18 Games at a Time - Capsule 2


An eighteen game stretch which was seemingly marked by alternating wins and losses, punctuated by a steady stream of injury updates, will instead be noted by a strong ending led by two pitchers returning from injuries.  I don’t want to venture into Crash Davis territory here, but it’s remarkable how little margin there is in a three-week stretch between a winning team and a non-winning team.  Win 10 out of 18, and you’re on the short list for October baseball.  Win 9 out of 18, and you aren’t even close.  The Reds are "back on track", with 20 wins in 36 chances, despite being a game back of St. Louis.  Lots of baseball still to be played, and we just whipped out two aces from the hole.  All stats and opinions through Tuesday’s games.

 

2011 Reds, Capsule 2

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 11 - 7

Strength of Schedule: .469 (16th most difficult in NL; 29th most difficult in ML)

[Prev: .458 , 16th most difficult in NL; 27th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .491 (10th best in NL; 18th best in ML)

[Prev: .469, 13th best in NL; 22nd best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 25.9% [Prev: 19.8%]

Offense:

  • .263/.337/.417 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .249/.319/.382
  • Year to date, the league average OPS is at 701.  Please re-set your internal OPSometers accordingly.
  • Joey Votto, even in an down stretch (for him), led the way at 274/416/500.
  • Jay Bruce got hot (246/355/554, 6 HR, 14 RBI), despite the .222 BABIP.
  • Drew Stubbs strikes out a lot, more than anyone on the team to date, with 42 on the year already.  But his YTD OBP is .350, he has 11 steals to one time caught, which means he's running about 30% of the time he reaches first base.  He's not a perfect player, but he's turning into a fairly decent lead-off man.
  • Jonny Gomes continues to take pitches and walks (7 more this period), but that's literally all he's doing: 7 hits in 50 at-bats, just two doubles and no home runs.  19 strikeouts, too.
  • The danger of April stats: Edgar Renteria broke hard out of the gate, and his YTD stats still seem close enough to respectable (although he has just one extra base hit for the season).  But Period 2's stats are flat bad: 231/348/231.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 3.98 for the period, compared against a league average of 3.58.
  • Travis Wood continues to tack to the unlucky side of life, putting up excellent peripherals, but hampered in his last four starts by a .373 BABIP against.  It appears, however, that he retains enough of the coaching staff's collective confidence to stick in the rotation.
  • Three pitchers made their season debuts this period (Cueto, Bailey, Fisher).  They combined for 23.7 innings of one-run ball.
  • Aroldis Chapman logged 4.7 innings, struck out seven batters, and walked nine.
  • Edinson Volquez also struggled with his command (12 BB in 15.7 IP), but kept allowed just one home run, keeping his numbers in check.
  • Masset's back: 12.3 IP, 8 hits, 4 ER, 2 BB, 14 K
  • The defense remains sub-par: the team DER is .695 for the year (10th best in the NL), and was at .702 for the period.  I'm having trouble reconciling the numbers with my perception, and the early metrics suggest Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs as below-average fielders for the year, which ought to auto-correct in short order.  UZR, in particular, unveils some friendly advice to Dusty Baker: Paul Janish has a 5.5 UZR in 195 innings at SS, and a -1.9 UZR in 40 innings at 3B.  Edgar Renteria has a UZR of -2.6 in 127 innings at SS.

 The next 18:

  • 7 games at home, 11 on the road
  • 8 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 7 of the 18 against 2010 playoff teams
  • 3 of the 18 against American League opponents
  • .571 average winning percentage (2011) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • A ten game road stretch involving Cleveland, Philly, and Atlanta.
  • The Reds will likely return Scott Rolen to the lineup in this next stretch, and they need healthy-Rolen to emerge.  Beyond that, it feels (ack, emotion) like the Reds aren't playing very well, despite the positive ledger.  Things may need to start clicking in lots of different places if they are to truly survive this next kick.  Left field and Cuban Relief would be great places to start.

 Loquacity (or, Put a little hate in your heart):

No man does less with more, or so goes the old joke regarding Tony LaRussa and his hair.  It's not a particularly funny joke, I suppose, although I honestly can't really tell because: a) I love it, because: b) I hate the St. Louis Cardinals.  (Author's note: this essay was mostly written before I read crolfer's sublime post on War/St. Louis.  There is no plagiarism in this piece, although several elements share similarities.  The discriminating reader, of course, has little tolerance for such redundancies.  Blame should be directed at the city of St. Louis, and its ever-hated baseball club.)

This, of course, is primarily due to the ugly reality that the Redbirds have mostly been better (mostly by a healthy margin) than the Reds for most of my adult life.  There has to be something else there, however.  For example, the San Francisco Giants are generally better than the Reds, too, and my well of hatred for them is embarrassingly shallow.

There are many reasons for that (divisional rival, Dave Duncan's magic wand, Chris Carpenter), and those various reasons break down into assorted combinations of rational vs. irrational; objective vs. subjective.  But, to paraphrase a classic rock song title, the hate remains the same. 

Actually, screw it.  The reasons to hate the Redbirds shall not be so easily glossed over.  Another partial list:

  • Fan-base self-congratulation in re: ‘Best Fans in the Game'.
  • While bad facial hair is by no means quarantined to any particular city, St. Louis baseballers have upped the ante considerably, from Scott Spiezio to Ryan Franklin.
  • Two mid-inning pitching changes within the same inning.
  • The alleged rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals.  I'm going to need to jump out of bullet point mode for this one... 

There are, by my humble reckoning, two permanent rivalries in baseball: Yankees/Red Sox and Dodgers/Giants.  I'm not a baseball historian by trade, but I feel like I know my way around the game's past pretty well.  Enough, anyway, that I can spit out some pertinent details between these teams without pause: Babe Ruth, No No Nannette, Williams-for-Dimaggio speculation, Bucky Dent, Dave Roberts; Bobby Thomson, Mays vs. Snider, Moving to California.  Conversely, I can think of just one significant historical link between the Cubs and Cards: Broglio-for-Brock, one of the all-time lopsided trades, which is certainly noteworthy, but hardly grounds for perma-rival status.

Seriously, where are the pennant races involving the Cards and Cubs?  The great games?  The off-the-field ties?  Both teams were pretty good in the 1930s, and often battled for league dominance that decade, but I'd be surprised if Three-Finger Brown would have trouble counting on his disfigured hand the number of times the two teams seriously challenged each other for a league/division title since World War 2.

Various realignment scenarios get tossed around from time to time; some are serious, most are not.  Typically, they're not worth much more than a quick skim and a shrug, but I distinctly remember once reading that one of the absolute necessities for any such division shuffle was that the Cubs/Cardinals intense rivalry be preserved.  So intense, I suppose, that I had never heard mention of it previously.  Baffling.

Incidentally, I love rivalries, and not all of them are forever.  The Reds and Dodgers had a meaningful and spirited rivalry through much of the 1970s and 80s, before irrelevance and actual realignment diffused the enmity carried by the two teams for each other.  You want to imprint a love of baseball on a kid's soul for life?  Take him to a ball game involving a pair of bitter foes.  I will never forget booing and jeering Tommy Lasorda as he walked, slowly, to the mound for a pitching visit ("Fat Man, Fat Man", the crowd chanted), nor will I forget the ear-splitting roar that erupted when an extra-inning double off of Tony Perez's bat won the game in walk-off fashion (nor his post-game interview: "I heet de ball and we win, Joe").

Rivalry-Baseball Hate-can take an otherwise non-descript game and amplify its details.  How else to explain the elaborate conspiracy possibilities I was constructing after the Cincy/St. Louis game from a few Fridays back was delayed by rain after just six pitches.  The descent into madness was quick, accelerated by the fact that actual tornados later devastated parts of the same city the game was being played.  Who was this nefarious managerial foe who can not only direct the weather, but alter the radar readings as well?  A loss was chalked up to his cunning pitcher maneuvers, but had the Reds somehow won...well, that would have been a glorious triumph of the resilient human spirit, worthy of the full Hollywood treatment.

A quick digression: the conscientious part of me can't write about Baseball Hate without referencing the ugly news from earlier this season in which a Giants' fan was beaten to the point of brain damage outside of Dodger Stadium.  In the aftermath, many fingers pointed at lax security measures as a culprit, which is perhaps factually true but otherwise insane.  Enjoy the game, take responsibility for your actions, don't be stupid.  Hate the jersey, not the random dude who happens to be wearing one.  This shouldn't be that hard, but here I am: wanting to curl up in a ball and hibernate through the impending collapse of society.  Let's move on.

Back to the Cardinals and the joys of rivalry, is it possible to sustain Baseball Hate through a six month season?  In the aftermath of the three game set with St. Louis, it dawned on me how few teams I actually do despise.  MLB's season, compared with the other major American sports leagues, is both longer and more meaningful (in terms of serving as a path to a championship) than its counterparts.  As a result, baseball has this wonderful paradox where singular regular season games are both more and less important, simultaneously.  No other league could possibly have a game similar to the Reds' twister-skirted affair from April 22: roughly the 1/8th mark of the season, with an outcome in the balance feeling as paramount as this one.

To really have 29 other strong rivals in the game would mean that the 140 or so games to follow that one would create for fans a roller coaster effect that the game isn't intended to convey.  It's a marathon, not a sprint, et cetera.  The Reds can lose every future game to the Cards this year, and still win the division.  This is rational thinking, so let's throw it out the window.  My assignment to myself: list a reason (invent one if necessary) for hating every other team in Major League Baseball.  You, the reader, are invited to improve upon my work in the space provided below.  Viva la Baseball Hate!

Angels: Have been known as California, Anaheim, and Los Angeles of Anaheim in my lifetime, despite playing in the same stadium throughout.  Despicable display of shameless marketing, and even more shameless consumption of said marketing by the media and public alike.

Astros: Gimmick-laden stadium instills Baseball Hate with a quickness.  What does a train have to do with the Astros anyway?  Follow-up question: you can read old stories about how the Houston Colt 45's games were miserable affairs due to the heat and mosquitoes.  Astrodome built = problem solved.  Now that the ‘Stros are back outside, why are these original problems no longer current problems?  I asked several people the one time I was at Enron Field.  No one knew.  I hate that.

Athletics: Dave Stewart still thinks they had the better team.

Blue Jays: Joe Carter's home run will get listed as one of the all-time dramatic dingers, to be referenced in the same breath as Bill Mazeroski.  Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, but I remember watching Carter's blast, and I remember thinking that the home run was a neat ending, but that the Series was hardly in doubt.  Not really hate-inducing, I suppose, but certainly at the level of being irksome.  Plus, those stencil-design uniform numbers from the 80s...

Braves: The only thing that comes to mind is the 24" wide strike zone that existed for much of the 90s when the Braves were in town.  I actually kind of respect the Braves for how well the team is run.  I'm not very good at this.

Brewers: October 1, 1999.

Cardinals: See opening paragraphs.

Cubs: linky.

Diamondbacks: Four expansion franchises have popped up since I got my first driver's license, three of them have appeared in the World Series, two of them have won it, and the Snakes are one of them.  The Reds, of course, have made the playoffs just twice in that time.  The Baseball Hate appears when these toddling clubs employ actual working strategies to achieve success, shedding light on the relative fecklessness of the team I cheer for.

Dodgers: When I attend a baseball game, I should never feel like I'm surrounded by 35,000 individuals dressed and behaved as though life is a perpetual casting call.

Giants: Dave Dravecky had a wonderfully inspiring story in which he overcame a cancerous tumor found in his pitching arm and made his way back to the big leagues.  In his return debut, he pitched 8 innings and beat the Reds.

Indians: Because I'm not from Cleveland, I'm from Cincinnati.  That, and Major League 2.

Mariners: WHY DIDN'T THEY TURN THE TRADE DOWN???!!?

Marlins: I'm admittedly a sucker for straight thinking, so when an expansion team takes root, and then can't draw any fans, and then the stories pop up about how the stadium is hard to get to, and it rains all the time, and would you want to go to a baseball game if you lived in Miami...well, that definitely brings the Baseball Hate on.

Mets: Most of you sensible people will not believe this, but here comes truth: the best baseball experience in America came from buying a cheap ticket to Shea Stadium, sneaking down to the green mezzanine seats, and watching the game amongst the most passionate and knowledgeable fans I've ever come across.  This experience has been replaced by the opportunity to buy over-priced tickets to another ADD-inspired mallpark.

Nationals: Team stealers, even if their hands are clean, get the Baseball Hate.

Orioles/Padres: I'm lumping these two together; conveniently they're alphabetical neighbors.  I have a bad habit of taking a popular narrative, especially as generated and disseminated by the national press, and assigning that narrative to its object, even if the narrative is not of the object's creation.  Case in point: Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were long-standing objects of the "this is what baseball players should be like" club.  This was generally understood to mean that the players didn't test the free agency waters, and spoke in easily digestible sound bites, and almost certainly didn't consume anabolic steroids.  And there's a lot to like about both players, each of whom deserve Hall of Fame status conferred upon them.  But, frankly, if I'm creating a role model for the Baseball Youth of America, he probably doesn't refuse to exit the lineup despite having four hits in the last two weeks, and he also probably doesn't push three bills by the end of his career.

Phillies: One of the reasons that Baseball Hate doesn't come naturally is that the sport doesn't lend itself to on the field villains.  As a non-contact sport, there aren't any body-checking goons or in-the-paint enforcers upon which to focus our ire.  What we do have are liars.  Those who pretend to catch the ball when they really trapped it, or those who frame a pitched ball two or three inches to the left or right of where it was actually caught.  This is gamesmanship, and completely understandable, but worthy of at least a modicum of Baseball Hate.  When lying and cowardice are combined, such that a batter perhaps flinches away from a 103 mph fastball in a crucial moment in the most important game of the year and pretends to get hit on a hand pinned against a solid wooden bat and scampers down to first base without grimacing or shaking his hand so as not to have to face a foe who is clearly his superior, well-hypothetically-that would probably call for a greater level of Baseball Hate.

Pirates: Yeah, I'm going to be reaching for this one.  I didn't really like the unusually-shaped hats from the late 70s/early 80s.  And, um...

Rangers: Another stretch.  I like that in an age of bland corporate ownership, the Rangers have been fronted by a future President and a former fireballer.  Their stadium experience is one of the top 2-3 I've ever seen.  It looks like they'll probably get the better of the Volquez trade, so I'll go with that.

Rays: The best players in the short team history are pretty obvious: Longoria, Crawford, etc.  But the first players that always come to mind when thinking about Tampa are the embarrassing attempts at respectability through past-their-prime stars of yesteryear: Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff come to mind.  That Manny Ramirez was on the roster this year indicates that the sideshow ways might not be completely dead. 

Red Sox: The Fenway experience, boiled down into a helpful second person narrative: you are a man of average height and build, not considered by any reputable index to be overweight in any way.  You approach your seat in Fenway and ask the usher for a spare shoehorn so as to fit.  Your seat faces directly at a point which will not be the center of baseball action except for a few isolated plays.  You will hear 30K fans sing Neil Diamond enthusiastically.  You will be told by your neighbor how unfair the baseball system is, when the Yankees can spend over $200M in payroll every year.  You will nod half-heartedly as your brain translates the Boston accent into a voice you can understand.  You will recall that the Red Sox routinely have the second highest payroll in the game, but decide not to bring it up, in light of the fact that the fellow's girlfriend in the pink Red Sox hat (with sequins!) knows more swear words than you do.  You paid over $100 for this event.

Rockies: Even in an era of generally increased offensive levels, Colorado still introduced us to 20%+ park factors.  Awesome.  Plus, purple jerseys.  By the way, how is it that during the mid-to-late-90s, a top level free agent hitter never signed with the Rockies, just to see what kind of numbers he could put up?  Mightn't A-Rod have popped 80 home runs in Coors' Field during his prime?

Royals: The team is 26-34 in regular season interleague games against St. Louis.

Tigers: Never forget

Twins: There's something tauntingly obnoxious about a franchise which routinely wins its division, but never bothers to fix the glaring holes which limit the team's ability to climb above its current plateau.  There's only so many times you can watch a team try to beat the Yankees in the playoffs with Nick Punto and Lew Ford as key cogs without wanting to scream.

White Sox: My six-year-old son, who regularly wakes up a full hour before I do so that he can watch SportsCenter and then walk into my bedroom and announce a summarization of what he's seen ("hey Dad?" ("-mmrpf?") "Bad news: the Reds lost to the Astros ten to four"), tells me that he hates the White Sox.  I'm not quite sure why he does, but this little man has taught me plenty of wisdom thus far, so I'll defer to his judgement.

Yankees: I have a soul.

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