What a difference a few days make for the Cincinnati Reds.
But, let’s back up a few months.
At the beginning of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were a favorite to win the Central Division this season.
With a great 5-man starting rotation and a solid bullpen (forget the injuries, they have plenty of pitchers to fill in those spots), the Reds should easily be in first place. But, at times, their potent offense looks like they’ve never swung a bat.
They can’t hit in clutch situations and manager Dusty Baker continues to juggle his lineup, instead of going with a set lineup card that is consistent. I can see giving a starter the day off once in a while, but he seems to worry too much at righty-lefty matchups, even if a guy is on fire and hitting the baseball at a .500 clip.
Sometimes he seems to make the wrong call to the bullpen too. This, during the season, has cost them several late inning games, especially in the last few days.
Sunday was a good example. In the bottom of the 9th inning, instead of going with Aroldis Chapman, who has been lights out as of late with his 100 mph fastball and nasty slider, he goes with Zach Duke, who gave up a 9th inning home run that cost them the game.
But, the Reds better look behind themselves. They are chasing the one-game wild card spot. The Washington Nationals are slowly catching up. As I write this column on Monday, the Nats are just 4.5 games behind the Reds for that second wild card spot.
Just a week or so ago, the Reds were on a roll. They beat first place St. Louis 3 of 4 games, only losing that one game in extra innings. Then they swept the Western Division leading Los Angeles Dodgers. But, those games were at home in the friendly confines of Great American Ballpark.
These last few days the Reds went on the road to play division foes Milwaukee and Chicago. Both of those teams are at the bottom of the Central. However, they lost 2-of-3 to the Brewers, blowing another game on Sunday after leading 5-1. They also lost 2-of-3 to the lowly Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Not only are they chasing the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cardinals, they may be in jeopardy of not even making the playoffs.
Dusty has been called a “player’s manager.” But, maybe this team needs someone who will light a fire under them once in a while. At times some of the players seem lackadaisical.
Even former MVP Joey Votto seems like he would rather draw a walk, than try to hit the ball. Votto bats third in the lineup, but only has 67 RBIs. Your number three hitter needs to drive in runs. Not get on base. His power numbers are down too, with only 20 homers this year. I know he is coming off a knee injury, but if he can play, then tell him to be aggressive. I don’t know how many times fans have watched him take a called third strike. He just stands there with the bat on his shoulders.
Brandon Phillips has done a good job batting cleanup, but he is not a power hitter. He has over 100 RBIs, but the best spot in the lineup for him is at number two behind Shin Soo Choo.
Baker finally put him back in that spot when Ryan Ludwick came back from a shoulder injury. But, for some reason, he wanted to split Votto and Jay Bruce, because both batted left-handed. Those kinds of things shouldn’t matter. These are major league talents who are paid millions of dollars to perform.
But, Baker seems to go by what he believes, rather than what is best for the team.
I doubt the Cincinnati front office will make the change, even if the Reds collapse and don’t make it into the playoffs.
Even if they do, it will be a one-game wildcard playoff, likely on the road. The Reds just proved these last few games how they play on the road. So that scenario is not a good one for Cincinnati.
Whether they have to travel to play St. Louis or Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t bet on the Reds in that kind of pressure situation.
That is if they even make it to the post season.
The road is looking pretty “dusty” for the Reds down the stretch.
(Kyle Lovern is the sports editor for the Williamson Daily News. Comments or story ideas can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)