Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Reds in SOCAL - Post 1

I am going to tell you about the Dodger Stadium and the experience.

Dodger Stadium was built in 1962 and it is surrounded (to the east/south/west) by a gigantic c-shaped parking lot.  The property is more parking than base paths.  And there is one entrance.  So if you are driving to the Stadium for the first time and following your Satellite Route machine, you are going to be upset once you turn onto Elysian Park.  Because now you a member of a miserable parking line.  And the rows of cars do not offer tailgating and joy like Miller Park – just controlled parking decisions and a possible post-game stabbing.

Sometimes, you have to dig up the tradition.  And that is the Short Stop, on Sunset -  Southwest of the stadium entrance.  The Short Stop is an old cop bar, and contains lockers where law enforcement would rest their pieces as they drank beers in the dark.  And it is dark old school Dodger bar.  The drinks are well poured and the juke box is filled with purpose.  But the best is ancillary.  The bar welcomes a tamale man that reminds you of the diverse LA you were told about.   Escape from the place brings on vampire shrieks from the sun.  Oh yeah, it’s July and 6:30.

It’s an uphill hike to Dodger Stadium. An in-between distance: a cab is ridiculous to take from the bar to the stadium.  But the walk is just enough to piss you off.  So you walk because you are from Ohio and get your ticket.  I am taking my buddy for his birthday and I can see in his eyes “I never watched season 6 of ‘House’” so the hustle is on to get him to his seat and entertained.  He needs to be occupied and lubricated.
Loge Level.  First base side.  Beautiful  seats, yet in the bottom of the 2nd I have to look at Miguel Cairo instead of Joey Votto.  I like Cairo.  But he does not replace the first Red MVP since Barry Larkin in 1995.  I can shake all that off with a Reds win.

Bottom of 4th inning.  You give LA 3 innings to fill their seats.  It’s the 4th and the jackals are out.  We are on the second (loge) level on the first base side.  Upgrades possible.  But the seats remain empty.  Meanwhile, the Reds are not hitting anything.  But you have to think if the Reds can just get 3-4 (the Dodgers have 2) they win the game.

Bottom of 5th inning – The Dodgers are up 2-0 thanks to manufacturing two in the 1st/2nd.  They will take an accident run or anything that increases their score.  They have to somehow make 2 runs stick because they are not going to score again.  And they know it. 
Jerry Hairston Jr. is a fine player.  He bats 3rd for the Dodgers.  That is a serious problem.

Top of 6th inning – The Reds get busy.  Phillips double.  Bruce single.  Frazier single.  The Reds are about to pop but then compile 2 outs.  The rally is dead.  But the Dodgers make the management folly of the day and offer the Reds catcher (Merasco) strikes with the pitcher on deck.  Merasco doubles and the Cincy crowd erupts with delight.  We can do this.  The Dodgers can’t score.  3-2 Reds.

And they don’t.  And the Reds add some insurance runs against HOT Todd Coffey (ex-Red).  Nothing I love more than a little rally against an ex-Red that ruined many barbeques.  But after his failure, I want to give Coffey a hug and whisper “I know”.  He is yanked and sent to a deep, freezing cave.

Reds win 8-2.  Votto on the bench.  Up one game on the annoying Pirates.  Cueto on the hill next.  The only thing to do is be an intelligent fan and drive to Stadium Way via Scott Ave.  Park on the street.  Only suckers and Dodger fans park in the sanctioned, crescent lot.  The informed walk a path through.  And on the subject of intelligence, if the Reds do the simple tasks, Cueto will win for you.  He is not going down twice in a row.  Maybe the West can be good for the Reds.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

2011 Reds Report

Just like you should never go to the grocery hungry, it’s not healthy to prognosticate a Reds season after a 9-5 start.  But I would like to think we have matured to big-boy baseball.  The Reds are going to have winning weeks and they are going to have losing weeks.  But they will have more of the former.  And we need to strap it on and get ready for the grind. 
The months of summer are going to be a battle but it feels like, for the first time, all signs point to October.  Not that the Reds deserve, or have some destiny.  It just seems like they belong there.  And we will belong there - this time.  And we all will be ready.  So let’s talk about the path.

Position Players (with 2010 stats)
Joey Votto (.324, 37 hr, 113 rbi, 91 bb, 16sb, .424 obp, .600 slg, 1.024 ops) Remember when you collected baseball cards and you would look at somebody like Don Mattingly and drool at his awesome statistics and wonder why the Reds couldn’t have guys like that?  Well, here you go.  Complete and total beast.  And besides the hitting, he gives you perfect defense and intelligent base running.  If we were picking nits, you could site durability and craziness as concerns but the guy has averaged 146 games the past 3 years. 
Brandon Phillips (.275, 18hr, 59rbi, 100r, 16 sb, .332 obp, .430 slg, .762 ops) Offensively, Phillips had a down year in 2010.  Then again, his numbers always piss me off.  16 steals?  That’s an atrocity for a man with his speed.  .332 obp?  Come on.  That’s what you get with Phillips.  He plays when he wants to play and he always tries to be the hero.  But in the end, he is right in the middle of big games when you need something.  And every contender has to have an asshole.  He’s that.  In a good way.  Highest paid position player at 11.5M/per.  You should know this.
Paul Janish (.260, 5hr, 25rbi, .338 obp, .385 slg, .723 ops) I will take these numbers from Janish every year until the end of time.  He’s one of those old-timey 1980 shortstops that flashes that sweet leather but doesn’t light up a baseball card.  Whatever.  Not everyone is Jeter. Well, young Jeter. Keep it coming Janish.  (HEY Phillips – Janish gets on base more than you.  Thought you should know.)
Scott Rolen (.285, 20 hr, 83 rbi, .358 obp, .497 slg, .855 ops) Rolen was fantastic last year and is central to the Reds shift to an intelligent, consistent ball club.  Unfortunately, Rolen died in mid-August and his corpse played the remainder of the season.  And his corpse stinks.  Now he’s a zombie.  Now I like zombies, but they make me nervous in the hot corner.  We’ll see.  Dusty is going to have to handle with care and feed him human flesh as needed.
Jonny Gomes (.267, 20hr, 51 rbi, 85K, .338 obp, .541 slg, .879 ops) I guess every MLB team has to have that “wacky” guy that plays by his own rules.  Fine Jonny, you get the trophy.  That Mohawk is wild.  I was thinking that he had a career year in 2010 but his numbers are fairly stable.  He hits .260.  He hits 20 bombs.  And he will strike out 130 times.  And they come in bunches.  I guess that’s ok but when you watch him patrol left field it looks like he is wearing roller skates.  I should say, he has walked 15 times already this season – only 39 total last year.  Still, he’s expendable.
Drew Stubbs (.255, 22hr, 77 rbi, 30 sb, 168K, .329 obp, .444 slg, .773 ops) This guy was built in a Texas baseball lab.  6’ 4”, 200.  Perfect stance.  Perfect mechanics.  He’s a cyborg.  He’s also a strikeout machine, fanning 168 times.  That’s not what you want from you leadoff guy.  Or any guy, Adam Dunn.  And man does he seem hesitant on the base paths for a guy with Terminator 2 speed.   Almost terrified.  But for a player who hit in the 1 and 8 spot, his numbers are legit.  And he was superb in CF, never making a SportCenter play because he was settled under the ball when others would be diving.   I hate having a guy that Ks so much at the leadoff but the Reds have no better options.  Besides, the Reds haven’t had a real leadoff guy in years so who are we to get snooty?
Jay Bruce (.281, 25 hr, 70 rbi, 136 k, .353 obp, .493 slg .846 ops) He’s what you want from a right fielder.  Power.  Big arm.  And the Reds have paid him hefty (in Cincy money) to lock that position down.  And he comes to play.  I get upset because his swing is loopy and has some serious holes.  He looks overmatched sometimes.  A good pitcher throws him curve balls in, on the dirt, and he swings through them.  I don’t trust him in a big situation.  And for what the Reds are paying him, that doesn’t add up.
Ryan Hannigan/Ramon Hernandez (.300, 12 hr, 88 rbi – COMBINED STATS) This is how you employ a catching tandem.   If you don’t have Johnny Bench, you get a veteran South American who speaks Spanish that can handle the Cuetos/Volquezs/Chapmans (VERY underrated tactical move) and a scrapper that plays smart ball.  These guys hit in the clutch and manage the game.  I LOVE this crew.  They don’t get enough credit.

·         Chris Heisey – if Gomes goes on one of his funks, and we will, Heisey could be the starting LF by the break.  In fact, that would be a good thing.  Heisey is good.  And a Heisey/Stubbs/Bruce OF is the best defensively in baseball.
·         Miguel Cairo – This has to be a fake name.  I bet he always has trouble coming through customs.   1985 Mel Gibson slits this guy’s throat.  Oh, and he is a great backup to zombie Rolen.
·         Juan Francisco – He’s the free swinging youngster that is green but can hit the pill a long way, but makes mistakes and Ks a bunch I’m fine with that.
·         Edgar Renteria – why not.  MVP of a world series, on the cheap. 

Edison Volquez (4-3, WHIP 1.50, ERA 4.31) Just not a fan.  If this is the Reds ace, then October is going to be a problem.  Have you looked at this man?  Imagine a professional like Greg Maddux, slopping out to the field with a uniform too big, a VW chain hanging off his neck, woman hair, and a ball cap that rests on said hair by a miracle of science.  Maddux would KILL HIMSLELF before appearing in public in such a fashion.  That’s your boy.  Volquez is a nightmare.  All the man cares about is strike outs.  He nibbles, and nibbles, and puts the Reds in early holes.  I know his stuff is filthy but I don’t believe in his soul.  Unless this man has a complete adjustment (really, impossible), he will never be a number 1.
Bronson Arroyo (17-10, WHIP 1.15, 3.80) Get out of the way, I am about to gush.  Bronson Arroyo has been the singular professional of this organization since 2006.  72-60.   Not the sexiest record but the man comes to pitch every start, every AB.  He is at his best on the stage.  He’s the guy you want pitching  when the Reds have lost 4 in a row.  He will always deliver a skilled show.   Just an athletic man that makes up for not having a thunderbolt arm with guile and guts and intelligence.  The fact that the Reds got him for Wily Mo Pena makes that Volquez/Hamilton trade somewhat less nauseating.
Travis Wood (L) (5-4, WHIP 1.08, ERA 3.51) When I see Wood as the starter, I assume a victory.  He doesn’t deserve all of that, but I like the Reds chances when he is on the bump.  He gives us that.  Or at least he gives me that.  Wood throws strikes and he doesn’t screw around.  Attack the strike zone and if they hit you, so be it.  And he’s the first quality lefty the Reds have had since Tom Browning.  Look it up.
Johnny Cueto (12-7, WHIP 1.28, ERA 3.64) Oh, awesome, another puffy Dominican.  This always works out.  He can be great at times.  But he gets flustered, and will crumble on the mound.   It’s all about the strike zone with him.  If he can place on the edges, he can pitch a gem.  If teams are patient, trouble.
Homer Bailey (4-3, WHIP 1.37, ERA 4.46) He could be the key to the season.  He’s the only angular Reds arm that could become a bona fide power pitcher.  He throws downhill and is a guy you could see ripping of 7 2/3 innings in October. 
Mike Leake (8-4, WHIP 1.50, ERA 4.23) The darling of 2010.  He looks 14, he went to college, and he can swing the bat.  That’s a good recipe in Cincinnati.  He can’t throw over 90 but he understands the nuances of changing speeds and location.  However, if he is not getting the calls on the black, he does not have an “out” pitch and is subject to beatings. 
·         Same LeCure – He’ll probably be back in Louisville when Cueto/Bailey return but he has been the 2nd best starter in 2011.  This is a good problem – no one has stockpiled arms on the sneak like the Reds since David Koresh (borrowed joke).   I feel good when LeCure starts and he might be in AAA by May.  This is good.
·         Bill Bray (L) – His goatee makes him look like his evil twin in a bad soap opera.  Bray looks terrible in his uniform – dump and doughy city.  But his herky jerky motion plays well in relief efforts.  It looks like Dusty trusts him.
·         Aroldis Chapman (L) – I kind of like the Missile in the pen.  That means you can see him 4 times a week.  I watch him with matching levels of awe and fear.  His fastball is dead straight and he doesn’t seem to handle adversity.  But then he can throw 105 and snap an evil slider.  So, hang on. 
·         Francisco Cordero – I guess I am over the Coco hate. I have zero comfort-ability with him in a 1-run game and have grown to live with this taint.  We will remember the 6 games he blows and forget the 40 he saves.  And that’s how it is when you are a closer. 
·         Matt Maloney (L) – another guy that can make a spot start and you feel like the Reds could win.  Love me some depth!
·         Nick Masset – It can’t help a shaky pitcher when 3 of your teams first four losses are on you.   Apparently Masset has great “stuff”.  That’s not getting us those losses reversed.  If he can’t get it together the fact that the Reds let Sir Arthur Rhodes go will be a serious organizational blunder.
·         Logan Ondrusek – Every bullpen has to have either a big fat guy or a large physical oddity.  Enter LG.  He’s 6’ 8”, ugly, awkward.  Perfect.  And he can dial it up too.
·         Jordan Smith – Another Reds arm that has some action.  Remember the Weathers/Danny Herera years?  A bunch of soft-tossers “pitching to contact”?  Those years are ove
So I read Moneyball this offseason.  It’s all about how statistics and trends are proving that the industry standard methods of operating a baseball team are antiquated and incorrect.  Batting average and RBI are no longer the gold standard in statistics.  On-base percentage and slugging pct reign superior.  Wins for pitchers?  Grow up.  You need to know what their WHIP is.
That brings us to Dusty.  Opening day 2011.  The Brew Crew puts up 3 in the first inning.  Volquez was super shaky.  It was apparent that the Reds would need to score a high number of runs to win.  So in the bottom of the first, Drew Stubbs leads off with a double.  Brandon Phillips steps to the plate.  And Dusty has him bunt so Stubbs can advance to third. 

This is a tactically terrible decision.  Each team gets 27 outs.  There is no clock in baseball, making these opportunities the only commodity in baseball.  And having Phillips bunt is sacrificing a precious resource.  And for what?  Stubbs is already in scoring position!  Phillips is one of your best hitters!  And it is the first damn inning!  Why detonate a rally?  Why give a pitcher an out?
And that is the Duster.  He’s old school.  He manages by “the book”, by a hunch, and by seniority.  That means he will always choose a lefty v righty, regardless of statistics.  He will always wait to pitch the setup man until the 8th, and the closer will never see the bump until the 9th.  But then there is the rub.  I have NEVER seen the Cincinnati Reds play this hard, this clean, and this intelligent since 1990.  So something works.  So I guess can live with the stupid, terrible bunts.

The Reds are in good hands.  The Reds have finally shaken off the bad breath of Marge Schott and Jim Bowden.  The Reds have prospects.  The Reds develop within.  The Reds players that come up through the system play the game right.  These axioms were not true a few years ago.  The Castellinis want to win, and the GM Walt Jockety has the patience and guile to make it work.  And the resolve to not make the trigger move.   The Reds did NOT sign a hot free agent this winter.   That was intelligent. 
The offense hinges on two players:  Bruce and Stubbs.  All other players will either maintain (Votto, Phillips) or take expected declines (Rolen, Hernandez).  Bruce and Stubbs are the guys that need to raise.  Stubbs needs to be patient, get on base, and attack the pillows (2 of 3 are happening).  Bruce needs to become viable in big boy ABs.  Work in progress.
The Reds have a pitching staff that is going to force management to make hard decisions.  If LeCure is still humming, is he sent down when Cueto returns?   How much rope do we give Volquez?  Cueto?  Hell, nobody is safe.  Every pitcher is expendable.  There is a competitive zest with this staff that belies their pedigree.  The Reds will win on their depth and flexibility.

Somehow, track and field analogies fit perfect for baseball.  The Reds are built for the marathon, not the sprint.  The Reds have 7 viable starters, but no hammer.  Is there a Red pitcher that can throw a big-boy playoff game?  Are the Reds ready for big-boy baseball?
I think the Reds win another weak division, with 2 more wins.  93-69. And this time the Reds make it to the NLCS before falling to the wretched Phillies. 

Let’s go Reds.  We’ve been patient.  Win.  

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

2010 MLB Playoff Preview

I have no idea how to watch and follow a playoff baseball team. I grew up in Columbus, so my style as a fan, in all sports, was groomed by college football. Every game is a season changer. The wins are dizzying, the losses devastating. Heaven or horror. In football, you have a week between games to take fluids and balance dopamine levels. By Wednesday the outcome has settled in, the fury has burned off and reason takes back the controls. Saturday afternoons begin anew.

The luxury of time does not exist in baseball. 162 games and they just keep coming. (It’s absurd, really. We need 160+ games to figure out who the best 8 teams are?) There is no time to bathe in a comeback win or wallow in an extra-inning loss because tomorrow’s day game is in 14 hours. You have to hit the reset button every night.

I don’t handle this well. I have already written the Reds 2010 eulogy… in April. I have sent at least 30 “season over” texts and a handful of “I hate the Reds”. My dad and I have evaporated cell phone minutes with conversations on how the ball club has “ruined everything”. On other days, the Reds are the greatest modern professional sporting outfit in the history of the galaxy. I make World Series hotel plans in New York, Texas, Tamp Bay. I will scream “bunt” and “situational hitting” in the heat of passion. And once, I was convinced that the Cincinnati bullpen should invade North Korea.

And the baseball season is long - longer if your team actually wins games. In the past decade, you could check out on the Reds season once the Independence Day fireworks finished. 3 months and you’re out. Meaningful baseball in August? September? OCOTOBER?!? That’s drunk talk. But here we are. It’s like I trained to run the neighborhood 5K and now I am in mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. Everything south of my belly is numb, my nipples are bleeding, I am seeing triple and I desperately need to go to the bathroom but have forgotten how.

Now, the Reds won the title in 1990 and made it to the NLCS in 1995, so you would think I would have some experience. But those years don’t count. In ‘90 I lived in Columbus and my parents had basic cable. I saw the Reds on TV twice until the playoffs rolled around. I listened to them while helping my dad do yard or basement or garage stuff, but I was disconnected. (I was always under silent protest when helping my father. I was a lazy pig of a boy and hated all forms of work. In a related story, I bragged the other day to a friend of mine because I used spackling. I am 33 years old). 1995 does not count either, because that was the summer after my senior year in high school and all I did was drink and act a fool. Baseball is a big boy sport.

So I am a playoff baseball rookie. A novice. I do not know how I am going to consume the Reds playoff games or how they will consume me. Wednesday’s game starts for me at 2pm. Do I take a half day? Should I shower up for the game? Are beers in play? Do I dare watch one of these in public? I am lost. What if Reds win the first 2? Lose the first 2? I don’t know what is worse – the fact that the Reds have to lose 3 times to be eliminated or that they actually have to beat Philly 3 times. I feel ill.

Considering my meager credentials, my playoff prediction should be received with scrutiny and even scorn. Here we go:

NLDS – Cincinnati Reds (NL Central Champ) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (NL East Champ)

Just a nightmare matchup for the Reds. Pitching rules the playoffs, and the Reds are going to face two legitimate hammers in Roy Halladay (who the Reds actually beat 4-3 in June) and Roy Oswalt (historic Red killer who is 0-2, 6.75 vs. Cincy in 2010). The Roys are big time pitchers that are good for 7+ innings, scattering 6 hits. It’s just the way it is. Every AB, every base runner, every chance is precious for the Reds. And while Cincy led the NL in runs, they got fat and bloated lighting up the Astros and Cubs. In the playoffs, teams need to scratch out hits, work walks, attack the base paths, get a couple clutch hits and win 3-2. That’s not how the Reds do things.

Even when the Reds would light the scoreboard up with 8+ runs, the box score would tell a different story. In those games, the Reds would explode with a 5-6 run inning. Except for that crooked number, a lot of zeroes. You don’t get those big innings in the playoffs. I just don’t see how the Reds are going to squeeze runs out of the Phillies. Other than Votto, the Reds have few contact hitters and fewer that will dare try to steal a base. There are a lot of strike outs in the Reds lineup and I fear a parade (starring Phillips, Bruce, Gomes, Stubbs) of slow walks back to the dugout. Easy innings.

Meanwhile, the Reds are wheeling out Edison Volquez in Game 1. I credit Dusty Baker for going with the hot hand, but this is a guy who had Tommy John surgery 14 months ago and was pitching in A ball in SEPTEMBER. And this was not a rehab assignment – he just stunk. How is this man going to respond in the cruel environs of Philly? Game 2 brings Bronson Arroyo, flicking his 80-mph Frisbees at the lefty-heavy Philly lineup. Yikes. I like the Reds bullpen, but not if it has to start warming up in the 4th inning.

Games 3? 4? 5? I don’t think it matters. The Reds fight the good fight in game 3, down 2-0 in the series, and have a lead late before falling to the eventual 2010 World Series champs.

Phillies in 3

But remember, baseball is for big boys. You have to crawl before you can walk. The Reds have a bunch of young arms and flexibility with their payroll. This team is built to succeed for the next 3-4 years. The Reds are going to take their playoff lumps this October and be stronger for it.

We all will be. Next year, we will prepare ourselves for a 6-month season and pace ourselves accordingly. A 3-game losing streak will not kill us, just like a 5-game winning streak will not cause us to leave our families and follow the Reds like the Grateful Dead. And come April 2011, we will be ready for the marathon. And remember to buy pasties to protect your nipples from chaffing.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Red Hot Reds Retraction

On April 18, 2010 after being swept by the putrid Pittsburgh Pirates (alliteration alert!) and falling to 5-8 I decided that the Reds season was over. Maybe a little premature. But at the time, the season had that all too familiar stink of a 70-win turd sandwhich. But here we are. 48-37, first place in the NL Central by 2 games. The Reds are in the battle and should be there all year. The Reds done rose up. The least I could do is examine how we got here.

(And for the record, the best time to write a mid-season analysis of the Reds is following a loss. It provides the right balance of pessimism and unfounded crazy prognostications. Let’s do this.)

Top 6 Reasons the Reds are in First

1. Starting Pitching Depth

The ERA numbers are not great, and the Reds don’t have a hammer like Carpenter or Halladay, but they are a diverse group that eats innings and keeps the Reds in games. Arroyo, who can’t top 93 MPH on the radar gun, has turned himself into a staff ace with pure guile and an assortment of breaking stuff and arm angles. He will still puke up a 4-run inning, but he always comes up big when the Reds are on a losing streak and fields his position with grace. Cueto is inefficient and maddening, but always seems to wiggle out of trouble and get through 6 innings. Leake was the darling, though is fading a bit as his rookie arm tires and the NL teams figure him out. Harang is fat and no longer a #1 but he can still eat innings and will get stronger as the season rolls on. And then you have a mixed bag of rookie Travis Wood, fresh off surgery/suspension Volquez, the curious Homer Bailey and Chapman, The Cuban Missile. Options are a good thing. The Reds have even been rumored to be in the mix for Cliff Lee (he pitched 9 shutout innings against the Reds in the forgettable Seattle series). The Reds had never had this much pitching. Giggle.

2. Defense

After a decade of watching Griffey’s corpse and Adam Dunn shuffle after baseballs, I forgot you could win games with defense. The Reds have past, present and future gold gloves all over the field. And when Arroyo is pitching, the Reds have the best defensive infield in the NL. You can attribute close to 10 wins that were saved by the Reds turning double plays in crucial situations. And while baseball is an individual game, the defense is making the Reds a team. With the level of play so high, guys can’t pout after poor ABs – they get their heads straight and strap their gloves on. And the pitchers don’t have to be perfect. They know they have 8 behind them ready to track down the seed.

3. Clutch Hitting

How many runners were left to expire on base this last decade? How many times did the Reds get men into scoring position, only to string strikeouts together to end the inning? Painful memories. This year, the Reds lead the majors in batting (.288 AVG) with runners in scoring position. The Reds are just as good with two outs. These are the ABs that win ball games. Unless you are the Pirates, every team gets around 8-9 hits a game. So it’s not really how many hits you get, it’s when you get them. And the Reds are delivering when it counts.

4. NL Central

This division sucks. The Astros and Pirates are two of the worst teams in all of baseball (the Pirates might be the worst). The Cubs are a train wreck, and may start selling off all their guys. The Brewers are not as dramatic as the Cubs, but their fire sale is not far behind. 61 games against those teams. That leaves a St. Louis team that is a little worn down and not as good as they have been in years past. Only one team to beat in a 6-team division. I like those odds.

5. Baseball IQ

I am not sure how a baseball team gets smarter, but the 2010 Reds look like Mensa members compared to past years. It could be the right mix of savvy veterans (Rhodes, Cordero, Arroyo, Harang, Rolen, Cabrerra) and receptive youth. Maybe it’s coaching. Maybe it’s my Reds reports. Whatever it is, the Reds have intelligent Abs, seem to understand situational hitting (getting bunts down, sacrifice flies) and don’t get picked off on the base paths. On defense, the Reds talk to each other, throw to the right bags and play tight baseball.

6. Star Power

The Reds are enjoying breakout/career years from key players. Here are the studs:

Scott Rolen, 3B

I hated the Reds when they signed Rolen. I thought it was an empty move in a lost season (2009) and we would be paying an old man to sit of the disabled list for the remainder of his career. This is why I am not a GM. Rolen has brought a mature presence to the clubhouse, a big time right handed bat, and flawless play at 3rd. Most importantly, he ended the Encarnacion nightmare. Rolen is a beast. And it’s a shame we are in the steroid era because now any time a 35+ year old does ANYTHING I assume they are getting daily injections from Jose Canseco.

Brandon Phillips, 2B

This guy has been shifted around the batting order (4th, 2nd, 3rd, 1st) and he just keeps hitting. For me, he’s become the player I always wanted him to be. He seems to have cut down on his monster cartoon hacks (where he spins around like a top) and is now a .300 hitter that sprays doubles around the field while annoying pitchers on the base paths. His defense is simply outstanding. Crazy range with a shortstop’s arm. And I like that he is a hot dog. You got to have a dusting of asshole in your clubhouse soufflé.

Arthure Rhodes, RP

“Arthur Rhodes does what Arthur Rhodes does” – Marty Brenneman, 2010. And that is put up zeros. The guy, at age 40, tied a major-league record with 33 straight appearances without giving up a run. That is phenomenal. Cordero gets the save stats, but Sir Arthur has rescued the Reds collective butts all year.

Joey Votto, 1B

He’s become the team star, and is in the top-5 in all the sexy offensive categories. You can even say “Votto” and “triple crown” in the same sentence and not sound ridiculous. He has a great eye, has power to all fields and is the fearsome presence a team needs in their 3-hole batter. His hitting is so good you forget that his defense is stellar as well. He was born to play first base. Now let’s just hope that his anxiety medicine keeps working and he stops getting thrown out of games in the first inning.

Jay Bruce, RF

Bruce has improved himself by degrees at the plate. Lefties used to dust off the Adam Dunn playbook and kill him with looping breaking balls outside of the strike zone. Bruce doesn’t swing at that crap anymore. He picks his spots, will flick the ball to left field and has the pop to barrel a mistake when they come. He can get blown away with a decent fastball, but his metamorphous is still impressive. Bruce also boasts deceptive speed, has great range for a right fielder and has a cannon arm.


With this division and the Reds depth at pitching, it hard to see the Reds completely falling off the cliff. 92 wins gets you the NL Central. That has the Reds going 44-33 the rest of the way out. How do they do that? These could help:

1. Effectively manage and juggle the current rotation and the capable replacements. This is not exactly Dusty’s strong suit, and there are a lot of variables in this equation:

· Mike Leake’s rookie season. He has been brilliant, but has never pitched more that 150 innings in a year. When do you shut him down? Do you move him to the bullpen?

· Edison Volquez coming off of Tommy John. Is he ready? What will he give you?

· Travis Wood’s rookie season. Same rules as Leake.

· Aroldis Chapman. Does he have the control to actually start a major league game? Does he help the bullpen? Do you even bring him up?

· Aaron Harang’s big, fat contract. If he pitches well, can you deal him? Dare you deal him?

· Clifford Lee. Is this signing a pipe dream?

2. Keep Scott Rolen healthy

3. Save Arthur Rhodes’ arm

4. Teach Drew Stubbs to bunt

5. Make sure Votto takes his meds

6. Get Hannigan healthy so we don’t have to see Corky Miller in the lineup

So here we are. The Reds are in first place on the eve of the All-Star break. St. Louis looks shaky. Meaningful baseball is in play for Autumn. I haven’t even thought about the football season yet. I don’t turn Reds’ games off when they are down a couple runs. I am able to watch and enjoy “Baseball Tonight”. There are road games in August/September that I am planning trips for. I am peeking at other scores, and sizing up the teams in the NL. This is fun.

I would ask the Reds forgiveness for my early season dismissal, but I have pumped considerable cash into their crappy ballpark and have endured a decade of failures and foolishness. So let’s call it even. Just get us to October, Reds.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

2010 Reds Eulogy

I had some requests (there was one) for my annual Reds preview. And you just can’t disappoint your fan base (again, one). But instead of writing a Reds 2010 preview 13 games into the season, I will stay ahead of the curve and write their 2010 eulogy. Because this season is over.

I heard Marty Brenneman before the season gush that he was more excited about this Reds club than any one he has announced for in years. After I combusted from every orifice in excitement and wrecked my car into a taco stand, I had time to think about the Reds lineup while waiting for the authorities. The left side of the infield starts two old men (3B, Rolen – 35 and ss, Cabrera – 35) and the right side boasts a prima donna (Phillips) and a head case (Votto). The catcher is a semi-old man (Hernandez – 33) that has averaged only 106 starts in the last 3 years. The outfield boasts third year “phenom” RF Jay Bruce who batted .220 last year (.159 so far this year) and the other two spots have been platoons with career backups (Gomes, Nix, Dickerson) and a not-yet-ready Drew Stubbs. Not exactly the Big Red Machine II.

But really, we don’t need to break down the Reds position by position. There are simple, recurring themes that always surface. The telltale moments that make the Reds fan mutter “same old Reds”.

I was listening to the Reds play St. Louis a couple weeks ago – the class of the NL Central. Johnny Cueto, a talented pitcher with a bright future (if Dusty Baker doesn’t saw his arm off), pitched a 1-2-3 inning. Great news, right? Let’s dig deeper. Cueto was facing the 8-9-1 batters in the Cardinals lineup. It took him 25 pitches to get through the frame. He had to throw 10 the PITCHER. Meanwhile, Cardinal ace Adam Wainwright only needed 10 pitches to blow through the meat of the Reds order (3-Votto, 4-Philips, 5-Rolen) on their turn.

That one inning can tell you everything you need to know about the Reds (and the Cardinals). The Reds starters are a bunch that are just bad enough. They pitch admirably in the tiny Reds ballpark and keep them in most games. But they are not electric. They don’t attack the strike zone. They nibble and limp their way through painful, 10-pitch ABs. Few Reds starters make it to the 6th inning. So now you have your bullpen having to complete 4 innings a game. And while they are a solid and varied bunch, it’s too much to ask. The pen will be done by July. And so will the Reds.

That brings us to the offense. In that same inning, you have the Reds best hitters coming to the plate. They are a veteran group. They KNOW Cueto just labored through an inning and needs a rest. And they come up hacking at first pitches, swinging at balls in the dirt, and turning themselves into easy outs. A week later, the Reds faced notoriously wild Cubs closer Carlos Marmol down a run. Instead of forcing him to throw strikes, Cincy batters came up lunging at balls as he breezed to his first save. The most succinct way I could sum up the Reds offense is that they make it easy on the opposition.

And those are the 2010 Reds. Or the 2004 Reds. Or the 2008 Reds. Interchangeable parts for what will be a forgettable season in the lost decade that is 2000-2010. The Reds lack baseball IQ, clutch performers and overall talent. Same old story. On defense, they don’t have the pitchers that can challenge and complete 7 innings. On offense, they don’t work counts, they don’t attack the base paths, they don’t hit with runners in scoring position and they hit more pop-ups than any modern baseball team (unconfirmed).

The Reds have 5 wins this year. All 5 were comebacks, 4 of which were in their last AB. That’s fun and stuff, but not a good method for winning on a consistent basis. In each win, the Reds either had a sparkling pitching performance or hit multiple home runs with runners on base. The Reds continue to wait around for the 3-run bomb. And when it doesn’t come, they lose. And I am not asking that they manufacture every run with a single, steal, bunt and sacrifice. How about a string of hits? A couple singles and a double? Maybe a walk? Take a look at a Reds box score sometime. You will see zeroes strung together. Scoring droughts are the norm. Easy innings filled with strike outs and pop ups. The defense never sweats.

But the Reds do have some pop and young pitching. Maybe Edison Volquez comes back and gives them a boost. Maybe Homer Bailey turns into the pitcher we want him to be. Maybe Drew Stubbs starts getting on base and becomes a bona fide leadoff man. Either way you shake it up, the Reds will play in the mud with the other half good/half crappy NL Central teams (Chicago, Houston, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee) and hover around .500. Meanwhile, St. Louis will cruise along (the team the Reds want to be) and distance themselves by 2-3 more games a month.

You end up with a sub-80 win Reds team that will miss the playoffs for the 15th straight year. Sounds familiar. When does football start?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lessons Learned

1. Cincinnati is the best city ever.
2. You do not want this.
3. Jay Cutler either has a small forehead or wears his helmet like a special person
4. The difference between 45 and 10 is 35. Or 5 touchdowns. Or 11 field goals and a safety.
5. Carson Palmer is better looking than you.
6. Ced Benson just needed to be in a good place. Like the Queen City. Or as Jesus calls it, heaven.
7. The Bears owe the Bengals a thank you and a bunt cake for getting a free lesson on how to play football .
8. The Cincinnati Bengals are the greatest team ever and the only reason they have 2 losses is because they chose to lose.
9. The Bengals can rid the world of evil and litter.
10. Super Bowls are not won in October. Except today. When it was.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bowie 2009 Reds Scouting Report

Everyone likes to look back in time and say “I called that”. Especially if the “call” was a long shot, unexpected or seemingly crazy. That’s a big reason why I have read no less than 10 baseball previews claiming that the 2009 Cincinnati Reds could be “This year’s Tampa Bay Rays”. Proceed with caution. If you look hard enough, you could probably find a novel’s worth of articles on 10 other “sleeper” teams. Regardless, there is a mild consensus that the Reds have the talent and appropriate mix to be a factor. Or as Bobby Knight once said, the Reds “are in position to be in position”. Let’s get in on.

Opening Day batting order

1. Jerry Hairston Jr. lf
2. Darnell McDonald cf*
3. Joey Votto 1b
4. Brandon Phillips 2b
5. Jay Bruce rf
6. Edwin Encarnacion 3b
7. Ramon Hernandez c
8. Alex Gonzalez ss
9. Aaron Harang p

*Projected starter Wily Taveras has the flu, so McDonald gets the start. McDonald could be sitting on my sofa right now and I would have no idea who he is.

Pitching (2008 statistics in parenthesis)

Aaron Harang (6-17, 4.78 ERA, 184.1 IP, 153 SO) – It’s a bit sobering when you step back and see that the Reds opening day starter lost 17 games the previous season. I guess the electronic pitching machine was not available. All will be forgotten if Harang returns to his 2006/07 form, when he won 16 games in back-to-back seasons. At least the man came to camp in shape this year (he’s dropped at least 40 lbs) and looks like an athlete.

Edinson Volquez (17-6, 3.21 ERA, 196.0 IP, 206 SO) – We should all chip in and send a gift basket to the Netherlands for knocking out the DR in the World Baseball Classic. Otherwise, Volquez would have racked up more full speed starts and set himself up for a disastrous ’09. I would take a repeat of last year right now. I expect a regression. He tired last year, with a 4.60 ERA after the break. He tries to strike everybody out, so he racks up the pitch count. I hope Dusty doesn’t burn his arm.

Bronson Arroyo (15-11, 4.77 ERA, 200 IP, 163 SO) – Arroyo kind of looks like one of those long-necked, female equestrian riders. Which is ironic, because he is in fact the horse. Arroyo has racked up over 200 innings in each of the last 4 seasons. That’s strong. What’s not strong is that he might start the season on the DL because of Carpal Tunnel from writing song lyrics. And the songs all suck. Assuming he shakes this off, he’ll throw another 200 and win about 12 games. I also just found out he was born on the exact same day as a girl I dated years ago. And he was born in Key West. I have no idea what to do with this information.

Johnny Cueto (9-14, 4.81 ERA, 174 IP, 158 SO) – He was supposed to be the rookie star, after destroying Arizona in his first start (7 IP, 1 ER, 10 SO). But he returned to earth and Volquez soared. Regardless, Cueto got invaluable experience last year and didn’t tax his arm with a reasonable 174 innings. I think he out-pitches Volquez this year.

Micah Owings (6-9, 5.93 ERA, 104.2 IP, 87 SO) – He’s what we got for Adam Dunn. I like him already. His 2008 record is a bit deceiving – we finished 0-7 after his shoulder started bothering. His shoulder has been repaired and he has been nasty in Spring (3-1, 1.52 ERA, 23.2 IP, 24 SO). The Reds considered converting him to the outfield, because he has a monster bat (.319 career BA). Some think he might have the most power on the team and could be the DH when the Reds are in interleague play. I am more excited to see him than anybody.


Francisco Cordero had a terrible 2008 season. He blew some critical games when the direction of the season was still in doubt. The excuses ranged from an arm injury to “he didn’t have enough chances”. Whatever. He’s sucking up almost 10% of the Reds team salary so if doesn’t have a monster year, I might have to complain loudly and write him a stern letter. Jared Burton is a stud righty and a solid 8th inning guy. He’s the next closer, if the Reds can hang on to him. David Weathers is the crafty veteran, and little Danny Herrera (5’ 6”) is the left-hand specialist.


Yes friends, the Griffey-Dunn era has ended. Not that these lovelies have left our lives. I got to watch Kenny’s fat butt waddle around in a celebrity golf tournament a few weeks ago and caught the Donkey striking out 3 times (with men on) in the deciding game of the WBC. Giggle. We’ll try to get on with out them. This year’s unit promises less power and fewer balls that roll through the gaps to the wall. Youth, speed and defense. Why not?

Jerry Hairston Jr. (.326 BA, .384 OBP, 15 SB) – Every season, the Reds seems to have one journeyman have a career year. Enter Hairston. He was the catalyst in 2008 – the Reds were 27-18 in the games he started and was a lightning rod at the top of the order before he went out with an injury July 13. He’s 32, and has a career BA of .260. Hope for the best but don’t count on it. He’ll platoon with Chris Dickerson. He can also fill in at SS and 2B.

Chris Dickerson (.304 BA, 6HR, 15 RBI, 5 SB, 104 AB) – He’s young, big and fast. But what can you expect from a guy with 104 career ABs? His average was good in spring (.323), but he struck out at an alarming rate (once every 3 ABs). He’ll start against righties. And for you hippies, he manages a website dedicated to living “green”.

Wily Taveras (.251 BA, .308 OBP, 68 SB, 79 SO) – He’s the Reds new leadoff guy who has trouble getting on base. That’s like having a pitcher who has trouble throwing a ball. He still led the majors, by a considerable margin, in stolen bases despite his poor plate performance. The guy could steal 100 bases if he mixed in some draG bunts and pushed his .OBP to .350. I’m not expecting much. Look for Hairston to get some time out there and a mid-season call up of Drew Stubbs.

Jay Bruce (.254 BA, .314 OBP, 21 HR, 52 RBI) – Solid rookie campaign. He seemed to catch the “entitlement” rash from Griffey and Dunn. There were times Bruce did not hustle and seemed to go through the motions - unacceptable for a rookie trying to make it in the bigs. I hope he got a salve for that and applied liberally.


Edwin Encarnacion (.251 BA, .340 OBP, 26 HR, 68 RBI) – The man just won’t let me love him. And I want to. He can hit in the clutch. He can hit for power. He can rake left-handed pitching. He can rack up the web gems when he’s concentrating. I’ve seen it! He can also lose games by himself with critical (often ghastly) errors and failing at the plate with runners in scoring position. I have never seen a man pop-out on the infield so many times. Impressive, if it wasn’t terrible. I’m giving him one more year. I want 90 RBI and less than 15 errors. Bring the pain, EE.

Alex Gonzalez (2007 stats - .272 BA, .325 OBP, 16 HR, 55 RBI) – It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him. I hope he doesn’t resurrect his career BA of .248. His return is supposed in instantly bolster the defense. However, I never remember him making any “wow” plays back in ’07. I am convinced that certain players get tagged with a reputation and no amount of poor/superior play will change that. So there.

Brandon Phillips (.261 BA, .312 OBP, 21 HR, 78 RBI, 23 SB) – I like Phillips. He plays with a cocky assuredness and passion. Though I fear that 30/30 season was the worst thing that could happen to him. I don’t mind an aggressive, free-swinger. But BP hacks from the heels. There is no reason he should not bat .290 with 15 HR and 50 SB. But he tasted 30 bombs and he wants that number. Batting cleanup won’t help.

Joey Votto (.297 BA, .368 OBP, 24 HR, 84 RBI, .506 SLG) – Just a monster rookie season, Votto emerged as the best hitter on the team. And he may be the star. Thank you, Canada. Votto and Bruce have a friendly, competitive rivalry brewing and should push each other into the next decade. You know, until the point when the Reds can’t afford them anymore. (sobbing quietly)

Ramon Hernandez (.257 BA, .308 OBP, 15 HR, 65 RBI) – The Reds swapped Ryan Freel to the Orioles for Hernandez. (yayy Jockety!) He’s a steady catcher, with a career .263 BA. He’s durable, averaging over 125 games a season behind the dish. He got the “lazy” tag, towards the end of his tenure in Baltimore. Hopefully the move to Cincy will inspire him. Or maybe his 7.5M salary.

Ryan Hanigan (.271 BA, .367 OBP, 2 HR, 9 RBI) – Not bad numbers for a guy who is supposed to be a defensive specialist. Defense is what you want from your backup catcher. And that is what he is.


Paul Janish is a nifty fielder with a soft bat. Darnell McDonald and Laynce Nix are just names on the roster. I am sure they are swell humans.


The defense should be better by degrees. No more tree stumps playing in the corners. Votto and Phillips have a year together so the right side of the diamond should be sealed up. Maybe the veteran Gonzalez will have a calming effect on Edwin and cure him of his erratic play. Or maybe EE will fling a ball into the stands and kill a woman eating nachos. It’s a toss-up.

The Reds scored 3 or fewer runs 52 times last season (5-47) and were 12th in the NL in runs scored (704). Now subtract 103 runs, 53 HRs and 127 RBI (totals of Griffey and Dunn). The Reds somehow have to fill the production void left by Griffunn, and add to the total. That’s a tall task, with question marks up and down the order.

In order to complete the 25-man roster, the Reds had to option Homer Bailey, Bill Bray and Jonny Gomes to Louisville. Those 3 guys could make other teams. That’s a good thing. Bailey could be on the bump (possibly in long relief) by May, and maybe sooner if Arroyo can’t go. Gomes is not happy about his re-assignment. He’s one of those guys that just needs a shot. I hope the Reds don’t lose him.

The Reds have one of the best starting 5 in all of baseball. Their performance should keep the club in striking distance all year. The doubts are up the middle – if the Reds get career years from Taveras (CF), Gonzalez (SS) and Hernandez (C), lookout.


Edwin breaks out (in Bower fantasy land). Votto becomes a star (in Cincy at least). Harang, Cueto, Bailey and Owings carry the staff. Cordero flames out and goes on the DL; replaced by Burton. Taveras tanks. Hairston gets hurt early, never a factor. Bruce struggles. Phillips frustrates and duplicates last year. End result?

84-78, 3rd place NL Central

The Reds will be in the wild card conversation to the end. Just not enough. Too many people have them as their dark horse. I don't like that one bit. At least they are in position to be in position.