Opinion: Looking towards baseball to predict Bengals’ future

By: Brent Raines ~Sports Editor~

In the week leading up to the Cincinnati Bengals playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I came across an interesting column from a Cincinnati-bred Boston sportswriter.

The gist of the op-ed was that the Bengals/Steelers rivalry was similar to where the Red Sox/ Yankees stood more than a decade ago, with the Steelers filling the Yankees’ role of the dominate, championship-winning team in the rivalry. He argued that it felt like the Bengals would have to go through the Steelers if they were ever to achieve their goals, much like the Red Sox did by beating the Yankees en route to their 2004 World Series title.

We saw how that turned out on Saturday, where the Bengals continued their humiliating ways with one of the most epic “Bungles” of all time. Blowing an impressive comeback led by backup quarterback A.J. McCarron and star receiver A.J. Green with a fumble and a pair of inexcusable personal fouls by linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones, the Bengals continued the longest postseason drought in the NFL with the 18-16 loss.

So, where do the Bengals go from here? I mentioned Boston earlier because that Red Sox/ Yankees analogy still fits the Bengals narrative, albeit possibly a year earlier in the narrative than our friendly Boston writer thought.

Entering the 2003 MLB playoffs, the Red Sox had not won a World Series title since 1918 while the Yankees had won 26 in the time frame, easily the best in baseball.

In the deciding Game 7 of the ALCS, the Red Sox held a threerun lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning before manager Grady Little made a series-changing “Bungle” and left ace pitcher Pedro Martinez on the mound entering the inning. Martinez, pitching on short rest and known to have diminished effectiveness once he had thrown his 100th pitch, gave up four straight hits allowing the Yankees to tie the game, all while effective relievers stood ready in the bullpen.

The Yankees won on a walkoff home run by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning. If we choose to embrace the narrative set forth by this Boston writer, then the Bengals ought to set up for an epic 2016 season and beyond.

The 2004 Red Sox pulled in the team’s first title in 86 years, including winning four straight games in the ALCS to knock off the Yankees in seven games. Since then, the Red Sox have become a winning franchise with three World Series titles in the last 11 seasons. The once-dominate Yankees have one.

On a sour note, the Bengals could look locally for an epic collapse that did not lead to brighter days. Much like this year’s Bengals, the 2012 Reds were considered to be arguably the best and most complete team in the league and, like the Bengals, had not won a playoff series in more than 20 years. They seemed set to accomplish that by winning the first two games in the best-of-five game NLDS matchup against the Giants. Needing to win only one of three home games to advance, the Reds “Bungled” and lost all three.

Three seasons later and the Reds are one of the worst teams in MLB. Moving forward, it seems like the Bengals will follow one of the paths put forward by the Red Sox and the Reds. Like both of those baseball teams, most of the Bengals team that fell short in the playoffs ought to return for another go-around. Both entered the next season enveloped in storylines about their playoff failures, as the Bengals will in 2016.

Either they rise from their embarrassment like the Red Sox did or are never able to recover after failing in a season that was set up to be a success, like the Redlegs did. Folks in Cincinnati certainly hope for the latter and that our Boston friend is onto something.