CINCINNATI — If you look into the Great American Ball Park stands Friday night and see thousands and thousands of empty red chair backs, it is proof positive that fans realize the game is meaningless.
Why even play it? Mostly it is for rookies to stand up and say, “Hey, look at me. I can play. I can be center field.”
The Cincinnati Reds are playing the Pittsburgh Pirates and when the regular season ends players from both teams will scatter to their favorite golf clubs, their favorite fishing holes or their favorite hunting blinds.
Baseball will be over for them when the playoffs commence.
THE REDS ARE IN LAST place in the National League Central. The Pirates are next-to-last, five games ahead of the Reds.
So to manager Bryan Price and the Reds these last three games against the Pirates do mean something. If they sweep they pull within two games of the Pirates, a chance to climb out of last place.
Is that important? Some say if you don’t win the division or grab one of the two wild card slots what difference does it make if you finish second, third, fourth or last.
But who wants to finish last, especially when there is a solid chance that the Reds might finish last for the third straight year?
PRICE DEFINITELY WANTS TO shed that last place stigma.
“It is always a goal to finish higher than where you are,” said Price. “Selfishly I’d like to win every single game I manage.”
Only Terry Francona can do that with his Cleveland Indians. Have they lost this year?
“And there are different circumstances to two teams that aren’t going to the post-season,” said Price. “You have to marry your desire to win every game with the importance of seeing younger players play. That’s the balancing act we have to do.”
Even should the Reds sweep the Pirates, scrambling out of last place won’t be easy because Cincinnati’s last 12 games are against contending teams — St. Louis and Boston, three each in Cincinnati, then Milwaukee and Chicago, three each on the road.
THAT MEANS PRICE IS expected to put the best players he has available against teams trying to win their division or grab a wild card position.
“You put your personnel on the field and you do the best you can with the personnel that you have,” he said. “And that’s knowing we have all these young guys with us so we can see what adjustments they’ve made in Triple-A. So we will have some different starting pitchers between now and the end of the season.”
The position players are stable in the lineup, nearly the same every day, especially with Billy Hamilton expected back off the disabled list soon.
IT IS THAT LONG, LONG, long line of pitching prospects that Price has to balance behind Homer Bailey.
Luis Castillo was mesmerizingly good since his arrival from Class AA Pensacola, but he has reached his innings limit and is now a non-paying spectator.
That certainly doesn’t leave Price short of arms lined up with thoughts of leaving winte-long impressions for next season.
The list includes Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett, with Brandon Finnegan and Anthony DeSclafani on the disabled list.
AND THERE ARE GUYS residing right now in the bullpen with aspirations of cracking the rotation: Cody Reed, Jackson Stephens, Asher Wojciechowski, Tim Adleman, Rookie Davis and Michael Lorenzen.
“There will be some new faces in the rotation very soon,” Price promised. Reed, Stephens and Davis are the likely suspects. One spot will be vacated by Tyler Mahle, who is likely to be shut down because of his innings limit, just as they shut down Castillo.
AND ABOUT FACING contenders, Price said, “Yeah, we’ll do the best that we can. You never concede a game, never just say, ‘It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose and we’ll concede from the first pitch.’ You are going to try to win every game.
“We have our regular personnel but we still have an obligation to see our young players, yet we play to win,” Price added.
“We don’t want to make it easy for anybody to get into the postseason,” he said. “We have not been a team that people look forward to play. We haven’t won as many games as others but we represent ourselves as far as effort. We’re not an easy team to beat on a regular basis.”
The Reds have made it toughest on St. Louis, winning nine of 16 this year. They are 7-and-9 against Milwaukee and 6-and-10 against the Cubs.
By playing three games each against first place Chicago, second place Milwaukee and third place St. Louis, the Reds can say thumbs-up or thumbs-down to one or two of those teams.