After today’s miserable 14 inning loss to the Cubs, I can’t help but note what a roller coaster ride it is having Dusty Baker as manager. Today he showed why he’s been so successful, and why everyone hates him all at the same time.
To start, he benched slumping phenom Jay Bruce, and forced Bruce to sit next to him in the dugout most of the game. According to the TV guys, Dusty’s plan was to sit and talking hitting with Bruce (who looked utterly lost at the plate). Jay came up as a pinch hitter in the 7th sporting a totally different swing, and with a nice short stroke, ripped a double up the gap that helped the Reds tie the game. It was a brilliant piece of coaching, and will probably pay dividends in the weeks to come. Great job Dusty.
Ah, but Dusty has his very obvious flaws as well. In the 10th, Laynce Nix opened the inning with a double. Dusty was determined to have Ramon Hernandez, one of only three or four actual big league quality bats in the Reds lineup, bunt. Hernandez took two straight balls. Now, faced with a 2-0 count, and a chance to win the game…Dusty left on the bunt sign. There was only one problem…Nix is not particularly fast, and the next two hitters (Rosales and Gonzalez) were both hitting under .220. Still, Dusty had Hernandez bunt, moving Nix to third. Rosales managed a weak fly ball to short right, which Nix wisely didn’t move on. Gonzalez managed a horrible at bat in which he struck out on a ball two feet outside. Essentially, he gave up an out with a 2-0 count to gain a base which accomplished nothing because of the weak batters that followed. Hernandez was his best chance to win, and he gave it up.
Again, Dusty knows how to manage players and coach. That’ll win you a lot of games. He’s lost when it comes to strategy though.
All this brings me to several observations:
1. The Reds finished their 10 game stretch at a miserable 3-7, with an utterly miserable offense. Today’s line-up was one of the worst collections I’ve ever seen, containing a half dozen players the Cubs didn’t even have to fear. Votto’s disablement couldn’t have come at a worse time.
2. The Reds and Cubs are frighteningly identical. Cubs fans, that’s bad news. Not only do they have virtually the same record (separated by percentage points in the standings), but they have played six games this year, and split them 3-3. They played 3 games this weekend, with two being decided in extra frames, and the other was a 2-1 game. I’ve been mostly down on the Reds all year, but now that I’ve seen the Cubs, I’m REALLY down on them. The Reds are missing scores of players, including their unquestioned best (only?) real bat. I know the Cubs have been hurt, but I hate to tell you guys…your team sucks hard. Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about sucky teams. Don’t gloat too hard, Wrigley faithful, your team is going no where this season.
3. As awful as the stretch was, and I do think it was the beginning of the end, Cincy only lost 2 games to the division lead during it. I suppose that’s some consolation. The problem is that the bottom has yet to fall out, but it’s getting loose.
4. Funny how now that the Reds don’t have any pure homerun hitters (other than Bruce) and aren’t running Eric Milton out there every 5 days, the furor over Great American Park has died down. Riverfront was the best HR park in baseball in its day, and GABP isn’t really any worse. The Reds just had a slugging team and awful pitchers. The ball will always carry well in Cincinnati in the summer, but part of what made things so extreme there was the way the team was built.