Taking a look at the Cincinnati Reds as we head toward the postseason

The 2013 Major League Baseball regular season is coming to an end, and once again it is an exciting time to be a Cincinnati Reds fan. The Reds have been among the best teams in the National League for the past few years but have failed to win a playoff series during their run.

Recent History

In 2010, the Reds finished 91-71, winning the National League Central by 5 games over the Cardinals. Joey Votto was named National League MVP. However, the Reds were swept by the Phillies in the division series. Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter in Game 1. Cincinnati blew a 4-0 lead in Game 2, committing 4 errors in the game.

The Reds took a step backward in 2011, finishing 79-83, third place in the Central.

In 2012, the Reds finished 97-65 and again won the division, this time by 9 games over the Cardinals. After taking the first two games on the road in a best-of-five division series against the Giants, the Reds inexplicably came home to Cincinnati and lost three in a row to the eventual World Series champs. Johnny Cueto suffered an injury early in Game 1, forcing Mat Latos to move up and pitch 4 innings to help the Reds win the game. Cincinnati beat San Francisco 9-0 in Game 2, moving the series back to Cincinnati, where the Reds needed only to win 1 of 3 to advance to the NLCS. A fantastic start by Homer Bailey was wasted in Game 3 as the Reds fell 2-1 in 10 innings. After losing Game 4, the Reds sent Mat Latos to the mound for Game 5. It all fell apart in the 5th inning, culminating in Buster Posey’s grand slam to give the Giants a 6-0 lead that they would not relinquish.

Dusty Baker’s Playoff Woes

If the 2010 and 2012 postseason losses seem awfully hard to swallow for Reds fans, consider what else manager Dusty Baker has endured during his long tenure as a Major League manager:

In 2002, Baker’s San Francisco Giants, led by Barry Bonds, faced the Anaheim Angels in the World Series. With the series tied at 2 games apiece, the Giants destroyed the Angels in Game 5 by a score of 16-4 to take a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, with a chance to become World Champions, the Giants had a 5-0 lead in the 7th inning and lost. The Angels made a ferocious rally and won the game 6-5. The Giants also held a 1-0 lead in Game 7 but lost 4-1.

The very next year, Dusty Baker found himself managing the Chicago Cubs, and they won the NL Central. After winning their first-round playoff series, the Cubs advanced to the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. Chicago went into Game 6 holding a 3-2 series lead, just one victory away from their first trip to the World Series since 1945. The Cubs led 3-0 in the 8th inning of Game 6 when the infamous Steve Bartman incident happened. The Marlins would score 8 runs in the inning and go on to win the game 8-3. The Cubs led 5-3 in Game 7 before Florida came back and won 9-6.

To recap, Dusty Baker has lived through these nightmares:

  • 2002 Giants – Led World Series against Angels 3 games to 2, led 5-0 in 7th inning of Game 6, lost in 7
  • 2003 Cubs – Led NLCS against Marlins 3 games to 2, led 3-0 in 8th inning of Game 6 (Bartman), lost in 7
  • 2010 Reds – No-hit by Halladay in NLDS Game 1, committed 4 errors in Game 2, swept by Phillies
  • 2012 Reds – Won first 2 NLDS games on the road, then lost 3 at home, Giants won series in 5

In fact, Dusty Baker’s bad luck as a manager started way back in his first season as a Major League skipper in 1993. Dusty took over the San Francisco Giants that year, and he was joined in San Francisco by Barry Bonds, who had signed with the Giants as a free agent during the offseason after spending the first 7 years of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dusty, Barry, and company finished with a phenomenal record of 103-59. So what was the problem? Despite finishing with the second-best record in all of baseball, the Giants did not make the playoffs that year. Atlanta won the NL West by 1 game, finishing 104-58, and 1993 was the last year with no wild card, so the Giants had to sit at home and watch three teams with worse records play in the playoffs. This was the year of the famous Joe Carter home run off Mitch Williams to win the World Series for Toronto over Philadelphia. Toronto was 95-67 during the regular season and Philadelphia was 97-65.

I have a love-hate relationship with Dusty Baker. I really like the guy, but he drives me crazy with a lot of his decisions. However, it seems like for whatever reason he has been hit with the worst luck EVER in the playoffs. There’s simply no way one man can be responsible for all the events listed above. Hopefully Dusty will reach the top of the mountain this year. He has certainly waited long enough!

Team Overview

The 2013 Cincinnati Reds have been a successful team, but they just haven’t quite put it all together yet. The Reds are in a dogfight with St. Louis and Pittsburgh for first place in the NL Central, and it looks like the battle will continue through the end of the season. Winning the division is extremely important, as baseball’s playoff format rewards all three division winners with an automatic entry into the division series, while the two wild-card teams must play a 1-game playoff to determine the other division series representative. Nobody wants to play 162 games and then be sent home after just one playoff game! So those three teams will be doing all they can to win the division. The Reds currently have a nice lead for the second wild card spot, so it looks like the NL Central will send three teams to the playoffs, with two of those meeting in the wild card game.

Starting pitching has been the biggest strength of the Reds this season, as their starters have the second-best E.R.A. in the National League. For the majority of the season, it hasn’t really mattered which starter the Reds threw out there, as they have all proven capable of getting the job done. Mat Latos has separated himself from the pack to become the clear ace. Latos throws hard, strikes people out, and lasts deep into games. Homer Bailey threw his 2nd no-hitter in July and is capable of dominating any time he takes the mound. Bronson Arroyo has been as steady as ever, throwing everything including the kitchen sink, eating up innings, and winning games. Mike Leake has made a huge jump this season to become another dependable starter. Tony Cingrani has exceeded all expectations after filling in for Johnny Cueto, who has been injured almost all season.

The bullpen has also been an asset for the Reds. Despite injuries to Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall, the Reds’ pen has still performed well. Although not as steady as the starters, the bullpen has mostly been very dependable. Other than a coupe brief spells fueled by wildness, Aroldis Chapman has been dominant in the closer role. After rough starts to the season, J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra both had long scoreless streaks and are dependable setup men. Sam LeCure has also been a lights-out reliever.

Overall, the Reds’ pitching staff leads the National League in strikeouts and ranks third in E.R.A. behind Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Cueto and Marshall could be back in time for the playoffs, which could make for some tough decisions regarding the postseason roster, which I will get into shortly.

Although the Reds’ offense hasn’t been bad, it hasn’t been as good as their pitching. Cincinnati brought in Shin-Soo Choo during the offseason, and he has been fantastic in the leadoff role. Choo and Joey Votto have been at the top of the National League all season long in on-base percentage and walks. Votto hasn’t hit for as much power as he did a couple years ago, but he’s still reaching base at an incredible rate. An opening day shoulder injury to Ryan Ludwick sidelined him for months and moved Brandon Phillips to the cleanup spot, and he has delivered, producing over 100 RBI on the year. Jay Bruce has had another Jay Bruce season, hitting for lots of power, striking out a lot, and having some crazy hot streaks. Ludwick has returned from injury, and anything he can give the Reds would be considered a plus.

The rest of the Reds lineup has been mostly ineffective. Todd Frazier went through a horrible slump a few weeks ago, but he is still a good young talent. Zack Cozart was terrible at the plate almost all season, but he has actually been the Reds’ best hitter over the past month. Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco have handled the catching duties. Mesoraco has grown a lot this season behind the plate and as a hitter, while Hanigan has continued to be a gritty performer.

Billy Hamilton made his Major League debut earlier this month, and he’s already made a difference, helping the Reds win games with his late-inning pinch-running base-stealing heroics.

Defensively, the Reds again rank near the top of the National League. Brandon Phillips routinely makes highlight plays at second base. Jay Bruce has a great arm in right field. Shin-Soo Choo has been a pleasant surprise in center field, both in terms of playing smart and having a strong arm. Joey Votto is capable of playing a good first base, but he has committed a high number of errors this season.

In order for the Reds to go deep into the postseason, their pitching needs to continue to be as steady as it has been all year, but they are going to have to do more with their bats. Los Angeles, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh are all tough opponents with outstanding pitching staffs.

Playoff Roster

The Reds will face some tough decisions when it comes time to set their 25-man playoff roster. Here is where they stand (R=Right-handed, L=Left-handed, S = Switch hitter):

STARTING PITCHERS:

Mat Latos, R
Homer Bailey, R
Bronson Arroyo, R
Mike Leake, R
Tony Cingrani, L
Johnny Cueto, R

Teams typically use only 4 starters in the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see what the Reds do here because all 5 guys (I’m excluding Cueto here because he has been injured most of the year) have been really good. My guess is that Dusty will choose to have 4 starters instead of 5, with the odd man out being Leake or Cingrani. Leake has hit a rough patch lately, and Cingrani has been dealing with an injury. If Cingrani can’t get healthy in time, the decision is easy. If he does, I think he might get the nod because he’s the only lefty in the entire group. Leake would likely still make the roster as a relief pitcher, although that is not a guarantee because he is not used to that role. Cingrani has pitched in relief this year when Cueto was healthy. Cueto, of course, is a starter, but he will almost certainly move to a bullpen role for the postseason if he is healthy.

RELIEF PITCHERS:

Aroldis Chapman, L
Sam LeCure, R
Manny Parra, L
J.J. Hoover, R
Alfredo Simon, R
Sean Marshall, L
Zach Duke, L
Logan Ondrusek, R

Chapman, LeCure, Parra, and Hoover are locks for the postseason roster. Marshall and Cueto are locks if healthy. With the possibility that Cueto and the fifth starter will be moved to the bullpen, there might not be as many spots available for the regular relievers.

Teams usually carry 11 or 12 pitchers on their roster for the postseason, so of the 14 guys listed here, 2 or 3 won’t make it.

Locks (8): Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, 1 of Leake or Cingrani, Chapman, LeCure, Parra, Hoover
Locks if healthy (2): Cueto, Marshall
Next up, in order of likelihood (4): Simon, 1 of Leake or Cingrani, Duke, Ondrusek
Only in case of emergency (2): Partch, Reynolds

Alfredo Simon could find himself on the chopping block depending on how the Leake/Cingrani/Cueto/Marshall situation unfolds. Zach Duke has been good in a Reds uniform, but I would be surprised if he makes the postseason roster. If Marshall cannot play, though, Duke might make it as a lefty. I don’t see Logan Ondrusek making the roster unless both Cueto and Marshall can’t pitch AND Dusty decides to carry 12 pitchers. That scenario is extremely unlikely. Curtis Partch and Greg Reynolds are probably next in line if somehow it gets that far.

INFIELDERS:

Joey Votto, L
Brandon Phillips, R
Todd Frazier, R
Zack Cozart, R
Cesar Izturis, S
Jack Hannahan, L

CATCHERS:

Ryan Hanigan, R
Devin Mesoraco, R
Corky Miller, R

OUTFIELDERS:

Ryan Ludwick, R
Shin-Soo Choo, L
Jay Bruce, L
Chris Heisey, R
Xavier Paul, L
Billy Hamilton, S
Derrick Robinson, S

The only real question here is whether or not Billy Hamilton will be on the Reds’ postseason roster. I don’t see how Dusty Baker could leave him off the roster because he has a skill that can win baseball games with his ability to steal bases like no one else. His speed and base-stealing ability are too valuable to leave at home with the game on the line.

The 9 absolute locks are the regular starters, which includes both catchers because they play interchangeably. The rest of the guys will just fall into place.

Locks (9): Votto, Phillips, Frazier, Cozart, Ludwick, Choo, Bruce, Hanigan, Mesoraco
Next up, in order of likelihood (7): Hamilton, Izturis, Hannahan, Heisey, Paul, Robinson, Miller

This is what my 25-man roster would look like if I were able to choose it:

Pitchers (11): Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Cingrani, Leake, Chapman, LeCure, Parra, Hoover, Cueto*, Marshall*

*Alfredo Simon and Zach Duke would be my next two pitchers up if Cueto and/or Marshall are unable to come back.

Position Players (14): Votto, Phillips, Frazier, Cozart, Ludwick, Choo, Bruce, Hanigan, Mesoraco, Hamilton, Izturis, Hannahan, Heisey, Paul

The other big question Dusty Baker faces for the postseason is what to do with the # 2 spot in the lineup. This spot in between Choo and Votto has been very unproductive for the Reds all year. Brandon Phillips was there just one day and was then moved to the cleanup spot to replace Ludwick. Zack Cozart struggled there early on but has thrived hitting down in the order. If I’m Dusty Baker, I would probably try Cozart back in the 2 hole for the playoffs now that he is hitting well because Phillips has thrived in the cleanup role this season. This would make every spot from 1-6 in the lineup alternate lefty/righty and would put Ludwick in the 6 hole, where there is not as much pressure.

To recap, here are the big decisions for Dusty Baker heading into the postseason:

  • Include Billy Hamilton on the postseason roster?
  • Who hits in the # 2 spot?
  • What to do with the 4th/5th starters?
  • Will Cueto and/or Marshall be ready?

The Reds have 15 games left in the season, 6 of which are against Pittsburgh. Those games against the Pirates will obviously go a long way toward determining how things shake out in the division. The Reds did a great job in winning 3 of 4 from the Cardinals and then sweeping a 3-game series against the Dodgers. They lost their first two games against the Cubs but won today’s game to close out the series. It will be really interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds and to see if the Reds can finally break through and make a deep playoff run or, better yet, bring home their first World Championship since 1990.


Ever wonder Where to Watch your favorite team?

where to watch

Sometimes we want to watch the big game at home with our friends, but other times we want to watch the big game with a hundred of our fellow fans. What do you do though when per say you as a Kentucky Wildcat fan are traveling on business and in Atlanta or Tampa Bay while the game is playing? Thankfully there is a website for that problem and it is called Where To Watch.

Where To Watch doesn’t point you towards a local Buffalo Wild Wings or Hooters to watch your game on 1 of the 25 televisions sets, rather it points you towards sports bar geared specifically for your team and is a gathering place just for fans of that team.  Let’s say you are a Cincinnati Bengals fan but on the road to visit family in Chicago. If you use Where To Watch you know there are 3 Bengals sports bars to gather at with the first option being a place called Cinner’s. Pretty cool!!

http://www.wheretowatch.com/


Monday Morning Quarterback for September 9 2013

Fall from Grace!!!

If I was doing my show and writing this blog back in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s, I would probably be talking a lot about a certain player who led his high school basketball team to two state championship games in a row, winning one of them and down the line mentioning him as part of the resurrection of, regarded by most in this state, the best college basketball program of all time.  That person would be Richie Farmer.

richie_farmer

We all know about his basketball career.  He is regarded as a hero to those in Clay County, winning a state championship back in the late 80’s for Clay County High School.  He was also a member of the University of Kentucky’s basketball team that was coming back from the probation that was levied on the program back in the early 90’s.  His last game at UK was that famous 1992 Regional Final game against Duke (I won’t go into detail of that game out of respect of my UK friends.  We all know what happened in that game).  He was a part of a group of players from Kentucky who were regarded as the genesis of what would later bring two more national championships to the Commonwealth in the late 90’s.

He went on to serve Kentucky again from 2004 thru 2011 as Kentucky’s Agricultural Commissioner, but things went wrong from there.  There were several abuses of power during his time in office, and he also went through a divorce.  Now it is reported that he will plead guilty to many of those abuses and it looks like he will have to serve jail time as a result.

220px-Richie-Farmer-jersey

Farmer’s jersey hangs from Rupp Arena along side others who were a large part of the great tradition at UK.  In light of his actions in office, should UK look to take that jersey down?  What are your thoughts on this matter?  Feel free to comment.

Have a great week!!!

Tonight on the Show….(Sept. 5, 2013)

In the mid to late 1990s UK football could be described with one phrase…AIR RAID!!! Tonight we have a special guest interview with former UK football coach, Hal Mumme! This segment brought to you in conjunction with Coach XO.

hal mumme

Then our expert panel of staff will go in depth about the kickoff weekend of college football! As well as Corbin cross country head coach Tyler Harris and Greg Marcum, Immanuel Baptist Church of Corbin representative, will discuss the Harvest Hustle 2 mile race.

cross country

All of this plus the recap of the Battle of the brass Lantern game between Union College & University of the Cumberlands and our weekly high school football recap and previews. Listen live at 7pm to the radio show or anytime thereafter in the archive!

Uncensored! Unbiased! Unpredictable!

 


 

Structural Flaws: College Football Overtime

In Structural Flaws, I will discuss a puzzling rule or organizational structure in sports and explain why I agree or disagree with the issue. First up…college football overtime.

Clock

For about a zillion years, NCAA football games that were tied after the 4th quarter simply ended in a tie. But in 1996, we were introduced to overtime in college football. The overtime rules have changed a little since then, but it basically goes as follows:

Each team gets one possession from the opponent’s 25-yard-line. The rules are the same (4 downs to reach 10 yards, etc.), but there is no game clock. After each team has had a possession, the team with the highest score wins. If a tie still exists after a period of overtime, another overtime period is played. If a third overtime period is reached, any team scoring a touchdown is forced to attempt a 2-point conversation, as extra points are eliminated. This system (or one similar to it) had been used in high schools for a while before being adopted by the NCAA.

In my opinion, this is a very flawed system. I believe the reasons people might like this system are because it is exciting and it eliminates ties. These are fair points, but the system is wrong on a number of levels.

First of all, kickoffs and punts do not exist in NCAA overtime. The way I see it, you’re not really playing football if there are no kickoffs and punts. In every possession during the 60 minutes of game play, a team’s starting position can be traced back to a kickoff. Yes, turnovers and punts cause that to change, but a kickoff started it all. Punting and field position are extremely important during the first 60 minutes. However, in NCAA overtime, field position does not matter, as each team begins their drive already in field goal range. That isn’t football! Football involves kicking the ball and trying to have an advantageous field position. Why should a team be able to kick a field goal if they haven’t moved the ball down the field?

Starting at the opponent’s 25-yard line also creates a disadvantage for teams that rely on big passing plays. Let’s say a team has a quarterback who excels at throwing the deep ball along with a lightning fast receiver who is great at catching long passes. And let’s say the opponent is more of a power running team. The team that relies on big plays will not have an opportunity to play to their strengths, but the team that pounds the run will.

Another odd thing about NCAA overtime is that all stats and points count the same as they do during the first 60 minutes. So if a game goes to 2 overtime periods and a quarterback throws a touchdown in each one, that quarterback gets credit for those 2 touchdown passes, even though he didn’t have to move the team up the field to get that close to the end zone! How does that make sense? Similarly, the entire team gets those 6 or 7 or 8 points, even though they started out almost in the red zone. I’m not sure what the best solution would be for this aspect of NCAA overtime, but it’s just weird to see some of the stat lines from overtime games. A multiple-overtime game can also cause a team’s points per game average to be unfairly bloated.

If you ever watch a game go into 3 or 4 overtimes, it can be silly because the entire game often rests on the 2-point conversion plays. By the time a game reaches that point, almost every player on the field is really tired, and teams often score quickly. Those 2-point plays can sometimes come down to sheer luck or some fluky play.

For me, the solution is to switch to the NFL overtime system or something similar to it. A couple years ago, the NFL changed their overtime rules, and they now have what I consider to be a phenomenal system. The NFL used to have a pure sudden death system, where the first team to score wins. This would sometimes result in a team winning the coin toss and then going down and kicking a field goal, with the other team never getting a chance to possess the ball in overtime. But the current system has eliminated that possibility. Now, if the first team kicks a field goal on its first possession, the second team can kick a field goal of their own to tie the game, which would then send the game into sudden death at that point.

The NFL system seems confusing, but remember… the only time the game does not immediately end on a scoring play is if the first team kicks a field goal on its first possession. When that happens, the other team has a chance to match or beat that.

The NFL system is not the easiest in the world to explain, but it is actually very simple in practice. Most importantly, it keeps the essential parts of the game intact. You’re still kicking the ball and playing the field position game, just like you are throughout the other 60 minutes. And you have to earn your way across the field to get into scoring range.

If an NFL game is tied after the 15-minute overtime period, the game simply ends in a tie. Many fans hate the idea of ties in both college and pro football, but I think it’s pretty cool. in fact, with this new NFL system, we could very easily see more ties. If that happens, I hope they don’t change the system. The system works as is. You can’t expect football players to play more than 4 hours, so just call it a tie and move on.

I would like to see the NCAA scrap their system and go for one that brings special teams back into play and keeps football looking the same as it did for the first 60 minutes. What do you think?

Southern Gameday is a lifestyle and a website.

southern gameday

If you are a fan of football and the southern lifestyle then visit Southern Gameday, A USA Today sports media property, Southern Gameday includes professionally written articles covering SEC football, recipes for tailgating eats, and sports bar recommendations.

http://southerngameday.com


Monday Morning Quarterback for September 2 2013

Here’s to those who get to enjoy a 3 day weekend.  I hope it went well.  And now for this week’s version of the Steve Black Show’s Monday Morning Quarterback.

Mercy Rules!!!!

football pic

I was checking out the Lexington Herald Leader newspaper at my hotel this weekend and found a story from Mike Field’s high school notebook concerning the adjustment to the mercy rule in high school football in the state of Kentucky this year.  Here is his entire article.

Since 2001 in the state of Kentucky, the KHSAA put in a mercy rule for football where if a team has a 45 point lead in the second half, then the game would continue with a running game clock.  Starting this season, that rule has been adjusted to start a running clock when a team gets a 36 point lead in the second half.

Other states have mercy rules in football that vary from a margin of 35 points, 30 points and so on..

Some high school coaches think the rule is needed to reduce the chance of injury during lopsided games.  Other coaches embrace the rule as a chance to get others players into the game that may not get to play otherwise.

What do you think about the mercy rule for Kentucky high school football?  Is the margin too high, too low, just right, or should we not have one at all.  We at the Steve Black Show would be interested in reading your comments on the matter.  You can leave those comments here on the website.  We may even share those comments on a future show.

That is it for this week.  Sorry that it is short (I am a little under the weather as I write this).  Listen in to the Steve Black Show this Thursday at 7pm.  We will recap local high school football from this past weekend, recap the Battle for the Brass Lantern, preview upcoming games and we will have a special interview with former University of Kentucky head football coach Hal Mumme.

Have a super sports week!!!