These Cincinnati Reds aren't holding back: 'We're going to win the division'

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When they’re not shattering teammates’ car windows in living batting practice, when they’re not practicing plays at home plate with stuffed hippos, they’re borrowing the celebrated phrases by one of their famed alumni.

“We comin."

The Cincinnati Reds, who don’t have a single everyday player born since the last time they won the World Series in 1990, with 29 years gone elapsed since their last postseason series victory, are going all Deion Sanders this season.

This is the year everything changes in Cincinnati.

“This is the year we’re going to be a playoff team" Jonathan India tells USA TODAY Sports. “We all know it. We just missed the playoffs by two games last year. We’re not going to miss it again.

“We’ve got more energy. We’ve more confidence. And a lot of us have a chip on our shoulder.

“We’re going to win the division this year."

Hey, why not? This is the youngest, most dynamic team in baseball. You can’t keep your eyes off Elly De La Cruz’s athleticism, Hunter Greene’s fastball, or the talent of Matt McLain and Spencer Steer.

They’re must-watch even in practice, with De La Cruz shattering Greene’s car window one day, playfully arguing who will pay. Meanwhile, third-base coach J.R. House is using a stuffed hippo for catchers to practice receiving throws and applying tags.

Cincinnati Reds infielders Josh Harrison and Jonathan India talk during fielding drills.
Cincinnati Reds infielders Josh Harrison and Jonathan India talk during fielding drills.

“We’re electric," India says. “We’re fast. We’re always on base. We steal bases. We create havoc. We’re got energy. We’re here to change the way of the game this year.

“We’ve got the best fans in baseball, and we’re going to get the division championship for the city."

This is a city steeped in glorious baseball tradition, going back to 1882, and it fell in love with the Reds all over again. They drew more than two million fans for the first time since 2015. They had 10 sellouts, their most in a decade. And ticket sales for this season are way up.

“It’s a baseball town, you’ve had generations of Reds’ fans," says Reds legend Eric Davis, who was on their 1990 World Series team. “They want to see some good exciting baseball, and that’s what we gave them last year. It’s a sea of red.

“Guys that have come up are sliding, running and diving all over the place, and high-fiving. That stuff is contagious. It’s electric."

Everyone in baseball took notice, with the Reds improving by 20 games last season with an 82-80 record, missing the playoffs by just two games.

“We could have been Arizona," India says after the Diamondbacks squeezed into the playoffs and reached the World Series. “I thought about that all winter."

Cincinnati: A baseball city

Veteran infielder Josh Harrison, who was born and raised in Cincinnati, went to the University of Cincinnati, and still lives here, thought about it all winter too.

This is where he always wanted to play, signing a minor-league contract at the age of 36, hoping he can wear a Reds uniform for the first time in his life.

“I know what baseball means to Cincinnati," says Harrison, one of two former All-Stars on the entire roster. “What it meant for the city to win the World Series. What the sport means to Cincinnati. And what it means when this team wins.

“The buzz around the city is insane, and it’s a testament to the way these guys go about their business. They get after it. You watch them on the bases. They got guys getting dirty. Got guys taking the extra bag. It’s the way we all grew up playing, and it’s refreshing to see that guys still have that hunger."

It’s also a confident team, believing in their hearts they can win the NL Central for the first time since 2012, scoffing at the idea that the Chicago Cubs should be the favorites after re-signing Cody Bellinger.

“I think we still beat them,” India told the Cincinnati Enquirer after the news. “He’s an unbelievable player. He’s an MVP. It definitely helps them.

“But it is what it is. It’s the same team from last year.”

The Reds, who spent $108 million in free agency, are counting on the lessons learned from last season to take them into October.

“It’s still a young team, I think it'll be that way for a while," Reds manager David Bell says, “but these young guys have a year under their belt now. They’ve also developed expectations.

“Guys are loose and having a good time, but there's a little bit of difference as far as the purpose or even seriousness in a good way.’’

Says Reds GM Nick Krall: “It's different this year. You still have the youthful energy, but it's youthful energy with purpose. This reminds me a lot like 2012 with the younger players coming up and gelling together."

Don’t think for a second that last year’s dramatic rise from dreadfulness to contention was a fluke.

The Reds’ prized trio of young pitchers Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft and Nick Lodolo missed a combined 15 months with injuries last season.

India missed two months of the second half with a strained hamstring and plantar fasciitis. Infielder Matt McLain, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting, was out the last month with an oblique strain.

Still, there they were, hanging in the wild-card race until the last weekend of the season.

“It definitely left a bad taste in our mouths," Bell says, “but although there was clear disappointment at the end thinking we were going to get in. But the silver lining is the hunger that’s there this year after being that close."

'Organization is flourishing'

They want to win now, and dominate in the future.

“This team is going to be really good for a long time,’’ India says. “This organization is flourishing."

And these Reds are embracing the pressure and expectations.

“You hear the outside noise," says McLain, will be the Reds' primary second baseman, “but it’s exciting to have expectations. We learned a lot last year. For me personally, the games got a little bigger towards the ends, and I was trying to do too much. It’s easy to get caught up in that."

The difference now is they know what to expect, have 10 legitimate starting candidates, and the surreal potential of Greene, Ashcraft and Lodolo.

“We know what we got in here, now it’s just a matter of doing it," Lodolo says. “We exceeded everyone’s expectations last year, but not our own. We know we belong. Now, we’ve just got to go out there and do it."

The Reds have the talent, the energy, the hunger, and perhaps now the poise to make it a summer they’ll never forget.

They were a highlight reel last summer.

This time, they want to make it a documentary.

“We all saw the noise they were making the noise last year," says veteran reliever Emilio Pagan, one of the first free agents to sign with a two-year, $16 million contract. “Most of the highlights on MLB Network were coming out of this group of players. The highlights were running non-stop. It’s like, ‘These guys are good.’

“Now, to be on a team that winning the division is more than just a goal but a real opportunity, is everything you could want. We got everything we need. All of the right pieces are there for us.

“Now, it’s up to us."

What more could you ask?

Follow Nightengale on X: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cincinnati Reds say they're 'going to win' the NL Central in 2024