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.

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