We all had our fun with the Cincinnati Reds when they were threatening the Cleveland Spiders as the worst team in baseball history, and how could we resist? They were 3-22, their run differential was minus-237,661, and they had already lost 11 in a row and then nine in a row. They were perfect for our gentle and encouraging musings.
Well, we all suspected how this would end, and now it has. The team that was power-drilling toward the earth’s core has now pulled out of their dive and has won 11 of their last 19. They are now 14-30, which still reeks of failure and liniment smoothies, but that is only a game behind Washington, a game and a half behind Detroit, and two games behind Kansas City. By the end of the weekend they could be not even the worst team this year, let alone the worst team in history. The Spiders are clearly a thing of the past.
Cincinnati’s latest improbability was Thursday’s 20-5 win over the merely crummy Chicago Cubs, and for a team that had lost by two touchdowns three weeks earlier to win by two touchdowns requires, well, at least the energy to be baffled. Six Reds drove in multiple runs off a conga line of Cubs pitchers, but the most interesting thing might have been the fact that they fell behind 3-0 after an inning and a half, a pretty reliable signal that they’d be losing this day as well.
But those were the old Castellinii, and these are the new ones. They scored twice in the second, eight times in the third on the traditional walk-single-double-walk-mound visit-single-pitching-change-sacrifice-bunt-single-intentional-walk-single-triple-single-caught-stealing-ground-out inning. Then they scored 10 more in the fifth through eighth innings to make sure the Cubs knew who the new boss in the division is.
To be sure, that would be a lie, because the Reds would have to win 11 of 19 seven more times to just reach .500, and we feel relatively confident that either Milwaukee or St. Louis will win more times than that and that most of the NL West will avoid losing half their games. There is not likely to be a playoff run in the Reds, but they are at least scoring a league-average number of runs and since bottoming out have a run differential of plus-29. Pinocchio is starting to look like a real boy here.
Which, in the nether regions of the NL Central, is not particularly impressive. The Cubs, as we have observed, stink, and the Pirates are only a half-game up on stink. But third place can still become a story of glory and redemption in baseball’s flattest flatlands, a team on the rebound after its owner’s failson gave the town his rallying cry, “Go Pound Salt, You Miserable Rustics.”
In all likelihood this will end in mediocrity because if baseball stands for anything, it stands for universal and perpetual regression to the mean. It’s hard to be the Yankees, and harder still to be the Spiders. Hell, the Spiders weren’t even the Spiders the year after they went 20-134. The Reds will be just another team you stopped paying attention to once they stopped losing 88 percent of their games. But in Cincinnati, hope springs internal if not necessarily eternal. They could be looking down on someone else’s fan base as soon as Sunday morning. And when they do, we’ll unleash the hounds on the new worst team in baseball because, well, that’s what you animals pay for, isn’t it?