Looking back at some other Reds teams, the 2010 National League Central champion Reds were 7-9 after 16 games and then lost their next two games. The 1972 team that advanced to the World Series also started 7-9 and was 8-13 after 21 games. That team, coincidentally, was two years removed from a playoff appearance (losing to the Orioles in the 1970 World Series) and one year from a disappointing 79-83 season. The 1961 World Series team started 6-10. Even the 1975 Reds, perhaps the greatest team in the history of baseball, were 8-8 after 16 games and had a losing record as late as May 16. Of course, there’s also the 1982 team that lost 101 games, which was 6-10 after 16 games, just one game worse than the current squad.
You can even look at 2011 — the Colorado Rockies were 12-4 after 16 games and finished 73-89. The Royals were 10-6 and ended up losing 85 more games. Even the Indians finished under .500 after starting 12-4. After 16 games in 2011, the World Champion Cardinals were 8-8, a game behind the Reds. And then there’s the Red Sox and Rays — both teams lost their first six games. While the Rays rallied to get to 7-9, the Red Sox were 5-11. Boston rebounded to lead the AL Central, the game’s best division, on Sept. 1 before collapsing down the stretch. Sure, if they would have started better, it wouldn’t have come down to the last day — but you could say the same for the Rays.
Does this all mean the Reds are going to make the playoffs? Of course not.
That’d be silly. But it does mean that they haven’t been eliminated from contention.
So far this season, the Reds’ bats have been more or less silent — the team has 53 runs, and only the Phillies and Pirates have fewer in the National League. Joey Votto has just one home run and Jay Bruce has a .262 on-base percentage. This won’t last long. Talk to anyone about baseball statistics and the phrase “small sample size” will be brought up — 16 games is a small sample size. You can count on the fact Votto will have more than the 10 homers he’s on pace to finish the season with, and you can be sure Bruce’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) will be a lot closer (if not better) than his career .801 mark than the .695 at the one-tenth mark of the season.
And then there’s the pitching. Johnny Cueto is more-or-less where he was last season, and while Bronson Arroyo probably won’t finish the season with a 2.91 ERA, Homer Bailey’s 3.86 could be sustainable. And then there’s Mat Latos.
The centerpiece of the Reds’ biggest trade in recent years has given up 14 runs in just 15 1/3 innings over three starts, giving him an 0-2 record and an 8.22 ERA. What’s interesting is those numbers fit in with his career trend. So far in his young career, he’s 1-8 with a 6.28 ERA in the first month of the season. The good news is that May is historically his best month, going 7-3 with a 2.41 ERA over 12 career May starts. Again, it’s a small sample size, but it’s still worth noting that he doesn’t have an ERA north of 4.00 in any month other than the first in his career. Latos might not be Cy Young yet, but he will be better — and hopefully people will stop trolling his wife on Twitter when he starts and she can get back to Tweeting about the important things, like tattoos and snakes.
This team isn’t perfect and the 2012 season could still become a disaster, but we have several glorious months of baseball on the Ohio River to figure that out. Trying to figure out what’s going to happen over the course of the season because of the results of the first 16 games is pure folly — there’s a reason there are three strikes in an out, three outs in an inning, nine innings in a game and 162 games in a season. One event can mean everything in baseball and one event can mean nothing — what the first 16 games mean in 2012 need perspective, something that can’t be gleaned in 140 characters or in April.
CONTACT C. TRENT ROSECRANS: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or on Twitter @ctrent