Sometimes, button pushing works. You need A, you hit A, you get A, and a 90 mph fastball becomes a 94 mph fastball and last year's warning track fly-ball becomes this year's first row home run.
Sometimes, button pushing creates chaos. You need A, you hit A, and you get Z, it's an obvious miscalculation, and you're able to identify it and hit other buttons quickly to make it go away.
Other times, button pushing just doesn't do a damn thing. You hit A, and it doesn't give you anything. You hit B, and you get nothing. You hit C, it spits in your face, and you have to change its diaper. This was the 2013 Cincinnati Reds.
You can probably count on two fingers the number of Reds players you haven't been frustrated with this season, and in the one game playoff the Reds found themselves in, Mat Latos was unavailable due to a bum elbow and Shin-Soo Choo was matched against the only thing that has remotely managed to pooh pooh his season - a stingy LH starter.
That's baseball, however. It's just the way it goes, and just the way it's always gone.
The Reds have had their fair share of luck in this regard, as the early returns on Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix, Miguel Cairo, Scott Rolen, and Ryan Ludwick proved to be shrewd, and cheap, strategic moves that improved not just the product on the field, but also the mantra in the dugout and in the stands. This year, there was none of that. Ludwick was injured and subsequently sounded butthurt, Jack Hannahan and Cesar Izturis pulled off the spectacular feat of being every bit as bad as Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo's 2012, and none of the regulars outside of Choo, a rental player, managed a season that even remotely resembled an improvement on a prior year.
Couple that with injuries to an otherwise solid pitching staff, and you get a talented roster that underperforms what was expected of them.
It happens. It will happen again. If we're luckier than the previous generation of Reds' fans, it will happen more often than not, since at least that means that the organization is competent enough to put together a roster that, top to bottom, presents itself as capable of winning one of the most difficult divisions in baseball.
Momentum is both a scary bitch and a hell of a drug. When you're on it, it will drive you through walls and into frenzies you'd never imagine, and such was the case for the Reds in 2010 and 2012; when you're up against it, it will summon headlights to bear down on you, the deer, with nothing but cliffs on either side of the road...and such was the case of the Reds in 2013.
Change is inevitable with any franchise at the end of each season. Salaries change based upon service time, minor league stars usurp elder statesmen, and tides rise and fall; this year's Cincinnati Reds will be no different, as Bronson Arroyo, Shin-Soo Choo, and who knows who else will likely don either a different jersey or Hawaiian shirt come February, but given the current contracts, personalities, and mindset of the organization, there won't be a whole hell of a lot that changes between tomorrow and that glorious day in February when pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona.
No, you don't overhaul a team like this. You tweak it, you refresh it, and you do enough to ensure that those that show up again are both confident and motivated to right the wrongs that befell them the prior season.
Above all, however, you simply hope the balls bounce your way the next time.
To the game...
The Joe Nuxhall Memorial Honorary Star of the Game
There may be no more fitting final game JNMHSotG than Ryan Ludwick, who deserves the award on this, the most disappointing of ultimate nights. Ludwick, whose opening day injury set the team back in unimaginable ways, whose return prompted the Reds to pass on Marlon Byrd, and whose comments - either opportune or inopportune depending upon whom you ask - caused a late season stir that, combined with his move to the 2nd spot in the order and coincidental slump, ruffled feathers at the worst of times, went 3 for 4 with two doubles and watched the rest of his teammates struggle to help compliment his efforts.
Honorable Mentions are due to: Jay Bruce, whose RBI single was the one and only successful semblance of P-Docking; Shin-Soo Choo, who homered - off a LHP, no less - in what was likely his last plate appearance before signing a nine-figure contract with a team other than the Reds; Todd Frazier, who had two pretty spectacular defensive plays, a single, and missed a three-run homer by mere inches, feet, or miles (depending upon your source); and Alfredo Simon, for tossing yet another solid set of pitches while being an immensely overlooked portion of the Reds' bullpen.
- The Pirates got to Johnny Cueto early and, unfortunately, rather often tonight. Both Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin touched up Cueto in the Bottom of the 2nd for solo homers, both of which were sandwiched between other balls that were hit rather damn hard by Pirates' hitters. An Andrew McCutchen leadoff single and eventual small-balling resulted in another run via a Pedro Alvarez sac-fly, and after three innings, the Reds found themselves behind, 3-0.
- The Good Guys burst through with a glimmer of hope in the Top of the 4th courtesy of...what else...Choo leading off by reaching base via a HBP. He moved to 2B on a Ludwick single, and two batters later Bruce went oppo to drive Choo in. Reds trailed, 3-1.
- The Pirates, unfortunately, continued to pile on. Cueto was chased in the Bottom of the 4th, and not even Sean Marshall turning Neil Walker to his weaker RH batting side could prevent another run, as Walker doubled off the wall to drive in Starling Marte. A later Byrd grounder scored a fifth Pirate run, as a series of misplayed grounders, infield hits, luck, fate, and unhappiness beset the Reds' infield. Reds trailed, 5-1.
- Russell Martin homered again in the whateverth, and though Choo matched him in the oneafterthatith, nothing more was left to be done. Game, set, match, season, 6-2.
FanGraphs Section That Doesn't Even Give a "100%," "Excellent," or "Wonderful" Sticker for Having Made the "Playoffs"
- Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto combined to go 0 for 8 with 2 strikeouts. I'm not at all in the mood to math things tonight, but I'm pretty sure that the two of them have, at least, twice as much guaranteed money coming to them than the entirety of the Pittsburgh Pirate roster. I'm not saying they're not good; I'm just saying what is.
- At least Mat Latos won't be asked to stress his hurting elbow.
- I'm going to desperately miss Shin-Soo Choo. I don't know if he'll ultimately be worth what he signs for, and I don't know if he'll ever be as good as he was for the Reds this season, but his 2013 in Cincinnati Red was one of the best, most endearing seasons I've ever witnessed. He willingly switched leagues, switched positions, hit leadoff full-time for the first full season of his career, and dominated. He was more than even his greatest optimists could have imagined, and for that, I thank him.
- Props to Johnny Cueto. Latos, Bailey, and Arroyo all pitched down the stretch in attempts to get the Reds either a division title or home field advantage in the Wild Card game (none of which worked any better than Cueto's start tonight), and it left the Reds' oft-injured ace in a predicament he could've never predicted a mere month ago. He battled, it wasn't perfect, and he didn't exactly get much help from his defense or his offense, but someone had to do it. Here's to a healthy offseason of dreadlocks blowing in the warm breeze of the Dominican and lat, shoulder, and back muscles relaxing by the crashing waves.
- Props, also, to the Pirates. They came into Cincinnati, swept a 3 game series to end the season and clinch home field for the Wild Card game, and then proceeded to pack their house and dominate in their first hosted postseason game since, like, the Nixon administration. It sucked from a Reds fan perspective, but that's what home field advantage in the playoffs is all about. It worked, and a hat tip to them for providing their team the reciprocal of their late-season performance.
- Anyone seen Aroldis Chapman? The biggest four games of the season...and he pitched zero times. I mean, I'm not asking Dusty to flip the script on managing or anything, but come the hell on.
- This season wasn't nearly as fun as 2010 or 2012. Not at all. But I'll be damned if someone tries to tell me it was worse than 2011 or 1995-2009. If you've lived a life that hasn't faced more difficulty than the 2013 Cincinnati Reds, then I'm actually glad they gave you a sense of perspective. If you've watched them for the past 10, 20, 30, or (Don x Madville) years, you have the kind of appreciation it takes to be a supporter - not just a fan - of this franchise which, in case you haven't noticed, is pretty damn well run, staffed, and presented. The Reds will be back, and soon.
- Thanks a million for joining we Red Reporters throughout this season. It's a blessing to have the chance to relay information to you guys on a daily basis, and I'm proud to have the chance to be a part of what goes on here. We branched out to radio stations and podcasts this year, we managed to produce enough content to average over 200,000 page views a month, and I'm pretty sure I speak for the rest of the crew when I say that we had a damn fine time doing it, too. I like to think we're not too big of attention whores, but it's nevertheless reassuring to know that what we toss out there gets seen, and you guys are phenomenal about making that the case. The Reds' season may be over, but the offseason should have plenty of fireworks that we'll do our damnedest to cover, too. Stick around!
- Tunes? Tunes.