If you remember Candlebox, then this post's for you (18 Game Capsule #6)

There were, according to the people who count such things, 153,747 babies born in the state of Ohio in 1995. Assuming uniform seasonality of births, a made-up-on-the-spot 25% chance of the kid growing up in a Red-friendly household, and a friendly actuarial table, we can say there are about 100 kids born on October 7, 1995 who today count themselves as Reds fans. Or at least enjoy texting their buddies while a Reds game is on in the background. Or at least who have heard of the Reds.

Each of these 100 adolescents is nearing his/her 17th birthday, can presumably drive legally, is likely to be entering the junior year of high school, and is otherwise trying to stave off boredom, heat waves, and parental direction.

The night before this cohort was born, the Reds beat the Dodgers (10-1) to finish off a sweep of one of two inaugural National League Divisional Series. It was the last time the Reds won a post-season game, making our group of 100 the oldest living Reds fans not to have known such sweetness in their lifetimes.

In one sense, 10/6/95 doesn't feel that long ago, perhaps because the local "alternative" radio station still hasn't moved on past that date. On the other hand, two quick personal facts about that night that help put that night into historical perspective:

  • 1) I was a college freshman at the time, blatantly breaking the rules of my on-campus work study job by listening to the game at work on my Walkman radio. Actually, it was probably a knock-off Walkman. Either way. Look it up, kids.
  • 2) When the night's work was over, I went back to my dorm room to continue listening to the radio broadcast. Why didn't I go to the student lounge to watch the televised account? Well, of the three games which all simultaneously kicked off shortly past 8 PM that night with broadcast rights shared by the same network (Indians/Red Sox, Braves/Rockies, and the Reds/Dodgers), the game I was most interested in seeing didn't win the local broadcast lottery.

Looking back, and #firstworldproblems snark aside, what kind of dark ages were these? I always get a kick out of those annual lists which detail what incoming college freshman have always or never known the world to be. In that vein, here's a quick list of what the world was like on 10/6/95:

  • 1) Our favorite movie was "Seven".
  • 2) Very, very, very, very few people knew who Monica Lewinsky was.
  • 3) Dave Winfield was still an active player.
  • 4) A gallon of gas averaged a buck-o-nine.
  • 5) Movies were not yet coming soon to DVD.
  • 6) Jamie Moyer was only 33 years old, and had won just 59 of his career-to-date 269 victories.
  • 7) Tupac and Biggie still roamed the earth.

Et cetera. Feel free to add your own.

The point, of course, is that 17 years is a really long damn time without winning a single playoff game. Not Pittsburgh or Kansas City long, but long enough to expect better. The simple math: if there are 16 NL teams and 4 playoff spots, then the Reds should expect to be in the playoffs roughly every four years or so. The likelihood of being swept is low (call it 20% max if the Reds are severe underdogs) (note: please forget the 2010 debacle), so I'd say 8 years without an October win is legitimately unacceptable. And here we are at double that. Time to break the drought, I'd say.

Since I'm on the topic of playoffs, I will now introduce a couple of points which shall henceforth and forever be considered the official Red Reporter stance. Yes, I have that kind of sway around here.

  • 1) The wild-card play-in game is not a playoff game, it's an extension of the regular season. Game 163. I (we) will not reconsider this position.
  • 2) With the addition of the wild card play-in game, winning the division is clearly paramount, but so is having the NL's best record for the #1 seed. The Reds, as you all know, currently hold the NL's best record. Being the top seed and playing the wild card entrant is a big deal in this new format, and I expect that over the next several years, the #1 vs #4/5 match-ups will skew heavily towards the top dogs. More than anything, this has lots to do with the wild card team being a) rather marginal to begin with; and b) out of whack with its starting rotation with the extra must-win game. From a historical perspective, I think it's really cool that being the best team in your league legitimately means something for the first time since 1968.

There are those who will read this entry as a jinx. Fuhgeddaboudit. Doing what they just did without you-know-who? High expectations are now afoot. Scroll down a bit and you'll see a listed probability of 65% that the Reds win their division. Using Baseball Prospectus's more sophisticated approach, the Reds' chances are a hair under 80%. Mathematically, that's still low enough to not be considered anything like a lock. Realistically, this team just transformed themselves from contenders to front-runners at the most improbable time. The Reds can go 24-30 from here and still win 90 games.

Baseball teams go through hot and cold streaks all the time, and the following sentence certainly doesn't prohibit an underperforming squad from shaking off the cobwebs and playing spoiler, but check it out. The Reds have six games remaining against teams which would currently qualify for any type of postseason activity, and all six of those games are against the Pirates.

In the meantime, remember to breathe. Remember to enjoy the games (it is baseball, after all). And remember to plan to celebrate that first playoff win. We'll figure out how to celebrate all the subsequent wins later.

*******************************

2012 Reds, Capsule 6

(All stats, opinions, and delusions through Sunday's games)

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 15 - 3

Strength of Schedule: .495 (7th most difficult in NL; 21st most difficult in ML) [Prev: .503, 2nd most difficult in NL; 14h most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .524 (2nd best in NL; 3rd best in ML)

[Prev: .519, 2nd best in NL; 5th best in ML]

Cool Standings postseason odds: 93.3% [Prev: 78.1%]

Cool Standings division odds: 64.9% [Prev: 44.6%]

Quick Editorial Comment:

  • WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Offense:

  • .272/.332/.464 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .256/.323/.415
  • The regulars, as defined by plate appearances: Hanigan, Frazier, Phillips, Cozart, Rolen, Ludwick, Stubbs, Bruce
  • The list of regulars is notable due to who's not in it. Joey Votto didn't play an ounce of baseball over these last 18 games, but his absence was mitigated by five players posting OPS's over 900: Bruce (926), Phillips (978), Stubbs (984), Rolen (1004), and Ludwick (1142).
  • It's worth noting that the Reds faced some pretty bad teams over this stretch, and we may never know the extent to which the above numbers were inflated by the sub-standard strength of opponent. It's also worth noting that only one of the five above posted an 18 game OPS above Votto's seasonal mark.
  • Proving that there's always room for improvement, none of the other three regulars hit for OPS's above 700.
  • Pound-for-pound, dollar-for-dollar, Brandon Phillips is probably my favorite player to watch when he's on. In part, because you never really know what you're going to get from the guy. This period, 52 PA, 2 walks, 1 strikeout. Just dat dude knocking the ball all over the yard, not taking pitches and so forth.
  • You can gauge a runner's aggressiveness by calculating Stolen Base Opportunity Percentage (SBO), as steals plus times caught divided by singles and walks. This rough approximation ignores steals of third, but that is offset to some degree by the singles and walks that leave a runner in front of you. Across Reds players with at least 50 plate appearances, Drew Stubbs leads the team in this made-up stat by a large margin with 35%. I bring this up only to point out that future centerfielder Billy Hamilton has an SBO of 92%. 97% of me wants this team to walk away with the division crown, but the other 3% of me wants Hamilton to be called up in September as a Designated Speedster and to be inserted as a pinch-runner in the final game of the season against St. Louis. Quix would steal second (against Molina) and then third, and then would score on Ryan Ludwick's long fly ball to Rafael Furcal. The run would be decisive in the game and would advance the Reds while eliminating the Cards. Actually, maybe 4% of me wants to see that happen.
  • Across the counting stats that count, Votto now only leads the team in doubles and walks.
  • Roster-watch, continued: Miguel Cairo hit .179/.200/.214. This had the effect of increasing his YTD OPS.
  • Given all the injuries and various slump-related lineup scrambles, this team's offensive profile is strange, considering the team's position in the standings and the relatively late position in the season. Consider: only one player is on pace for either 30 HR or 100 RBI (Bruce, for both, and barely); no player has more than 110 hits (Phillips); no player is officially on pace to score 100 runs (Stubbs will likely get there, but only has 63, YTD); Joey Votto has not yet driven in 50 runs; No one is on pace to walk 100 times (Votto, with 66, will get there if he returns relatively soon). It's been a strange and successful season. Dusty gets his grief, including from me, but he's been a wizard with the duct tape.
  • Pursuant to the above bullet, Zack Cozart leads the team in plate appearances, YTD. Part of that is due to him hitting at the top of the lineup, but it's still weird, right?

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 3.61, against league average of 4.17.
  • WHIP is not everything, but it is something, and it points out a mild but clear stratification among our starting pitchers. Cueto, Latos, and Arroyo are at 1.21, 1.23, and 1.24, respectively (YTD), while Leake and Bailey sit at 1.34 & 1.36. Throw in the HR/9 rates (Cueto's at 0.4, everyone else is either 1.2 or 1.3), and the two simple numbers bear out what everyone already knows. Cueto's the #1, Latos and Arroyo are in the playoff rotation, and Leake and Bailey are henceforth on notice.
  • You don't (or shouldn't, perhaps) rip off 15 of 18 without outstanding starting pitching, but the starters posted an aggregate 4.32 ERA. Mike Leake had four starts during this stretch and was bad in three of them, so if you strip his numbers out, the starter ERA falls to 3.61. Which is good, but still doesn't have you thinking 15 and 3. Never underestimate nor disrespect the power and fortune of good luck.
  • The bullpen, of course, scoffs completely at the notion of luck. Between ‘em, Chapman, Marshall, LeCure, and Broxton threw 27.3 innings and collectively allowed one run.
  • Chapman recorded 11 saves.
  • The team's DER fell, on a YTD basis, from .699 (as of last period's end) to .694. Which is pretty precipitous. And they still won all those games. (*stifles a giggle*)
  • The league average ERA so far this year is 3.98. The only Reds pitchers with an ERA (YTD) higher than 3.98 are Mike Leake and Bill Bray. And one of those guys is unlikely to throw another meaningful inning this season...

The next 18:

  • 7 games at home, 11 on the road
  • 11 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 0 of the 18 against projected 2012 playoff teams
  • .445 average winning percentage (2012) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • Votto back! Phillips back!
  • This is more of a look back than a look forward, but I was pleased and excited to see the Reds trade for Jonathan Broxton. Despite the bullpen's collective awesomeness in aggregate, it'd been clear that Arredondo and Ondrusek have not of late been arms you can count on in a close game. A fresh (and reputable) arm to add to the mix made a lot of sense, especially since the starter cache is four-fifths full of good but not great options who are likely to give you six solid but not eight amazing. A hitter makes sense in a vacuum, but the actual upgrade over the team's mostly average bats would be mostly minimal given the available options. Lastly, you can see a calculated gamble forming. The Reds have exactly five starting pitchers, and have needed only five thus far. Todd Redmond is not a prospect, but he's enough insurance to get you by if one pitcher misses a couple weeks. LeCure has been floated as a guy who might also get stretched out if necessary, but Simon's been more of the long man in the pen, and would likely be closer to being five-inning-ready. Two months from now, the Reds will only need four starters anyway. Walt focused on improvements rather than insurance. I like it.
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