18 Games at a Time - Capsule 8

 

You know all those times when the Reds had really killer stats, but weren’t coming up with the wins?  Payback time, in a very minor key here, as the Reds were below average offensively and defensively, but still managed to win ten of 18.  The only race left from here on in is the race to a .500 record or better.  11 wins from clinching a winning record.  Does it matter to you?  I guess I’m personally indifferent at this point, especially given the knowledge that the race for 82 matters very much to a certain skipper.  Let’s cruise through the numbers, which are through Friday’s games.

2011 Reds, Capsule 8

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 10 - 8

Strength of Schedule: .497 (9th most difficult in NL; 19th most difficult in ML)

[Prev: .496, 9th most difficult in NL; 21st most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .496 (9th best in NL; 18th best in ML)

[Prev: .493, 9th best in NL; 18th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 0.0% [Prev: 0.1%]

Offense:

  • .261/.324/.397 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .255/.321/.403
  • The regular 8, as determined by plate appearance makes for a strange one: Hanigan, Votto, Phillips, Renteria, Alonso, Sappelt, Stubbs, Bruce.  In other words, too many left fielders, and not enough third basemen.  Fitting.
  • Votto and Bruce combined for 8 dingers, half the team total for the period.
  • Votto also led the way with 14 runs batted in.
  • The star of the show, in semi-regular time, was Yonder Alonso: 15-for-35, five extra base hits, 1230 OPS.
  • Ramon Hernandez went 4-for-27, with no XBH and no walks, equaling an OPS of 296.  Paul Janish watched jealously, as he put up an OPS of 198 for the stretch.  Also, Fred Lewis managed one hit in 17 AB.
  • On the year, Dontrelle Willis has more extra base hits than Juan Francisco.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 4.02 for the period, compared against a league average of 3.65.
  • Of the starting pitchers, Johnny Cueto posted the highest ERA at 4.88.  The peripherals were actually stronger than they've been throughout the year, but the BABIP: .351.
  • D-Train had 18 K's in 20.2 innings, but 15 walks.  Bronson Arroyo had 8 K's in 21.1 innings, but only 2 walks.  Guess which one had a much better ERA and was credited with a victory?
  • Mike Leake allowed six homers in 27 innings.
  • Homer Bailey's K-to-BB ratio was 22 to 2.  Again, a late season tantalizing stretch.

The next 18:

  • 10 games at home, 8 on the road
  • 13 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 3 of the 18 against projected 2011 playoff teams
  • .458 average winning percentage (2011) for the teams in the next 18 games.

Loquacity (or, Forgetting and Not Forgetting):

What are your favorite random sporting events?  A bit more definition, perhaps: which sporting events in your lifetime are most memorable, but are also a bit out of place because they did not involve a favorite team or an event that could generally be categorized as must-watch in your particular household?

I have three that come to mind.  A few years ago, I was lounging around the house on a typically dreary February Sunday afternoon, and flipped on the tube.  The Daytona 500 happened to be on, and my son happened to be standing nearby.  Like with many boys his age, he was mesmerized by anything with wheels and a motor, and 43 angry, colorful, loud stock cars spinning past his visage made for a powerful lure.  It was the first time auto racing of any type had entered my home, and there we were, equally ignorant of what it meant to be loose into the turn.  Some time later, the race ended in a fury of fire and twisted metal as the chasers bled into each other while the leaders crossed the finish line.  One car skidded over the line on its back, and we each thought that was pretty cool.

The second example occurred a year or two prior, perhaps.  It was late summer, and I was home alone, and I was flicking through the channels before bed.  The sometimes reliable Worldwide Leader had...tennis?  Generally a recipe for moving on quickly, but I paused long enough to see that it was Andre Agassi at the US Open.  It had been at least a decade since I had last watched a micro-ounce of tennis, but I knew that Agassi was on his last legs, and that magic sometimes happened at this tournament.  The former star was down two sets when I turned the match on, but the voice in my head told me to hang out for awhile.  The punch line is that magic did happen, Agassi came back and won, and the full New York electricity was in effect.  This was a match in the later rounds of the tournament, as I recall, and while Agassi didn't win the big prize, he did put on a display of verve and pluck that lasted for hours that night, well past my bedtime.  I'm glad I got to see it.

Two down out of the three promised moments, and you'll note I failed to tell you the date, any more clearly than "a few years ago".  Number three comes with a date: September 21, 2001. 

I've thus far managed to avoid any of the televised 9/11 remembrance programs; it's a streak unlikely to end soon.  The memories are perfectly clear, and few of them are good.  I'd also like to avoid being trite if possible, so let's get back to the ball game.  Facts, only.

Baseball took a few days off after the towers collapsed, and then the Mets were out of town.  When they came back to Shea, the archrival Braves were there, too.  Perpetually in first-place, this year no different.  The teams lined up to play the first sporting event in New York since the world turned upside down, and there was a giant flag; and an eagle; and tears in the eyes of everyone, even the tough guys.  Now conjecture and myth begin to get mixed in with the facts.

The Yankees, we'll say, are the team of the powerbrokers, while the Mets represent the cops and the firemen.  New York Times vs. New York Post.  So, perhaps the Yankees also played a memorable game after That Day, but no one remembers it.  More likely, the Mets played the perfect game and the most cathartic events usually happen only once.

The game was scoreless for awhile.  Atlanta scored one in the 4th, and the Mets quickly countered with one of their own.  Still tied, a city sang God Bless America like they meant it, and then the Braves took the lead in the 8th inning, and the air was sucked out of the building.

In the last of the 8th, with a runner on first, Piazza lifted a ball over the centerfield fence.  The script, save for some loose technical ends, was complete.  And in a newly christened era of imperfection, this was as close to perfect as we had any right to expect.

***

I admit some embarrassment.  I have a larger-than-healthy contrarian streak raging within my soul, and to write any column/essay/blogpost on or around the 10th anniversary of 9/11 seems too...easy.  Too normal, too expected.  So, I am resolved: no written memories of the damned events and no where-was-I-when-I-heard-the-news stories.  That should placate the uncomfortable embarrassment, for a bit.  Remember where you are now: a baseball blog.  I can, as it turns out, with comfort and ease, connect this day to baseball.

***

Let's not forget about our beloved, the Redlegs.  That's a partial joke, since I have zero recollection of the Reds from 2001, and had to look up the following details: on September 11th, 2001, Cincinnati was 26.5 games back of first place.  They were on their way to 96 losses.  They were in first place on May 1.  Bob Boone was the manager.  It was Year 2 of the Junior era.  No one cared about their first game back from the unwanted vacation, and the team played out the final three weeks in obscurity and quietly faded into the offseason.  Not everything has gotten better in the last ten years, but at least one thing has.

Let's now forget about the 2001 Reds.

There were two major storylines in the world of baseball that year, and I was able to experience both, first hand.  As it turned out, my connection to one was slightly devalued by the tragic interruption to the season, and my connection to the other was only possible because of it.

The first major storyline was Barry Bonds, and his assault on pitching staffs, stampeding towards the relatively new home run record of 70.  My tickets were in hand for a game at Dodger Stadium-my first visit-and with the game scheduled for the next-to-last week in the season; it appeared plausible that we'd be in attendance for a historical event.  The six-day delay in the schedule disrupted any chance of that, but relativity being what it is, I was much more excited that the cross-country flight to LA (just 11 days after you know when) was uneventful than I would have been to see #71.  Incidentally, if you've never been to a Dodgers-Giants game, put it on your baseball bucket list.  Top notch.  Add in a hated superstar with intent on rewriting the record books, and the atmosphere was charged.  No home runs were hit by Bonds that night, but he walked a couple times or more, and even they were exciting.

Also in the category of disappointing was my effort to reach a goal of eating good Mexican food eight different times in our week-long visit.  I came up one meal short, much to my eternal dismay.  Alas.

The second major storyline that year, was the impending retirement of Cal Ripken, Jr.  There are many parallels between Ripken and Cincy's favorite shortstop of the same era: one-team careers, easy inclusion as a top-ten shortstop of all time, et cetera.  The biggest difference, obviously, was the ability to stay healthy.  It's not unimportant, but I had long viewed Ripken as a bit of a fraud (remember the contrarian streak).  Sure, he was a great player, but mightn't he have been a bit better with a few off days now and again?  At any rate, I bristled at the idea that he "saved" baseball post-strike.  As though the blessed thing needed saving. 

Because the season took a week-long hiatus, a trip to visit family in Baltimore in early October provided an opportunity to sneak in a trip to Camden Yards.  It turned out to be the next-to-next-to-last game of the year, and it was a rather ugly display in more ways than one.  First, two irrelevant teams were playing out the string with maximum indifference (Calvin Pickering sighting!).  Second, in between each inning was a video tribute to Ripken.  The short films reminded me of over-the-top Costner scenes, which I guess provided some ironic levity, in light of the infamous rumors. 

From my seat, I silently rooted for another aging star to make an appearance.  Tim Raines had just joined the Orioles to play with his son, and I was hoping to see the underrated star instead of the overrated one.  He didn't get into the game, but I did get to see Ripken hit a 26-hopper up the middle for a single.  It was the last base hit of his career.

***

Life is pretty cheap, sold a decade at a time, says the song by the old punk band Flipper.  Cheap lyric of course, but ten years does have a habit of passing quickly.  It's a long time, but not so long that memories fade.  Shock, fear, sorrow. 

I promised not to dwell on those ones, so other memories are called up.  Many declarations were made in the aftermath.  I remember three in particular.  We were entering into an age of post-partisan unity.  We were leaving the age of irony (seriously, Time Magazine said this.  And Jon Stewart cried on air, Glenn Beck style).  And we'd see more such attacks before long.  Thankfully, the most important of those was wrong, and that's worth celebrating, even in the weekend of bad memories.

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