Monday, May 31, 2010

"It's Mr. Jocketty on line one."

At least I hope that is what some baseball general managers are hearing from their office personnel. The Reds need some help in the bullpen and I'm willing to bet Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is checking every option. Should they use some of the better pitchers in their own system, even if they happen to be starting pitchers? Would it make sense to have Homer Bailey work out of the bullpen when he comes back from the shoulder inflammation? More than likely, the best answers come from outside the organization. It's not just Monday in St. Louis that has me thinking the Reds better think fast. Outside of Rhodes, and maybe Cordero, who exactly can the Reds trust from their bullpen? Masset has a great arm and great stuff but he's been getting knocked around too much. Lincoln and Fisher are having major issues. While Owings and Herrera have respectable E.R.A.'s, do you really feel good about the way they are throwing? Many thought the biggest concerns for the Reds to remain in contention were health and offense. But to me, the bullpen is looking like the real achilles heel. Hopefully Walt is on the phone.

Monday Musings

You can tell it's a holiday when ESPN has to fill a segment with a discussion about players complaining about the soccer ball being used at the World Cup. If I hear another word on that subject, it will be one to many. They should just make these whiners go to Wal-mart and get a ball there.

The crash at the end of the Indy 500 was unreal. Mainly because Mike Conway lived to see another day. Thirty years ago the ending would have been horrible. The carbon fiber tub and other innovations have given the drivers a much better chance. Fuel safety has come a long way with a major cutback in the explosive crashes and fires of the past. I remember in the early 1970's whenever another green flag dropped at Indy, I would fear for the lives of the drivers. Three drivers lost their lives after crashes at Indy in 1972-73. Jim Malloy and Art Pollard during practice, and Swede Savage during the '73 running of the 500. When you see some of those old crashes it makes it even more amazing Conway wasn't hurt worse. You can find plenty of the old Indy crashes posted on various sites around the internet.

I think I'm the only guy in the world who likes Kyle Busch. And Kurt for that matter. The Busch brothers are really getting it together on the Sprint Cup circuit. Of course Kyle is still too aggressive on the track at times, but the boy can drive. And he can irritate other drivers and fans alike. But he keeps on driving hard and I really believe he'll "get it" one of these days and turn some of the hatred around. His brother Kurt did just that after Jimmy Spencer woke him up with a punch to the nose in 2003. Kurt's image has come a long way in that time, with a recipe of fan-friendly campaigns mixed with charity work. And winning. He's accomplished the winning part by understanding he doesn't have go flat out on every single lap. He gave his younger brother the same advice last week. Until Kyle heeds that advice, he'll continue to invite more "Busch Bashing". Despite the bashing, the Busch boys are both in the top six of the points standings.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reds Making Believers

Have you become a believer yet, or are you still waiting for the Reds flame out? You may be waiting a while. The pitching seems to be the real deal. Cueto is hitting his stride, Mike Leake continues to baffle opposing hitters, Bronson Arroyo seems to get better with age, and Harang gives you a chance. They are far from perfect, but in a league with no perfect teams, the Reds are set up to stay in this race. We'll know by the All-Star break if they're in it for the long haul. How about this stretch of games at the end of June and the beginning of July: three games at home against the Phillies, then on the road for four games at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, three games in New York against the Mets, then four more against the Phillies in Philadelphia. A brutal stretch of 14 games heading into the All-Star break. In years past it has always been advisable to keep a wary eye on the trips to the west coast. But for the 2010 Reds, I'm keeping my eye on that 11-game trip before the All-Star game.

I'll be very interested to see what the NCAA does with UConn's basketball program. These seem to be serious allegations in my book. Things might be worse for Oklahoma. Our friend and wild-child Gregg Doyel thinks the Sooners deserve the death penalty. He makes a heckuva point.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reds Must Control The Meltdown

Remember last July 3rd? The Reds were leading the Cardinals 4 -1 in the top of the 8th and St. Louis had the bases loaded. Albert Pujols hit a grand slam to give the Cardinals the lead. The Reds went on to lose that game, then lose 22 of their next 28 games. I didn't think the Reds were capable of going that bad for that long last season. I don't think they are this year either. But today's loss to Atlanta feels a lot like that one last July against the Cardinals. I swear I heard Marty Brennaman say the Reds has no one throwing in the bullpen as Mike Lincoln took the mound for the 9th, his third inning of work. It's easy to second-guess, and if Lincoln had mowed down the Braves in the 9th, it wouldn't be an issue. But milking three innings out of Lincoln is pushing it. Maybe even asking for a little trouble. Or a lot of trouble as it turned out in this case. Lincoln had worked three innings just one other time with the Reds: last June shortly before going on the disabled list. The Reds seem to have the makeup to handle something like this, but it will be interesting to see how they respond in Cleveland this weekend.

Monday, May 17, 2010

First Place in May is Big!

There are times I really convince myself the Reds are no longer as big a deal in Cincinnati as they were when I was a kid. Then comes this past weekend. The Reds take two out of three from the Cardinals, and move into first place. All of a sudden people who don't know a baseball from a ping-pong ball are walking on air! It's amazing! People who are not huge sports fans are talking about how neat it is the Reds are in first place. It is neat. It makes them relevant around the country and brings a source of pride to the city. Sometimes I forget how big the Reds can be in this area, because they've been down for so long. People have become frustrated, and apathetic. But one sliver of hope and an early season move into first place seems to have awaken the sleeping fan base. I doubt it has an immediate impact on the crowds at Great American Ball Park. After all, there is the expense coupled with skepticism. But the Reds have the fans taking notice again. If they hang around first place, I'm convinced the crowds will pick up. Even owner Bob Castellini said it the day he bought the team: if you win the fans in Cincinnati will respond. Now they have to keep winning. Johnny Cueto can help set the tone with another nice performance tonight.

While on the subject of winning, I've noticed the same thing about the Cyclones. It's a tougher nut for the Cyclones to crack because fans in a city with major league sports tend to get less excited for minor league teams. Playing Reading and Wheeling doesn't have the same magnetism to the casual sports fan as the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Chicago Cubs. But the Cyclones have brought the same sort of fan pride to those paying attention. The crowd of 5-thousand plus last Wednesday night for Game 7 of the Reading series was electric, fun, and would make any fan want to come back and see another game. And then there is the winning. Making it to the Kelly Cup finals two out of three years has casual fans taking notice that there is a professional organization in town that knows how to win. Plus we can relate to the minor league players since they are not highly paid and nothing is guaranteed. I expect big crowds this week, especially if the Cyclones have a chance to claim the Cup. That game 7 two years ago when they won it was incredible, and if they have a chance to do it again, you should be there.

By the way, the Cyclones Barrett Ehgoetz made a great point today on how the Cyclones were able to take the first two games in Boise. He said they had been playing for their lives the past week after falling behind Reading 3-0, and they just kept that same do-or-die attitude. Game 3 is Tuesday night, 4 is Thursday night, and 5 (if necessary) is Friday night at U.S. Bank Arena.

It was weird that only five times in professional hockey a team had come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven game series, then it happens twice last week. The Cyclones and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers broke the hearts of the Boston Bruins after trailing the series 3-0, and trailing game seven 3-0!

Oh, my poor Preakness picks. Once again close, but you know what that gets you. I also look for a rested horse to mess things up in the Preakness, and I couldn't come up with one I liked well enough to play. I just missed my exacta, and I had two of the three in my trifecta, and three of the top five. So I'm not going to hammer myself too badly. But can someone tell me what the heck Dublin was doing making a right turn out of the gate? Something must have spooked him. Even though I had money on him I still had to laugh.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Preakness Picks (or guesses) and a QB for UC?

It should be another great race at Pimlico, with Calvin Borel and Super Saver looking to nail down the second leg of the Triple Crown. We'll see if the jockey change on Lookin' at Lucky makes a difference, I'm saying it won't be enough. I think Super Saver wins again, with Lookin' at Lucky in the hunt. So much for going out on a limb, huh? I had Paddy O'Prado in my top 3 at the Derby but I'm downgrading him in this one. His turf background was good for the deep slop at Churchill, but the track should be clean and green at Pimlico Saturday. Therefore, I don't see a repeat performance. I'm going to go with Jackson Bend, with a wary eye on Dublin. Garrett Gomez is riding Dublin, and he's the jockey Bob Baffert fired from riding Lookin' at Lucky. You think Gomez might be out to prove something? I think the slop hurt Jackson Bend and Dublin at the Derby, and Dublin's 17th starting position didn't help either. It's hard to separate the two, but JB is coming off a nice workout. So it's 8-7-6-12 for me.

By the way, if Borel gets it done at Pimlico, I don't see him getting it done at Belmont. Trainer Nick Zito had Ice Box skip the Preakness in order to get ready for the grueling Belmont Stakes. With a horse that can kick like that, I have to like the chances for Ice Box to blow them away down the stretch of that mile and a half meat-grinder.

I'm hearing former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger would like another chance, and he wants that chance at U.C. It was believed Louisville was the front-runner, but I'm told Mettenberger made it clear to U.C. late this week that he wants to become a Bearcat. But because of this legal issue, Mettenberger will be meeting with the higher-ups in Clifton. If he handles those meetings well, and everyone signs off, then he's in. The guy is 6-5, 230 lbs., and has a cannon. Published reports had him winning the starting job at Georgia's spring game. Zach redshirted last year. I'm told he will sit out next season and then have three years left. U.C. expects to have this cleared up soon, perhaps before the end of the weekend, if not by the end of Saturday. It appears he's more of an NFL type pocket passer, and I'm told the NFL will have a place for him in a few years.

As soon as the ball went over the wall, the groaning started. "Why does Dusty even pitch to Albert Pujols?" Okay. So you are going to walk him each and every time? Every time he comes to the plate you are going to give him a free pass? It was the third inning of a scoreless game with a man on first and one out. Call me stupid, but I would not have walked him either. Now, if you want to ask why Ramon Hernandez was pinch-hitting in the 9th instead of Laynce Nix, well, then we have something to talk about.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday Quick Hitters

I have to believe the Bengals are kicking the tires on JaMarcus Russell. It fits in with the bargain shopping Bengals management is so fond of, and I don't blame them for it. It's worth at least a look. The problem with the Bengals, they can't keep themselves from closing the deal because it looks like a bargain. Hey, JaMarcus Russell, a $100 million player for the league minimum. Sounds great, but is it great? Not if the player isn't into making himself a true pro.

Pacman said the right things, now he needs to do the right things. At least he acknowledged that it will take some time for him to gain everyone's trust. Truer words were never spoken.

The Cyclones are two wins away from the Kelly Cup finals, but one loss and it's over. But the 'Clones have really turned this series around after dropping the first three games. Now the pressure is on Reading, even though the Royals lead the series 3-2. Game 6 is tonight on the Cyclones home ice, U.S. Bank Arena. 7:30 p.m.

I don't want to jinx Johnny Cueto, but the starting pitching is on a roll. Outside of Homer Bailey's bad outing Friday night, the starting pitching has been adequate for over a week. Johnny has been just "ok" lately, so it's time for him to pick it up.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Reds Lead Off and Adam Jones

Orlando Cabrera is leading off against the Cubs, and that appeared to be the Reds only true option. Drew Stubbs certainly needed some pressure taken off, so he's down in the 7th slot. Dusty said Drew has really been putting pressure on himself, and that Stubbs hears the criticism, and that made him bear down more. Baker cited Davey Concepcion as a guy who really struggled to hit early and the major league level, and then went on to have a fruitful career. Dusty also mentioned the struggles last year of Jay Bruce. Cabrera's on-base percentage leaves a lot to be desired, but he's a veteran, he's done a decent job in the lead off role before, so it was the Reds only real option. Is it a long-term option for the rest of 2010? That depends on Cabrera.

The Bengals will make it official early in the week, Adam "Pacman" Jones is on board. Sometimes a young man can make a quantum leap in maturity from his early 20's to his mid 20's. I really hope Pacman made that leap. But if he has, how in the world does he show up for a February workout in less than ideal shape? Maybe it clicked in the last three months, I don't know. I do find it amusing to hear all of the rationalization going on about the Bengals signing him. One of the big ones: "The Bengals can't afford to keep both Joseph and Hall, so they need to find another starting corner." Oh really? A team that can throw a couple of "Brink's" trucks at the wide receiver position is going to skimp on the best starting corner tandem since E.T. and Billups? That's the kind of thinking that created the black hole of 1991-2003. The best thing that can be said about this signing is the low risk involved. The best thing that can come out of it is that Pacman shows he has matured, and he can become the player Tennessee thought was worth a first round pick in 2005. I'm not sure I would have signed him. I'm 75 percent sure I would not have done it. But I haven't met the guy, so I'll leave myself 25 per cent leeway. So I won't kill the Bengals for doing it. I won't praise them either.

By the way, I do praise them for signing Gibril Wilson. A safety is needed and the Bengals are somewhat lucky a guy with Wilson's pedigree is still available.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pacman? Really?

I'm not going to go "Bakersfield Chimp" on the Bengals in the event they sign Adam "Pacman" Jones, but really? You are going to sign this guy? I'm all about second chances for people, but do the Bengals really need to go down THIS road? Here's all I have to say: Mike Brown loves a deal. If he thinks he is getting a $2 million dollar a year player for the league minimum, he can't help himself. It must be done. It's like the degenerate at River Downs looking for winning tickets on the ground, or in the garbage can. Sometimes I think the Bengals would reach into a urinal or into a toilet bowl. It's the irresistible allure of getting a trinket for a bargain basement price. That's all I can come up with because the Bengals absolutely, positively, do not need Pacman. Sure, this could be the final year for Johnathan Joseph, (it shouldn't be, lock him AND Leon up for goodness sakes!) but didn't the Bengals just draft a corner in the third round? Didn't they just draft a guy who can return punts and kicks in the third round too? Okay, Pacman was allegedly a first round talent with a head that wouldn't make it in the baseball draft. (I believe 32 rounds last year. Even the Nationals wouldn't have drafted Pacman's head. Even the Nationals with Jim Bowden as G.M. wouldn't draft Pacman's head) I would like to believe Bengals DC Mike Zimmer is really on board with this. Well, maybe I would rather believe Mike would think it's a waste of time. But such is life with the Bengals. I do not have knowledge that this is driven by Mike Brown. But if I'm the owner/GM, and my coaches are going down this road, I might be driven to go Bakersfield Chimp on them.

Now for the Redlegs. I like a lot of things about the makeup of this team. Yes, I know about Brandon Phillips. Yes, it drives me nuts too. You have to bust your butt out of the box each and every time you drive a ball, pop a ball up, dribble a ball, hit a ground ball right at the second baseman, etc., etc. I'm afraid he's not going to change at this point. I wish he would. He's a terrific talent. But leadership is lost on the guy. Hopefully he figures it out soon. Imagine if he did. But the point of this item is the dreadful elephant in the Reds room. I did this last year at the end of May when the Reds were hanging around. I can't help myself and wait that long this year. Especially with the way the Reds are winning all of these games in their final at-bats. It's run differential. And it doesn't lie. There are exceptions, but a -28 run differential 28 games into the season is not supposed to add up to a 14-14 record. Maybe, maybe it's too small of a sample to sound the fire alarm. But in the National League, only Pittsburgh and Houston are worse. We know where the Bucs and 'Stros are going to end up by the time September rolls around. There's time to right the ship, but this team isn't hanging around for long if the ship doesn't level itself soon.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Calvin Again! A Big Day For Harang

I'm beating myself up for not believing in Calvin Borel and Super Saver. The horse had been improving, had good workouts in the Churchill slop, and had won a race in the slop last year. But you can't pick all of the horses, and another 30 yards and Ice Box takes it. Apparently Ice Box had a pretty rough trip in the final turn, but that's horse racing. That's the way it breaks. And you have to give Borel credit for once again finding the clean trip. What really tees me off is the fact that I went to Churchill last Saturday on opening day and witnessed Borel win five races. FIVE!!! So how the heck did I leave him out of my top four?

This is another big start for Aaron Harang. It's an opening day rematch with Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals. I'm sure most Reds observers expect Harang to get hit hard today, but honestly, I don't know what to expect. Aaron's track record over the past two years would suggest Tuesday night's game in Houston was an aberration. The Reds better hope it wasn't. The recent five game winning streak was a direct result of solid starting pitching. It appears the Reds will stick with Harang for awhile, so their fortunes are relying in large part on Harang bouncing back to his better days. He needs to make it back to back quality starts today in St. Louis.