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
(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?

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.

The Cubs’ NLCS finish was one for the history books

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Chicago Cubs fans hold a sign after the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Cubs obliterated the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, riding nine shutout innings to their first pennant win since 1945. Here’s what you should know about their historic finish:

  • By virtue of the Cubs’ 71-year World Series drought, Jon Lester and Javier Baez became the club’s first and only postseason MVPs in franchise history. The World Series MVP award was first distributed in 1955, while the NLCS MVP awards have been issued since 1977.
  • Lester and Baez are also the first co-MVPs of the Championship Series since the 1990 Reds celebrated left-hander Randy Myers and right-hander Rob “Nasty Boy” Dibble following the team’s ninth pennant win (per MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch).
  • Anthony Rizzo’s fifth inning solo shot in Game 6 tied him with Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gonzalez, and Kyle Schwarber for the most postseason homers hit at Wrigley Field, with three (per Comcast SportsNet’s Christopher Kamka).
  • Rizzo and Willson Contreras’ home runs were the first Clayton Kershaw had given up in the playoffs since Game 4 of the 2015 NLDS. The twin blasts also accounted for a fifth of the total home runs Kershaw had given up in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw’s Game Score of 33 was not only the lowest the left-hander had put up since the start of the 2015 season, but the lowest the Cubs had seen from an opposing pitcher in the postseason since 1989. During Game 4 of the 1989 NLCS, Giants’ right-hander Scott Garrelts pitched 4 2/3 innings with eight hits, four runs, and two homers en route to a 6-4 loss and a 33 Game Score.
  • By contrast, Kyle Hendricks’ Game Score of 86 was the third-highest among Cubs’ postseason starters, ranking just below Jake Arrieta’s 11-strikeout complete game during the 2015 wild card tiebreaker and Orval Overall’s three-hitter in Game 5 of the 1908 World Series.
  • The last major league season to feature an ERA leader on the Cubs’ roster was 1945, also the last season in which the Cubs rode to the World Series. In 2016, the MLB ERA leader is Game 6 winner Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA); in ‘45, it was left-hander Ray Prim (2.40 ERA), who capped a dominant year with a loss against the Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series and blown save in Game 6.
  • Not to be overlooked in the lefty’s gem on Saturday night: Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman combined to face the minimum number of batters, at 27. According to MLB Stat of the Day, only the 1956 Yankees had also faced the minimum batters in a postseason game, though they did it with just a bit more panache.
  • With Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Javier Baez, and Addison Russell penciled into the lineup, the Cubs became the first MLB team to utilize five starters under 25 years old to clinch the NLCS (also via MLB Stat of the Day).
  • If you want to talk postseason drought, the Cubs-Indians World Series will set a precedent for combined championship-less streaks, at 174 years between the two clubs (per ESPN Stats & Info).
  • Speaking of unpleasant streaks, there’s this: with the Dodgers’ loss in the NLCS, they’ve now gone to the postseason four consecutive times without participating in a World Series showdown. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, that’s a first in major league history.


The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder: