18 Games at a Time: Capsule 7

Generally perfect - USA TODAY Sports

As we barrel towards the seemingly inevitable play-in game, the question looms: do we even want to?

Things tightened considerably this stretch, but I'm not entirely sure how. The clutch/luck shortfall that we've lamented all year may have been eliminated in one swift kick, as the Reds won 12 games and gained 2.5 games in the standings, despite outscoring their opponents by just six runs in these 18 games. No matter at this point, since the importance of how has been replaced by the necessity of who. As in, who's going to beat the Pirates and Cards over these last six weeks.

Let's go to the numbers, all of which are through Tuesday's games...

2013 Reds, Capsule 7

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 12 - 6

Strength of Schedule: .502 (1st most difficult in NL; 9th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .504, 1st most difficult in NL; 11th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .517 (3rd best in NL; 7th best in ML)

[Prev: .514, 3rd best in NL; 10th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus postseason odds: 93.3% [Prev: 88.6%]

Baseball Prospectus division odds: 20.9% [Prev: 11.6%]

Offense:

  • .224/.310/.347 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .252/.316/.382
  • Regulars, as defined by plate appearances: Mesoraco, Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Heisey, Choo, Bruce.
  • Given that the league average OPS is about 700, and forgetting for a moment that the Reds play in an offense-boosting park, here are the Reds who OPS'd at least 700 for the period, with no minimum requirements in playing time: Votto (obv.): 905 OPS, 80 PA; Phillips: 837 OPS, 77 PA; Hanigan: 729 OPS, 23 PA; Corky: 1214 OPS, 8 PA. Everyone else was effectively a net drain at the plate.
  • Where there might be cause to not despair is in some of the underlying components. For one, the Reds were back to hitting a normal number of home runs (17, up from 12 in the prior 18-game capsule), which covers a multitude of hitting sins. For two, the walk rates remain high (mainly driven by Choo & Votto), while the strikeout rates are roughly league average. The team's BABIP was as low as it's been all year, so maybe this is a clear bounce-back situation. It did seem telling that the local press was so eager to push the "Is the offense breaking out?" story after a two-game span in which the Reds scored 14 runs.
  • Cesar Izturis had more sacrifice hits (2) than actual hits (0).
  • Ryan Ludwick is back, so hooray? There's an obvious caveat that any numbers are possible for any player over a 22 plate appearance sample, but what about when the player is coming back from a major shoulder injury? Does the .190/.227/.238 line tell us anything about what his offense will look like when he has a Spring Training's worth of timing under his belt? At what quantity of poor results would we say we've crossed the point of no return? And at what point beyond that would Dusty reach the same conclusion?
  • This doesn't much matter beyond noting it as a frivolity, but Corky Miller appeared in 14 games this year, amassing 38 plate appearances. Barring injury, or a span of meaningless games, one imagines his season is basically over. If this is the case, and if all things remain constant, Miller will have out-OPS'd the following players for the year: Ryan Hanigan, Zack Cozart, Derrick Robinson, Ryan Ludwick, Donald Lutz. There are also others we could list. Miller 4EVA; Corky 4SS.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 3.48, compared to league average of 3.61
  • Mat Latos, staff ace: 22.1 innings, two runs allowed, one loss credited.
  • This might be the last we'll ever really see of Bronson Arroyo, so please make sure you enjoy the final ride: 23.1 innings, one walk, 25 strikeouts.
  • Chapman had the blown save that's still sticking in your craw, but 16 K vs. 0 BB should put a bounce in your step. There are times when he's volatile or even more hittable than you'd like to think, but net net: this is an asset in October.
  • Mike Leake has been more (!) than (.) or (?) this season, so I'm going to chalk this up as normal pitching volatility (13 runs allowed in 17 innings). For now. He can succeed with a low strikeout rate, as he's shown before (5.3 K/9 for the period), but probably not when it's coupled with a high walk rate (3.7 BB/9).
  • Raise a glass to JJ Hoover, wouldya? His scoreless streak was finally snapped, as was inevitable, but this was no fluke, as Hoover's numbers are impeccable (9 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 11 K for the period). Don't look now, but Hoover and Chapman have virtually identical WHIPs for the year, registering in the damn-near-unhittable ranges. The differences are that Chapman is more of a true outcomes guy, striking out more and getting whiplash as balls exit the yard more frequently.

The next 18:

  • 12 games at home, 6 on the road
  • 10 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 10 of the 18 against projected 2013 playoff teams
  • .530 average winning percentage (2013) for the teams in the next 18 games.

This past 18 games made it less likely that the Reds be forced into a one-game playoff for their literal lives, but it's still a better-than-even chance that they will. I was curious, so I took a look at the past instances of do-or-die games involving the Reds, while trying to limit it to winner-take-all events, where the game was of paramount importance to both teams. I cheated on a couple, where the game wasn't directly winner-take-all, but where another team was in the same boat as the Reds. You'll get the idea. Behold:

Date: October 8, 1940

Situation: Game 7, 1940 World Series

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Momentum: Reds had won Game 6 by chasing Detroit's starting pitcher out of the game in the first inning, while Bucky Walters threw a complete game shutout. Moreover, Crosley Field was the site of the deciding game.

Matchup: Bobo Newsom (Tigers), 168 ERA+; Paul Derringer (Reds), 124 ERA+

Outcome: The Tigers scored an unearned run in the 3rd off of third baseman Billy Werber's throwing error, but a pair of doubles followed by two sacrifices in the 7th gave the Reds a 2-1 lead that would hold.

***

Date: October 4, 1964

Situation: Final game of regular season; Reds were tied with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League standings, and were one game ahead of Philadelphia

Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

Momentum: The Reds had won 12 of 13 in late September to storm back into the race, coming from 8.5 games back to actually take the league lead in just two weeks (this was the famous Phillies collapse). The success didn't hold, however, as the Reds dropped three of four leading into the final regular season game.

Matchup: Jim Bunning (Phillies), 132 ERA+; John Tsitouris (Reds), 95 ERA+

Outcome: A win would have guaranteed the Reds at least a share of the pennant, but this game was rarely in doubt once the Phils plated three in the 3rd. Bunning was dominant, the Reds lost 10-0, and the Cards took care of the hapless Mets in St. Louis to win the pennant.

***

Date: October 11, 1972

Situation: Game 5, 1972 NL Championship Series

Opponent: Pittsburgh Pirates

Momentum: Cincy blasted the Bucs, 7-1, in Game 4 and were hosting the fifth and final game of the series at Riverfront.

Matchup: Steve Blass (Pirates), 135 ERA+; Don Gullett (Reds), 82 ERA+

Outcome: This game is on the short list for greatest wins in franchise history. Gullett was roughed up early, allowing three runs in 3+ innings, but the bullpen held for the remainder of the game. The Reds got single runs in the 3rd (Rose double) and the 5th (Geronimo homer), but entered the 9th inning trailing by a run. Here's the sequence in the bottom of that final inning:

-Bench HR

-Perez single (Foster pinch-runs for Perez)

-Menke single (Foster to 2nd)

-Geronimo fly to RF (Foster to 3rd)

-Chaney pop to SS

-McRae batting, wild pitch (Foster scores)

-Game, set, match

***

Date: October 22, 1972

Situation: Game 7, 1972 World Series

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Momentum: The Reds had come back from a 3-1 series deficit, winning game 6 by seven runs, and were hosting game 7.

Matchup: Blue Moon Odom (Athletics), 115 ERA+; Jack Billingham (Reds), 101 ERA+

Outcome: A tortured affair. The A's rode a Bobby Tolan error in the first inning to get on the board with a run and scored a pair more in the 6th, largely on the back of Gene Tenace, owner of 9 RBI in the series. Down 3-1 in the 8th, the Reds nearly rekindled the magic of the NLCS. Rose and Morgan led off with hits, leaving the Reds with runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out. George Foster was due up, having recently been inserted into the game as a defensive replacement to Tolan. Perfect set up, except that the George Foster that you have heard about didn't exist yet (he was not a good hitter at all in 1972), and Sparky brought in Joe Hague as a pinch-hitter. I had never heard of Hague before this very moment. Hague popped out, Bench was intentionally walked, and Perez scored one with a sacrifice fly. Denis Menke ended the threat with a fly out, and the game was effectively over.

***

Date: October 10, 1973

Situation: Game 5, 1973 NL Championship Series

Opponent: New York Mets

Momentum: Pete Rose hit a 12th inning home run to give the Reds a game 4 lead, which they held, allowing the team to tie the series at 2 wins apiece.

Matchup: Tom Seaver (Mets), 175 ERA+; Jack Billingham (Reds), 113 ERA+

Outcome: Despite Seaver being an all-time great at the very top of his game, the Reds had managed two runs through their half of the 5th, leaving the game tied at 2. The Mets countered with a parade of hits, scoring four in the bottom of the inning, and leaving the game completely out of reach against Tom Terrific.

***

Date: October 22, 1975

Situation: Game 7, 1975 World Series

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Momentum: You may have seen Carlton Fisk's iconic Game 6 homer a few times in your lifetime.

Matchup: Bill Lee (Red Sox), 105 ERA+; Don Gullett (Reds), 149 ERA+

Outcome: At this point, it had been 57 seasons since Boston's last World Series championship, which was long enough to feel like a historical event was on the verge of breakthrough when the Sox scored three in the 3rd. Perez golfed an eephus pitch onto Lansdowne Street in the 6th to move the Redlegs within a run, and Rose tied the game with a single in the 7th. Joe Morgan hit the clutchiest clutch hit of all, with a 9th inning, 2-out bloop single to drive in Ken Griffey Jr's dad, and the Reds destroyed the collective soul of all of Boston for 11 more years, until the Mets got to do it again.

***

Date: October 3, 1999

Situation: Final game of regular season

Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers

Momentum: With four games remaining in the season, the Reds held the NL Central division lead. After losing three straight (Astros, Brewers, Brewers), the Reds had to win game 162 just to force a tie in the wild card race.

Matchup: Cal Eldred (Brewers), 58 ERA+; Pete Harnisch (Reds), 127 ERA+

Outcome: Boy, this one feels a bit out of place compared to some of the games above, doesn't it? At any rate, the temperature was 45 degrees at game time (and, if my memory serves, the game was preceded by a lengthy rain delay), the Reds pounced early on Eldred, and coasted to a 7-1 victory. Unfortunately, the Mets grabbed a walk-off win against the Pirates at roughly the same time.

***

Date: October 4, 1999

Situation: Play-in game to NL Wild Card berth

Opponent: New York Mets

Momentum: See above.

Matchup: Al Leiter (Mets), 105 ERA+; Steve Parris (Reds), 134 ERA+

Outcome: Leiter wasn't as good that year as I remember him, but he was bullets and nails to the Reds' lineup, who managed all of two hits against him. Edgardo Alfonzo's two-run homer as the second batter of the game was sufficient, but the Mets won 5-0 anyway. The only positive memory of this game was watching it in a sports bar with a friend. The baseball game occupied a small corner TV, while all 386 other screens were showing a Monday Night Football game. Bills-Dolphins, if I recall. We were in southwestern Connecticut, so the Mets should have demanded the eyeballs, but whatever. My friend, a Mets fan, was annoyed that his team wasn't getting the attention he thought they deserved, so when the bar partisans let out a cheer for a touchdown, he stood up and shouted to no one and everyone, "It's week 4 for God's sake!" The rest of the game sucked.

***

Date: October 11, 2012

Situation: Game 5, NL Divisional Series

Opponent: San Francisco Giants

Momentum: The Giants had won two straight to force the deciding game 5.

Matchup: Matt Cain (Giants), 126 ERA+; Mat Latos (Reds), 120 ERA+

Outcome: The Reds left 11 men on base, had a questionable strikeout/caught stealing double play go against them, saw Latos get hella-squeezed, and made a critical defensive error at a purported position of strength. Other than that, the game never happened.

The summary is this: the Reds have been in a handful of these do-or-die, heart-in-your-throat kind of games in their history, and with the advent of the second wild card, they will likely occur at a more frequent rate hereafter. There's not much pattern to these nine past contests; momentum doesn't mean much, and even the pitching matchups have been little more than a shoulder shrug when it comes to divining the outcome. Good thing, too, since the Reds historically don't fare well in that comparison.

Conceptually, I'm a fan of the 2 wild card setup. It places an emphasis on winning the division that has been noticeably absent for the past 15-20 years. There can't be a question, however, that the above timespan represents a progression of manufactured excitement. In 1940 (hell, as late as 1968), the most likely existence of a winner-take-all matchup was in a World Series game 7. The last game of baseball to be played, with no exceptions. This year, the most likely existence of a winner-take-all game can't even be described as likely...it's guaranteed. The only question will be which four teams will be there. And the grand prize will be the opportunity to navigate through up to three more tournament legs. It's exciting, in a way, and it's certain to snare the Redlegs at some point in the future, whether it be this year or not. But make no mistake; the special nature of the list above is a thing of the past.

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