Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Janish single unclogs bases for Reds win

Last night, I attended the Reds game vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers on an absolutely beautiful night at Great American Ball Park. Joining me in attendance was Pete Rose, the all-time major league leader in hits, who was sitting in his usual location, right behind home plate.

Homer Bailey started the game for the Reds. He had somewhat struggled in his first two outings and was looking for a good performance in front of the home fans.

I watched him warm up in the bullpen before the game.

Homer had an especially tough challenge facing this Dodgers' lineup that really presents problems, top-to-bottom. Even Blake DeWitt, who was batting .249 before the game had an OBP well above. .400.

In comparison, the Reds lineup apparently packed little punch, with no hitters entering the game batting above .300 -- except for pitcher Homer Bailey. Particularly struggling was leadoff hitter, Drew Stubbs. Stubbs was hitting .167 at the start of the game and went 0-5 with two more strikeouts. I'd love to see Dusty Baker move him lower in the lineup, like to 7th or 8th and have Chris Dickerson play LF and bat leadoff.

Last night marked the very welcome return of Scott Rolen to the lineup. Rolen had missed the three game series in Pittsburgh against the Pirates with a sore back. The veteran third baseman responded with three line-drive hits, earning star-of-the-game treatment afterward.

After Homer gave up three runs on a bases-clearing, full-count double by Casey Blake, he settled down and held the powerful Dodgers lineup scoreless for four innings. I'll predict that's the only time the Dodgers will go four innings without scoring in this series.

After a quiet first inning, with Stubbs, Cabrera and Votto making outs, the Reds bats exploded with six runs in the second inning. Brandon Phillips ignited the rally with a towering home run to left field.

Rolen, Bruce, Gomes, and Hernandez all followed with hits. Homer Bailey reached first on an error by the Dodgers on his sacrifice bunt attempt. Stubbs struck out (with a runner on third) but both Cabrera and Votto knocked in runs to conclude the inning.

Two innings later, Joey Votto padded the Reds lead with a long, 2-run homer to right center field. Homer Bailey was cruising along at that point.

After Homer ran out of gas in the sixth inning, giving up two runs, the bullpen took over. A nice appearance by lefty Daniel Ray Herrera was followed by a shaky one by Logan Ondrusek, who manager Dusty Baker keeps using in very high leverage situations for the Reds. Arthur Rhodes entered the game and got Ondrusek and the Reds out of trouble in the seventh. But Nick Masset continued his troubling start to the season by blowing a four run lead in the top of the eighth.

To their credit, the Reds promptly responded in the bottom of the same inning. The eventual game-winning rally was begun by the smallest of plays, one that apparently doesn't even appear in Dusty Baker's playbook, Jay Bruce clogging the bases with a walk.

After a second walk to Ramon Hernandez further clogged the bases, defensive shortstop replacement Paul Janish came to the plate for a dramatic at bat with two outs.

Janish fought off an inside pitch and lined a single to left field, ultimately scoring two runs.

Coco Cordero came in to shut the door on the Dodgers in the ninth,

ending a five-game losing streak for the Reds.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baseball gods to Reds on Opening Day: Release the Pujols!

I attended my first Opening Day at Great American Ball Park yesterday. It was exciting to feel the ballpark filled to capacity. There were other unique aspects as well.

The live Dixieland jazz band playing in the concourse ...

Pre-game interviews with the Reds broadcast on the scoreboard ...

Former Cardinals GM and current Reds GM Walt Jocketty on the field with Dusty Baker and current Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa ...

Reds owner Bob Castellini with Ohio Governor Ted Strickland ...

A giant, US-shaped flag on the field during the national anthem, with color guards from all branches of the armed forces present ...

Retired long-time Reds announcer George Grande (did you know he hosted the very first SportsCenter on ESPN in 1979?) threw out the first pitch to Big Red Machine Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. Here they hug afterward.

One other awesome display before the game was Albert Pujols taking batting practice. Seeing Albert rise up out of the Cardinals dug out to take his swings reminded me of the clip from the fantasy Clash of the Titans.

"Release the Pujols!"

Unfortunately, the Cardinals first baseman was an all-too-real punishment inflicted by the baseball gods on the Reds.

Pujols did not hit the longest ball of BP, though. That accomplishment fell to Cardinals OF Matt Holliday, who hit a ball above the batters eye in CF onto the steam-boat bar area.

Baker's lineup

I've complained at length about Reds manager Dusty Baker's terrible lineup construction. For those who think lineups don't really matter much, a
new statistical analysis from the folks at FanGraphs confirms that sub-optimal lineups can cost in terms of run production. They analyze Baker's lineup yesterday and found that it was sub-optimal by .24 runs per game. While that may not sound like much, over 162 games that works out to over 40 runs (or 4 wins) per year.

My two biggest complaints. One, batting Orlando Cabrera second. As I've written before, he's the worst Reds hitter in the lineup but slated to bat in front of the Reds' best hitter and receive the second largest number of AB for the Reds. Scott Rolen would be a perfect #2 hitter. Cabrera was 0-5 yesterday, including grounding into a double play.

Second, Baker started Laynce Nix instead of Drew Stubbs. This might have been based on Nix being a left handed batter, who might have a better chance against Cardinals starter, RHP Chris Carpenter. Nix did get a hit. Stubbs, put into the game later, was 2-2.

The game

There were several positives for the Reds. Joey Votto got three hits. Here Votto takes an inside pitch with Pujols playing first base in the background.

Third baseman Scott Rolen hit a long home run and was robbed of a second by Cardinals CF Colby Rasmus. Here is Rolen rounding third after his HR.

My biggest complaint with Baker's game management, aside from his lineup choice to start Cabrera ahead of Paul Janish and bat Cabrera second, was that he sent shaky relief pitcher Mike Lincoln to the mound for a second inning in the top of the seventh -- to face the meat of the Cardinals lineup. Lincoln gave up a hit-homer-hit (including Pujols second) that essentially put the game out of reach for the Reds.

When asked after the game why he sent Lincoln out for a second inning, Baker replied, according to reporter C. Trent Rosecrans:
"I needed that second inning so I didn't go through my whole bullpen," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You need that second inning bad."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Reds have SIX other relief pitchers available to cover the last three innings (Owings, Herrera, Cordero, Rhodes, Masset, Ondrusek)?

Further ... so what if the Reds went "through their whole bullpen," didn't they have today off for the bullpen to get fresh for tomorrow?

Seriously, sending Mike Lincoln, the Reds worst relief pitcher, the one who wouldn't have made the team were it not for his guaranteed contract, the one who barely did make the team anyhow, sending him to face Pujols and Holliday in the seventh inning was a terrible, indefensible mistake by Baker.

Did that cost the Reds the game? Probably not. But I sure would have liked to see how the game would have played out with the Reds coming to bat in the bottom of the seventh behind only 4-2 instead of 6-2.