performance by individual contributors, but the proof remains multiple members (Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, among others, come to mind immediately) need to replicate seasons at least a season removed to make a lot of that magic happen. There are still many unknowns, most of which fall in what has been in a stable pitching corps, notably in the starting staff for much of the past few seasons. The 2012 season was simply remarkable when none of the core five (Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake) missed any time or a start. The 2015 season starts with two key contributors from 2014 (Latos and surprise SP Alfredo Simon) already traded to other teams, Homer Bailey starting on the DL, and new additions (notably journeyman Jason Marquis and young newcomer Anthony DeSclafani as well as Cuban pickup Raisel Iglesias) facing big question marks as to what can be expected.

There is plenty of reason for optimism in Cincinnati: Opening Day is here again.

Next: 2015 MLB Predictions: Blog Red Machine Edition