What Went Wrong: Cincinnati Reds

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The following is the second in a series profiling some of 2009’s biggest disappointments.



Last Week: Cleveland Indians



This Week: Cincinnati Reds



Record: 63-78 (5th in NL Central)



How It Happened:



With one of the most exciting young cores in the game, there were
more than a few baseball
experts who pegged the Reds as a darkhorse team in the NL Central race.
And with good reason. We’ll never know what could have been. While the
Mets have grabbed all the headlines on the injury front this season,
the Reds have been equally as snake bit, with top stars like Jay Bruce,
Joey Votto,
Scott Rolen, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Aaron
Harang all finding their way to the disabled list.




Believe it or not, the Reds were a .500 baseball team as late as
July 7. This in spite of Bronson Arroyo putting up an ugly 5.85 ERA
over his first 17 starts and Votto (chronic depression) and Volquez
(Tommy John surgery) both hitting the disabled list by the start of
June. But they came back to the pack in a big way between July 7
and August 22, going a pathetic 10-30, and losing Bruce (wrist), Cueto
(shoulder inflammation), Ramon Hernandez (knee), and finally Harang
(appendectomy) along the way.




While the Indians decided to sell off valuable parts around the
deadline, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty resisted trading Arthur
Rhodes, Aaron Harang, Francisco Cordero or Arroyo. Instead, he acquired
the injury-prone and expensive Scott Rolen while giving up on Edwin
Encarnacion, who, by the way, missed significant time with a
broken wrist. Coincidentally, Rolen suffered a concussion in his second
game with the Reds, and went on the disabled list shortly thereafter.
On the bright side, the Reds are 12-7 since Rolen’s return and managed
a season-high seven-game winning streak until running into the buzzsaw
that is the Colorado Rockies this week. They have lost five in a row coming into Saturday’s action.




The injuries remain an easy scapegoat, but the Reds have managed a
major-league worst .242 batting average (tied with the Padres) while
scoring a major-league worst 551 runs in one of baseball’s most
hitter-friendly parks. They’ve also struggled at the gate, averaging
just 22,928 fans through 68 games at Great American Ballpark.




Silver Linings:



When the Reds lost Bruce to a broken
right wrist on July 11, the lineup was aching for a power source. Jonny
Gomes has stepped up in his absence, launching 14 home runs. The
28-year-old outfielder is batting .279/.349/.563 with 19 home runs, 48
RBI and a .912 OPS in 240 at-bats this season.




The Reds expected Ramon Hernandez to be a productive force in their
lineup, but the veteran backstop batted just .249/.330/.355 with five
homers and 36 RBI in 77 games before undergoing surgery on his left
knee in July.
While Hernandez disappointed, 29-year-old Ryan Hanigan has emerged as an option for next season, batting
.271/.364/.328 in 227 at-bats while throwing out 42% of would-be
basestealers. Look for the Reds to buy out Hernandez’s option for 2010.




Though he had the 5.85 ERA through July 7 as referenced above,
Arroyo has been nothing short of brilliant since, compiling a 2.17 ERA
over his last 12 starts. Too bad he has gone just 4-4 over that time.




Granted, his season might ultimately be dogged by odd comments
about an injury to his left wrist, but Brandon Phillips has put together a
bounce-back season by all accounts, batting .275/.330/.453 with 19
homers, 86 RBI and 24 stolen bases. He is showing a noticeable maturity
at the plate, walking at a career-best rate of 7.4% while cutting down on his strikeouts (12.2%).




Looking Ahead:



Manager Dusty Baker has another year on his
contract that will pay him approximately $4 million, so it unlikely
that Bob Castellini will buy him out. And considering the hand
Baker was dealt this season, he doesn’t deserve the hook, anyway.





There’s no question that the Reds should tender Gomes a contract for
2010
(arbitration-eligible). One possibility may be to sign him and then
ship him off to another team. It may be a creative way to strengthen
their roster without spending a significant amount of money.




Paul Janish isn’t the answer at shortstop. Sure, his glove is great
(+8.0 UZR), but it’s not enough to make up for his weak bat
(.207/.294/.287). Could J.J. Hardy be a good fit?




Will
2010 finally be the year that Homer Bailey turns the corner? The Reds
will need him to step up with Edinson Volquez expected to miss all or
most of the season after Tommy John surgery. Bailey has pitched better of late, going 3-0 with a
1.67 ERA over his last four starts, but his spotty control remains a
serious concern (4.50 BB/9).




Who will patrol center field? Former No. 1 pick Drew Stubbs is
getting a chance right now, batting .250/.306/.440 with with five
homers and eight RBI. But with a 31/8 K/BB ratio in 97 at-bats, his
plate discipline leaves something to be desired. Willy Taveras (who is
owed $4 million in 2010), Chris Dickerson or Chris Heisey, who batted
.314/.379/.521 with 22 homers and 77 RBI between Double-A Carolina and
Triple-A Louisville this season, are also options.




The Reds already have $65 million in contract commitments for 2010,
including $12.5 million for Harang, $12.25 million for Arroyo, $12.125
for Francisco Cordero and $11 million for Rolen, so unless Jocketty
trades one of his veteran starters, there won’t be much payroll
flexibility. They’ll have to hang their hats on continued progression from their young stars.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.