Thursday, June 30, 2011

Big Stretch Before The Break

I would like to make some sweeping statement like, "We'll know all we need to know about the Reds when they reach the All-Star break." But I believe our knowledge will be the same then as it is now. At some point this team needs to get traction and reel off some wins. With seven of the next ten games on the road, it's unlikely to happen now. Especially with four of those games in Milwaukee where the Brewers sport a gaudy 29-11 record at home. I fully expect the Reds to win four to five games out of the next ten and remain 3 to 5 games out of first place. The stretch begins with three game at home against Cleveland, then three in St. Louis followed by the four game series in Milwaukee.
At least the Reds can hang their hat on some stellar pitching. The Reds continue to rack up a healthy number of quality starts. Consistent run scoring has been another issue, with the Reds scoring 2 runs here, 2 runs there, then busting out for 10 in a rout. Still, the statistics bode well for the Reds the rest of the way. They are tops in the division in run differential, and that is usually a nice indicator that more wins should be on the way. The left fielders (Gomes, Heisey, Lewis) have fought their way back to respectability, but shortstop remains a bit of a black hole at the plate. Everybody's favorite minor league shortstop, Zach Cozart, has hit .341 in his last ten games at Louisville and had 6 hits in his last 12 at-bats. Just a thought.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reds Patience Is Wearing Thin

What are they waiting on? Will Zach Cozart have to hit .350, or will the current major league shortstops have to hit .150? The Reds under General Manager Walt Jocketty have shown an incredible amount of patience, and sometimes that is good. Let's face it, Jocketty's patience is a nice yin for the yang of owner Bob Castellini and his popular "damn the torpedoes! Let's win now!" attitude. But it's time, maybe past time, to see what the kid can do at the major league level. Cozart is presently hitting .320 this season, and that is well above his minor league average. Walt is obviously holding out hope that Janish and Renteria can turn it around and Cozart can continue to develop confidence in his offensive skills at Triple-A. It's much better to call up guys who are a finished product. But when you are trying to win games at the major league level, you don't always have that luxury. I understand the dilemma, and the Reds have a lot of smart people grading their players and measuring their readiness at the major league level. But when your guys at the major league level are stinking it up, you have to make the move.

What about the move at the top of the lineup? Even Chris Heisey says he doesn't agree that one game should garner more playing time for himself. But if I'm making the decision, Heisey is leading off Friday night in Baltimore. For a team that needs offense, you can't sit the hot hand. Heisey hit three home runs and scored four runs Wednesday night. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

For what seems like the first time since Jack McKeon was too young to smoke cigars, the Reds are stocked with up-and-coming talent at their Triple-A farm club. We've talked about Cozart, but you can add catcher Devin Mesoraco, outfielder Dave Sappelt, and outfielder/first baseman Yonder Alonso to the list of players forcing the Reds to take another look. Mesoraco is hitting .322, with an on-base percentage above .400. Alonso and Sappelt are both above .300 but hitting has never been an issue with these guys. Finding a position is the issue with Alonso. He's playing left field at Louisville these days but covering ground out there is an issue.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Reds Take The Great American Test

The next 15 games for the Reds are against teams from the American League. The next 12 games they will see teams from the American League East Division. The Toronto Blue Jays get the A.L. proceedings started, opening a three game series at Great American Ball Park Friday night. On paper, there is nothing too worrisome about Toronto. The Blue Jays have a mediocre 34-35 record this season, and have lost 8 of their 14 games in June. The worrisome part for the Reds is the Reds themselves. They have scratched out a winning record at home, but not enough of an advantage to stake a claim as the "team to beat" in the Central Division. The Reds are currently 20-15 at home. By comparison, division leader Milwaukee is 25-9 at home. East Division leading Philadelphia is 28-12 at home, while the Giants lead the West with a home record of 19-12. The Reds did themselves a huge favor by playing well on the recent road trip. They have to find a way to make it happen at home. Of course it all begins with pitching. Because of the cozy dimensions, the air current, the humidity from the river, take your pick, hitting is not an issue at Great American Ball Park. That goes for the Reds, and that goes for the opponents. Just consider this about the Reds: They have played 35 games on the road this season and 35 at home. Here are the offensive stats that stand out.
Home:42 home runs, Away: 27 home runs; Home:.276 batting avg., Away:.250 batting avg.; Home:195 runs scores, Away:150 runs scored. We could go on and on about statistics, but the basic issue is this: if the Reds get the solid pitching they've had the past two weeks, they will have a successful homestand. If not, they will continue to hover right where they are. Past history says the Reds starting pitching is a little closer to what we have seen lately as opposed to what they were getting earlier in the season. Johnny Cueto is emerging as an ace. Edinson Volquez without the hair is throwing better. But the one bugaboo that continues to get Reds pitchers in trouble is free passes. They have to cut down on the bases on balls. Especially at Great American Ball Park. That's not the only key to winning at GABP, but it is a big one. The Reds need to start passing the Great American test.


Even though it is not funny, I have to chuckle at the reaction of some who deride those rowdy "fans" who rioted in Vancouver after the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to Boston. I would be willing to bet very few of those "fans" could name a single player on the Canucks. I further doubt many were at the arena for the game. Sure, plenty of fans were around when the trouble started, but the trouble was started by the same rebel-rousing criminals that started trouble prior to the Winter Olympics. The Vancouver police say a group of anarchists dressed as fans were the instigators. They brought masks, goggles, and fire extinguishers among other things. So there was going to be hell raised that night in Vancouver, win or lose. If I were in charge of the Vancouver Police Department, I would have rolled out a few water cannons and made those punks wish they had brought snorkels with them too.


I appreciate the Bengals response to finishing "dead last" in the rankings of major league sports franchises by "ESPN The Magazine", but it reinforces the prevailing thought that things will never change. I suggest you be fair and read their response. There are valid points. The Bengals do have a great group of players to deal with. They are cooperative, friendly, and courteous. The Bengals have done plenty to help the local high schools and their facilities. While I hate to add a qualifier I must point out the program to upgrade local school facilities is a league initiative in conjunction with the NFL Players Association, among others. But from my perspective the Bengals seem to embrace the program. There are positives, and trust me, as much as sometimes I think maybe the city would have been better off if the Bengals had bolted for Baltimore, it would not. But the Bengals response comes off as if the only problems are wins and losses. That's the biggest part of the equation, but even the most pedestrian fan can see other issues. Maybe a small hall of fame, maybe some retired numbers, maybe honoring former Bengals, most of whom are still beloved by the city. They could do plenty to honor the 1981 Bengals during the upcoming season. Honor the different position groups from those teams during the home games, culminating with a 30 year reunion for the final home game. You could have a big celebration the night before where fans can meet and greet the players who took the Bengals to their first Super Bowl. You think that might leave a positive impression on the fans? What about a weekend "fantasy camp" in Georgetown, or PBS, or Wilmington, where fans can go through workouts supervised by the likes of David Fulcher and Eric Thomas? You think that might help relations? I do, and it would take minimal effort. Things of that nature would help smooth some of the bumps in the Bengals road. Wins would be the biggest thing, but there are other ways to get the fans to "buy in" to what you are doing. If they do a few of those things it might take the sting out of other things, like that disastrous news conference announcing the return of Marvin Lewis. That one hurt.

By the way, as I type this, I'm watching Rory McIlroy bring the U.S. Open field to its knees. Too bad for American golf that the next "Tiger" is from Northern Ireland. Once this kid learns to finish the big ones, it's over.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Good Reds, Bad Reds

Since the Reds are hovering right around the break-even mark, I'm having trouble deciding if I am optimistic or pessimistic about the rest of the season. So I have to lay it all out and come to some sort of conclusion. Good George is the optimist in me, and there are a few things that have Good George feeling that the Reds will stick around. Bad George is the pessimist in me, and there are quite a few things that have Bad George thinking the Reds won't make it back to the postseason.

Good George likes the way the Reds starting pitching has shown up lately. Johnny Cueto is throwing well, Edinson Volquez made a sweet comeback Tuesday night, Mike Leake has shown well of late, and Bronson Arroyo seems to have battled his way through back problems. So the starting pitching has made it back just in time.

Bad George thinks a few good starts is a long way from giving the Reds what they thought they had when they started the season. Because the starting pitching was so bad the bullpen was burned. You have to wonder if the bullpen will recover to become the "lights out" unit it was earlier in the season.

Good George likes the fact Jay Bruce is maturing into a fine major league player. Will he stay hot at the plate? Not as hot as he's been lately, but taking the end of last season and the first two months-plus of this season and you've got another left-handed star hitter in the lineup. Plus the Reds are near the top of the league in a lot of categories, so timely clutch hits should be around the corner.

Bad George says there are still too many holes in this lineup, and that's why the timely hits aren't there. Scott Rolen can be Mr. Clutch, but he's hurting again. He had strep throat to go on top of that ailing shoulder that landed him on the disabled list earlier this season. Bad George is worried Rolen will not get past the shoulder issue, and may not be the same at the plate from here on out. Then there's left field, and shortstop! Bad George thinks the Reds should quit fooling around and bring up Yonder Alonso to at least platoon in left.

Good George thinks the Reds still have time to get it done. It's early June so it is time to get moving. But it's not like this division is so strong that the Reds can't hang around while they find their groove. They still get good defensive play from most positions and if the pitching can be what Good George believes it is, then the Reds are around for the long haul.

Bad George thinks the Reds better get it moving, and it better happen on this road trip. Let's face it, playing good teams on the road is not what this team needs right now. They are coming off a homestand that saw 5 wins in 9 games. The Reds needed better results. The last road trip was a disaster. The Reds went 2-8 on a ten game trip to Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. The first four games of this trip take the Reds to the home of the defending World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are 16-10 at home this season. Then the Reds play the final three games of the trip at Los Angeles. If the Reds just lost two out of three to the Dodgers at Great American Ball Park, then how in the name of Tommy Lasorda are the Reds going to fare well at Chavez Ravine? Then they come back home to take on the American League East. Bad George ain't liking it at all.

After considering all of the above, Average George has to conclude this team is in some trouble. This road trip and the games against the American League present a stretch that can bury this team. Some things need to change. I'm generally an optimistic person and would love to side with Good George, but on this day, Bad George just makes too much sense.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Extended Vacation Over

For me... I actually got back to town Tuesday but you know how it is, it takes several days to catch up and get back in the groove. I'm not sure I'm grooving like jay Bruce, but I'm getting close to a return to normalcy. Bruce is maturing into the hitter we all thought he could be. That is one reason to believe the Reds will be in this for the long haul. Despite the 2-10 road trip and the starting pitching woes, I still like their chances. The starting pitching can't be this bad all season, but if it is, then I'm wrong. I'm betting it will be much better from here on out.

Bengals players are banding together for workouts the next could of weeks. The defense will be working out at Ignition in Mason. The last I heard the offense was trying to secure the Jefferson Ave. Sports Complex at U.C. for workouts. I'm told UC is more than willing to let the players use the complex but there are issues of liability to work out. In New Orleans Drew Brees had to jump through some legal hoops to get proper insurance so the Saints could work out at Tulane. It sounds like the same issues are in play here.

The Jim Tressel saga is quickly turning into the Terrelle Pryor saga. With the sweater-vested one in the rear view mirror, the headlights shine brightly on those still ahead on the Buckeyes highway to probation. But before Tressel fades from view, there are some in the know who claim Tressel is taking one for The Ohio State University. Their version of the story states that when Tressel received the original and now damning email, that he did indeed approach the compliance people at Ohio State. He was told by them to sit tight since there was a criminal investigation involved. That could just be Tressel's version of the events, and it doesn't help his cause that he forwarded the email to Pryor's older friend in Pennsylvania. But I allow myself to believe some of this, since I cannot allow myself to believe Tressel would be that stupid. Unless, of course, the tattoo for gear practice was so rampant, it seemed like no big deal to Tressel. I could believe that one too.