Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reds Should Sell, Bengals Should Punt

Not that this is a newsflash, but it's just not happening for the Reds this year. Sure, there's two months left and they can make up five and a half games in that time. However, since starting the season with five straight wins they have shown little in the previous four months that convinces me they can make the kind of sustained push it will take to win the division. So there's little intrigue left. Except for improving the club for the future. Let Frazier play more at third, get Mesoraco up from Louisville, allow Alonso to play a lot, make sure it's plenty of Cozart when he comes off the disabled list. Figure out if Chapman is the closer of the future or a starting pitcher, and get him moving in that direction now. The Reds should sell off Ramon Hernandez and Francisco Cordero. Good guys, loyal Reds, but business is business and the Reds need to get better for 2012. They still have a good young core, but it's not good enough to win a mediocre division. The plan should be to get better, and the time is now.

I, like most, have a bad feeling about the season about to unfold for the Bengals. How do I get excited about them signing a "caretaker" quarterback in Bruce Gradkowski? One-third of his wins as a starting quarterback have come against the Bengals. His success in the NFL has been minimal. But I'm still on board with the signing and the reasons are many. Gradkowski is tough, he was a beast at Toledo, and from what I know he would stick his head in a wood-chipper to get a touchdown. It is also said he will know Jay Gruden's offense and will do anything and everything to help the kid, Andy Dalton. I can't help but like a quarterback from the same hard-nosed western Pennsylvania high school conference that produced Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, and Dan Marino. But this will still be a season of pain. There is a tremendous learning curve for this team. We still don't know how the roster will be filled out with free agents. I think Benson will return, but I'm not so sure without Joseph. Even with Johnathan, the defense has a chance to be good. But it's going to have to be "scarey good" to carry a team going through a complete offensive transition.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Players Punishing Owners?

The "pie in the sky" predictions of the past two days crashed and burned into the reality that the players aren't dummies. If the owners really changed some language, then your darned right the players are going to read it, read it again, and make sure they aren't getting hosed. The players may be thinking if Mike Brown voted for it, then we must be getting hosed! It could be as simple as Donte' Stallworth saying through Twitter, "unlike congress, the players actually want to read what they are voting on." I also wonder if the players want to punish the owners for opting out of the old deal and imposing this lockout. Not punish them in spite of the players own well-being, but just to make them twist through the weekend. It's fairly well documented that wiping out preseason game revenue will lower the salary cap and end up costing the players money in the end, so it's in the players best interest to play the preseason too. I will say the player reps I've heard this morning have made some excellent points as to why they haven't passed the plan. I just wonder if the players do find something they don't like in the plan, will that lead to more drawn out negotiations? I doubt it would take that long to iron out. I think the players are flexing a little muscle here, and I can't blame them. They also showed some class by issuing the following statement through NFLPA president Kevin Mawae:

STATEMENT FROM KEVIN MAWAE

Player leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL, which includes a settlement agreement, deal terms and the right process for addressing recertification. There will not be any further NFLPA statements today out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft.

- Kevin Mawae, NFLPA President

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reds Win But...

When will they win two in a row? The Reds score three runs (one earned) in three games at Pittsburgh. They were lucky to get out of there with one win. A loss would have left the Reds four games under .500 and six games behind the Pirates. Now they are two under and four games out of first. Not great, but still doable, and it looks and feels better than the alternative. Cueto looked awesome again and the relief pitchers did their job, including closer Francisco Cordero. Cordero has bounced back from that disastrous three-blown-saves week before the All-Star break. But the curious move of the game for the Reds came in the seventh inning. Miguel Cairo was on second with one out. Johnny Cueto came to the plate. He had already thrown 97 pitches on a hot, humid day in Pittsburgh. I can't imagine the Reds really want to push him much further. But Cueto hit for himself and grounded out to short. The Reds ended up stranding the runner. Then begins the bottom of the seventh. Cueto throws one pitch and it's drilled too hard for Rolen to handle and resulted in a Pirates runner on first. Cueto was pulled then and there. Obviously Cueto was on a very short leash to begin with. Dusty said after the game they hoped Cueto could make it through the seventh. On this day, I would have been happy with 6 innings, especially with 97 pitches on a brutal day. But that's what makes baseball great, a lot of second-guessing. Now the Reds need to start stringing wins, and it begins by winning back to back games. They haven't done that since June 14-15. Astounding!!!

What made the Cueto move even more baffling to me was the Reds chose to make a defensive substitution heading to the bottom of the seventh. Stubbs replaced Gomes in the lineup. Gomes had been hitting seventh. So, hitting Stubbs for Cueto and inserting the pitcher's spot in the seventh slot in the lineup might have been the way to go. Oh well, who knows???

What Will The NFL Do?

The next few days are going to be wild for the NFL. Maybe the next few weeks are going to be wild. Let's say the new CBA is ratified by the end of the week, then what comes next. Some players earlier in the week alluded to the possibility they would be asked to report to three-day mini-camps as soon as the deal was sealed. Training camps would traditionally open late next week. But what about all of the free agents out there? Would the NFL have teams open camp with free agents still available on the market, and how long would that market be allowed to last? In the Bengals case, would Jonathan Joseph not report to camp with the Bengals, but travel around the country to visit other teams interested in his services? That doesn't seem to fit the best interests of anyone involved. The NFL could delay camp for two to three weeks why the free agency gets settled, but that would involve losing a preseason game or two. The owners won't like that much since they keep the gate.
But I think waiting a couple of weeks to settle free agency and maybe hold a mini-camp in the interim is the best course of action.

Where Did All The Runs Go?

Wednesday morning the talk was about the Reds lack of runs lately. Especially the first two games in Pittsburgh, when not a single Reds player crossed home plate. Two games, zero runs. In the last four games the Reds have scored 1 run, 3 runs, then 0 and 0 in Pittsburgh. You know what comes next. The runs will come in bunches but the pitching won't hold up. Some how, some way, the Reds still lead the league in runs scored. They are two better than the Cardinals, but the Reds have played one more game. It's not one player, but you can't ignore what Jay Bruce hasn't done since being "National League Player of the Month" in May. Since May, Bruce has hit for an average of .217, with five home runs. Three of those homers have come in July, but he is just 11 for 51 (.216) at the plate in July. Jonny Gomes appeared to be coming around with a productive June, but in July he is just 2 for 20 at the plate. So you want to play Chris Heisey more? He is hitting just .211 in June and July, and just 5 for 32 (.156) in the current month. Heisey has provided some pop here and there, but consistency is the biggest problem with the Reds inability to score runs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reds Return Ready

It was a thankful bunch of Reds that returned to Great American Ball Park Thursday afternoon. First of all, they were thankful for an All-Star break that came after a grueling stretch of games. “Monday afternoon I was supposed to go fishing and I couldn’t because I had to take a nap,” said Reds Manager Dusty Baker. “I felt like I was eight years old again. I hadn’t taken a nap in years.” The Reds suffered four one-run losses in the final week before the break. “You don’t realize the mental and physical energy you are exerting, especially in close games,” continued Baker. “Especially when you’re losing close games.”
The stretch of close games was especially tough on Reds closer Francisco Cordero. He had three blown saves in the final week, after having blown just two the entire season. “It’s not a new start but I got my mind clear and just ready to go for the second half,” said Cordero. Cordero said it helped spending the All-Star break with family and friends. “I know I have to do a better job. Everybody goes through a tough time, but you’ve got to be able to continue and do a better job.”
Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo battled mononucleosis in the first half of the season so the break was a welcome relief to him too. But he is also thankful the Reds aren’t buried in the National League Central Division race. They begin the second half just four games behind first place Milwaukee and St. Louis. “I think we’ve played bad enough that we could have been back 8 to 10 games in another season,” said the veteran starting pitcher. Arroyo continued, “To be where we are is not too bad and hopefully we’ll just get off to a good start and feel fresh about the second half and go forward.”
A good start would do wonders for the Reds. They open the second half with a three-game series at Great American Ball Park against the Cardinals. While Cincinnati fans approach the Cardinals with disdain, the Reds approach them with respect. “Any team that gives you as hard of a fight as the Cardinals do, I mean, we never feel like we’ve locked a game down with those guys until you get the final out,” said Arroyo. “You can’t say that about every ball club.”
The Reds and Cardinals both had workouts Thursday at Great American. The four Reds players who played in the All-Star game were excused for the workout and will report Friday. Pitcher Johnny Cueto will start the opening game of the three-game series for the Reds on Friday night.

Here are the pitching matchups and game times:
Fri vs StL:RHP Johnny Cueto (5-3, 1.96) vs RHP Jake Westbrook (7-4, 5.34)7:10 p.m.

Sat vs StL:RHP Bronson Arroyo (7-7, 5.58) vs RHP Chris Carpenter (4-7, 3.85)7:10 p.m.

Sun vs StL:RHP Homer Bailey (3-4, 4.13) vs LHP Jaime Garcia (9-3, 3.22) 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

So Long Interleague Play

I don't want the summer moving by too quickly, but I was looking forward to the end of interleague play. I do like the games with Cleveland, and it doesn't really bother me that some years less-than-marquee teams like the Royals come to town. What stinks is the differences in rules. Once again the American League came out on top in interleague play. I believe the American League has better teams. I also believe Detroit manager Jim Leyland has this thing backwards. Let me say up front, Leyland has more baseball knowledge in his cigarette smoke than I have in my entire body. Leyland claims the National League has the advantage in interleague play because American League pitchers do not normally hit in games. He thinks the hitting and bunting ability of N.L. pitchers outweighs the fact that Amaerican League teams have hired offensive machines known as designated hitters. What kind of a luxury is it to have David Ortiz, Jim Thome, or the Tigers' Victor Martinez? The Tigers can afford to save Martinez the rigors of squatting behind the plate every day because they can still get his bat in the lineup every day as a DH. National League teams can rarely afford to carry one-dimensional players on the roster. How nice would it have been for the Reds to have Yonder Alonso taking hacks as a designated hitter during interleague play? It seems the main reason Alonso isn't around for such duty is because he needs to find a position he can play at the major league level. It may not be a huge advantage for the A.L. teams, but it is a bigger advantage than Bronson Arroyo laying down a sacrifice bunt. I do agree with Leyland that the fairest way to solve this issue is to keep the leagues separate during the regular season.

Friday, July 1, 2011

You Never Know...

...what the day will bring. I was out at the Reds Rookie Success League Friday morning. Along comes Reds owner Bob Castellini and he introduces me to the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox. Very cool...

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