Sunday, March 26, 2006

2005 Retrospective - Part II (2nd Half 2005 & Part of 1st)

August 08, 2005
Breaking My Silence: The Lost Journal Entries are Coming (Eventually)
I know, I know. What the heck has your faithful author been doing over these past two weeks while the Reds have actually been playing some decent baseball. Well, I really don't have any good excuses, to be truthful. I guess I got into a mid-summer slump, per se, while suffering through the hot summer days and nights.

I had one legitimate excuse and distraction during the time period -- the US Senior Open was being played up the road in Dayton (Kettering, to be exact) at NCR Country Club. I was a volunteer worker for the three shifts during the week: Monday's opening practice rounds, Thursday's opening Championship round, and Friday's second round. I also attended play on Wednesday (an entertaining day with a clinic by Peter Jacobson, the 2004 Champion) and the final two rounds on Saturday and Sunday. Sunday proved to be the most exciting as Allen Doyle (a relative no-name with a short, hockey-like swing) charged from behind with a closing round record 63 to capture the Open from a who's-who list of leaders. Given that all of this has nothing to do with baseball, I will digress ...

Getting back to those Reds, how about them?!? Let's see -- my last post was on July 23 after the Friday night game on 7/22 against the Brewers. At that point, the Reds had won their last 3 games. What happened next? Well, here is the quickie recap (I promise) ...

7/23 - An 11-7 Loss at home versus Milwaukee (no pitching, again -- awful outing by Claussen)

7/24 - A 3-2 Win to win the series against the Brewers 2 games to 1

7/25 - A 4-0 Loss at Los Angeles as Derek Lowe shut down the Reds (despite a decent outing by Aaron Harang, no offense)

7/26 - Another Loss, this time 7-4 with a so-so effort by Eric Milton

7/27 - The start of an impressive string starts tonight with a 7-6 hard-fought win at LA

7/28 - The Reds salvage a series split (2 games each) with a 6-1 win over the Dodgers with a much more solid effort by Brandon Claussen

7/29 - Luke Hudson helps lead the way as the Reds win their 3rd straight game in the opener versus the NL West-leading San Diego Padres in an 8-3 victory

7/30 - The Reds match their season-high win streak with 4 in a row, again defeating the Padres in game 2 of the series with a triumphant 9-1 margin and very good pitching by Aaron Harang

7/31 - The Reds have a season FIRST -- 5 STRAIGHT WINS! With this 7-1 victory, Eric Milton snaps back, the Reds sweep the Padres in 3 games, and the month of July is the best since April (finishing at 16-11 for the month)

So, how do they follow-up July to start August? Well, the even-quicker and dirtier version is losing 2 of 3 from Atlanta at home (12-2 clobbering loss in the opener 8/2, 8-5 squeaker win on 8/3, and a 7-4 loss on 8/4) then losing 2 of 3 from Florida over the weekend at home as well (5-1 loss on 8/5, a 4-3 win on 8/6, and a 2-0 tough loss on 8/7).

All of this recap brings us to summarize that, despite the gains of July, August hasn't been pretty so far. 2-4 in the first 6 games -- all at home -- with the Reds not looking like the team that won its' last 5 games in July, including 9-3 in their last 12 in the month. Tonight was minor redemption, playing spoiler to the Chicago Cubs in Chicago with a 9-4 victory.

Given that this post has been mostly catch-up on my part, I'll top this one with a game recap in a follow-up post.

Posted by JD Rentz on August 08, 2005 at 11:55 PM in My Team(s) Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

July 23, 2005
No Shortage of Power as Reds Continuing Winning Ways Over Brewers
Great American Ball Park has been very, very good to the Cincinnati Reds. Although the pitching hasn't benefited much from it, the batters and the offense sure have. Friday night's game was another example of the offense winning with a combination of hitting (15 hits) and scoring (11 runs) being enough to overcome a pretty good offensive night for the visitors (6 runs on 11 hits).

Starter Ramon Ortiz delivered a solid pitching effort for the Reds, allowing only 3 runs on 7 hits with 5 strikeouts and no walks in his seven innings of work. His counterpart, Tomo Ohka, did not fare nearly as well versus the Reds' offense, allowing 7 runs on 10 hits with 5 strikeouts and 3 walks in only six innings of work. Both bullpens had a bit of struggles -- notably 3 runs allowed each by Ricky Bottalico for the Brewers and by Kent Mercker for the Reds. Mercker is likely suffering from too much work (too many innings), so bringing him into a game with the Reds leading by 7 runs (10-3) at the time didn't make much sense.

The final score of 11-6 was much more indicative of an offensive battle than a pitching duel (clearly). The Reds offense was highlighted by two more homers by Adam Dunn (his 26th a solo shot in the 3rd and his 27th a 2-run blast in the 7th), a solo homer by Felipe Lopez (his 16th in the 6th), and a closing solo shot by Joe Randa in the bottom of the 8th. Randa and Dunn drove in game-high 3 RBI each to account for over half the scoring. Javier Valentin, our regular star these days, drove in 2 RBI as well while Lopez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jacob Cruz had 1 RBI each. The Brewers countered with 2 RBI each from Rickie Weeks (a 2-run homer in the 7th) and from Geoff Jenkins. Carlos Lee contributed the only other RBI, with the sixth run coming on a double-play ball fom Jenkins in the 8th.

Riding a 3-game winning streak and now winners of 6 of their last 8, the Reds hope to continue the uphill battle towards the middle of the NL Central. Games like the last few will certainly help in that effort. With Friday's win, the Reds climbed out of last place (by a 1/2 game) over the Pirates for the first time in over a month and a half (since the May swoon). The Brewers, their opponent for the next two games, are clearly next in their sights to move up into 4th place in the coming weeks.

As I close out another post, I will finish by saying my mantra -- let us hope we keep moving in this direction and the winning continues. It is much more enjoyable to write about wins than losses.

Posted by JD Rentz on July 23, 2005 at 12:56 PM in Ballgames, Ballparks, My Team(s), Players Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

July 14, 2005
The 2nd Half is Here ... Do We Surge or Do we Swoon?!?
After this year's All-Star break, the real question seems to be this:

When does the fire sale begin?

Yes, much like two seasons ago, we appear to be headed towards more bad days ahead as the remaining talent this team has might be traded away. My hope is that we can manage some great big blockbuster with an organization having pitching depth (particularly some lower MLB rotation or AAA aces in the waiting) or possibly a series of mini-trades to get the kind of pitching to last over the next two to three seasons (at least, if not more).

Of course, with GM Dan O'Brien at the helm, I have to pray really hard that he can make something happen that will satisfy the Red Rooters in the Tri-State area and beyond. I am quite certain I will be a harsh critic, given my history ... although good trades are often not determined fully until multiple seasons come to pass. Anyway, I don't need to make two consecutive posts on the exact same topic, so onto the topic of surge or swoon ...

My personal belief is that the team will do anything it can to surge knowing that the roster is going to be shaken soon. Unless the team rolls off an unlikely stretch (like 10+ straight wins ... I can dream, can't I?), the trades are looming. Then, if a trade or two happens, the follow-up probably will be a swoon UNLESS the new talent (whoever they might be) can contribute from day one and make some major impact.

I feel like my writing impulses have slowed as the team fell further into the doldrums, but a positive to consider (if there is much positive) is that the Reds looked respectable right before the break and were playing around .500 (again). The only way to make up their hole, though, is to win, and win, and win some more. Odds of that happening? Pretty darn slim, I might say.

I must keep a glimmer of hope in the back of my mind that the Reds could still be respectable THIS season ... as hard as that has been. Regardless of the first half of this season, the Reds CAN win more games than they lose in the second half. There is not much more to lose ... and my fingers are crossed.

Posted by JD Rentz on July 14, 2005 at 07:11 PM in Ballgames Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

July 12, 2005
All-Star Break - A Review of Where The Game Stands
At this point in the season, a serious baseball fan like myself needs to make a true assessment of the "state of the game" from an overall perspective. The actual All-Star game notwithstanding, it appears that MLB has made some serious gains in attendance (generally speaking) relative to the losses from the past decade after 1994. Although I am quite certain baseball is not the fan favorite it once was, there are good reasons to remain a fan these days.

Observation #1: The baseball action has been exciting, and the teams are positioning themselves for runs at the playoffs.

Traditionalists (if many are left) will say that most changes to MLB over the past quarter century have been bad, but I will say that the Wild Card was, by itself, the most exciting thing Bud Selig could have done post-1994's strike. The very thought of your team having the opportunity to compete for the postseason in a tough division (such as past champions like the Marlins, Angels, or Red Sox) changed the complexion of the game as we knew it. Were the Red Sox less deserving of the World Series Championship last year because they were the Wild Card team? Heck no ... that added to the excitement in the ALCS against the AL East champion Yankees. This year, while the White Sox and the Cardinals are dominating their respective Central divisions, teams like the Twins, Indians, Astros, still have a chance to make the postseason, too. Speaking of that...

Observation #2: How good are the White Sox and Cardinals this year?!?

I knew the Cardinals were good last year (minus their collapse versus the Red Sox in the Series), but I did not know the White Sox would be this strong. They are the BEST team in baseball at 57-29 (86 games down, 76 games remaining). The Cardinals have one less win at 56-32, although they have only 74 games remaining after the break. Undeniably, based on records alone, the Cardinals could be facing Sox again -- just White ones and not Red ones.

Observation #3: Can the Red Sox make it again?

Speaking of the Red Sox, they are leading a very tough AL East with three teams (the Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays) still in the running. The 2nd place team in this division is not a lock to get the Wild Card this year ... especially with the next tier in the Central (Twins and Indians) poised for that spot as well. This could truly be interesting to watch before all is said and done.

Observation #4: How about the Washington Nationals?

Are these guys legit?!? I hope so, as they might break the Braves' stranglehold on the NL East. Of course, don't tell that to the always-there Atlanta team ... they're only two games back of the Nats. This division might just produce the Wild Card this year.

Observation #5: How bad are the Devil Rays, Royals, Rockies, and (ugh) Reds???

The Devil Rays don't seem to deserve to be in the league anymore ... they simply don't compete well, and Lou Piniella looks to be ready to quit. The Royals were so bad that Tony Pena simply quit out of the blue ... and, yes, this team (once a great competitor) is going nowhere fast. The Rockies fire their manager (Hurdle) and hire an also-ran (sorry, Buddy Bell, but let's face facts) as proof they have no idea where they are going. Now, that brings me to my beloved Reds. Time to start a new (and last) paragraph...

The Reds, on paper, should have been competitive this season. The offense was (and still is) solid, the pitching was improved, and the remaining question marks could be resolved with minor league help and some key acquisitions during the season. Well, on July 12th, we are more clueless as to this moxie of this team than I thought we would be. Who exactly is the LEADER of this team? I apply that "leadership" both on the field and off of it. Dave Miley was a scapegoat to an extent but clearly failed to rally the troops this year. Of course, having a disabled "ace" (Paul Wilson), an underperforming starter (Eric Milton), and general inconsistency from the others (Brandon Claussen, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Harang, Luke Hudson ... and a cast of thousands), Miley's days were numbered in mid-May. It became a matter of when and not if after the May swoon. The bullpen (with "former closer" Danny Graves, was simply awful. Unfortunately, they still are weaker than they should be. Where have you gone, Nasty Boys??? The offense can click (score 10+ runs often), but then they go cold (check out the recent shutouts) the very next game. Jekyll and Hyde applies to the bats on this team. Most frustrating has been the leadership void by GM Dan O'Brien ... where has he been in all of this?!? Release Jimenez, then Graves, then Miley, followed by a demotion of Austin Kearns (for being too fat?!?). I'm sorry, but Austin Kearns, fat or not, deserves a spot on this roster. If not, then trade him for some pitching help. They are punishing him for his lack of "discipline" ... can the same be true for O'Brien? Where can the fans demote him?!?

Oh well, enough venting for one day. As a die-hard Reds fan, this season has been very frustrating to say the least. The sooner this misery is over, the better. At least I can follow the Indians as they turn their season around. It's a shame my hometown team cannot say the same.

Best of luck to all playoff contenders for the remainder of the season. I have no doubt this year's playoffs and World Series could be among the best, and most competitive, we have seen for some time. If things stay are they are right now, the NL would feature the Nationals, Cardinals, and Padres as division champs and the Braves would be the Wild Card. The AL would feature the Red Sox, White Sox, and Angels as division winners and the Twins would squeak into the Wild Card spot. Will this be the final outcome when the season finishes? Hard to say, but I like the potential for fireworks that could ensue. Major cities (Washington D.C., Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles / Anaheim) might all be represented in the post-season. Ratings could be great this year.

Major League Baseball can capitalize on a tremendous season and continue the turnaround ... one season at a time.

Posted by JD Rentz on July 12, 2005 at 06:36 PM in All Star Game, Ballgames, My Team(s), Players, Stats Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

June 20, 2005
Father's Day Surprise ... Reds Continue Poor Play
After abysmal play in the previous six games (losing those six straight to the Red Sox at Fenway and the first three of the four games versus the Braves at home), Sunday was an indicator that the hemorrhaging had stopped. Not that the Reds are any better now than they were one week ago, but I had predicted (foolishly) that this team could turn around the season by this upcoming series versus the Cardinals at home. Clearly, I was mistaken.

Despite taking two of three from the Orioles the previous weekend, being swept by the Sox and then losing three of four from Atlanta just isn't going to get things done. The Reds' season -- OFFICIALLY -- is now over. I give them ZERO chance of turning this one around (prove me wrong, guys).

The players don't seem to care anymore. Actually, I'm not sure that they have cared much all season. The pitching is horrendous. Even my "saving graces" of Harang, Wagner, Ortiz, have been rocked on multiple occasions. I have run out of words to express my frustration, so, to bring this post to a close, here were Sunday's only bright spots:

-- Griffey hits another Father's Day homer en route to helping the Reds win the game 11-8 in regulation nine innings. They tried to give this one away (as usual), but the offense saved it.

-- Adam Dunn hits yet another homer ... so be prepared to be traded, my friend. Your salary is soon to be too high for this team to afford. It has been a pleasure to watch you hit the ball. Maybe it's not too late to try your multi-sport career yet? Football might be even more lucrative for you.

-- Pitching?!? Was there anything positive about giving up 8 runs in this one? I don't think so.

Oh well...since the Reds aren't worth following for the rest of the season, maybe I'll start watching those darned Indians from up by the Lake. I heard they just won their 9th straight game. I heard those other (White) Sox aren't playing too badly either. Sorry, Reds ... the AL Central might be the one I start watching. Between the Twins, White Sox, Indians, and Tigers, I might need to switch my allegiances soon.

Posted by JD Rentz on June 20, 2005 at 12:50 PM in My Team(s) Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

June 17, 2005
Is Anybody Still Watching These Guys?!?
After listening to another pathetic loss by the "good guys," I am beginning to question my allegiance to this sorry group of losers. Now, we watch as the home team cannot even win a home game. Can it get much more sorry than this? My heart says no, but my head says it probably will get worse before it gets better.

How do the Reds lose 5-2 versus an Atlanta team in the series opener when that team is last in the league in scoring? Well, apparently, if your offense is bad (although they shouldn't be) and your pitching is weak (which it is), you have the perfect combination for losing.

John Smoltz is a good pitcher, don't get me wrong, but how can the Reds fail to score any runs against him and especially against that Atlanta bullpen. Does the name Chris Reitsma mean anything to anyone reading this? Well, another former Red bites us AGAIN. Just wait until we face the Mets again ... Graves will be foaming at the mouth to face this gang.

I have very little in a positive tone to write about this team. I HOPE that something POSITIVE happens ... and SOON. Losing four straight now (3 on the road against the WS Champions (Red Sox) and this last game at home against the Braves) is enough to make any Red-blooded fanatic upset. It is "fun" watching your team being the laughingstock of the league with the level of talent this offense has.

SHAPE UP, Gentlemen. You are making way too much money to be this awful. Wouldn't you like to see a performance-based contract *standard* in MLB (or in ANY sport for that matter)? I know I would ... these bums wouldn't be making anywhere near $5 Million+ a year (or more, for the "superstars" of the game). Why should professional sports be the equivalent of celebrity actors and musicians? Yes, what they do is entertainment but exactly how much talent does it take to strikeout 150+ times a year, hit under .250, and play shoddy defense? I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing a multi-million contract isn't worth that level of talent (i.e. most of the league).

Posted by JD Rentz on June 17, 2005 at 01:53 PM in My Team(s) Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

June 09, 2005
So Where Do We Go From Here?!?
I would hope the obvious answer to the question of "where do we go from here" could be answered over the next week to 10 days. Last season, the swoon didn't occur until very near the All-Star break; however, the team seemed to stumble out of the gate this year. Despite a 3-game sweep of the Mets in the season-opening series, the Reds are riding a very interesting roller coaster. The past three games are indicative of the season to date.

Allow me to preface the following discussion with an apology to any "loyal" readers out there who may have stumbled upon The RentzFree Zone purely by accident. Yes, my loyalty to the Reds is without a doubt. I have been a fan for a LONG time -- 20 years through 2005. I was 11 when I attended my first game in 1987 versus those aforementioned New York Mets, in which the Reds won 7 to 4. I saw both Eric Davis (my favorite that year) and Darryl Strawberry (the enemy, albeit Davis' friend from LA) hit homeruns while John Franco closed out the game with a save. In the time that has spanned that gap, I have followed other sports (gasp!) like football, basketball, golf, auto racing, etc. but my heart always returns to my first love of baseball. That being said, I have been "distracted" over the past few weeks with my NASCAR obsession and attended two races (Charlotte two weekends ago and Dover last weekend), so I must admit my journal suffered in the interim. Granted, the Reds were heading in the wrong direction in that same time period (some ugly, frustrating losses), but my only excuse was being on the road without a good Internet connection. I hope to rectify the situation for my fellow Reds' rooters (the remaining loyalists out there) who believe that this year's team can STILL make a run at the post-season. And, no, I'm not smoking any funny substances ...

Here is where we stand on June 9, 2005 (my birthday, as an aside):

-- The Reds completed a 3-game sweep of the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays in very impressive fashion tonight. Each game featured a high-powered offense versus less-than-stellar pitching. Poor Lou Piniella ... lucky Reds.

-- The Reds stand 5th out of 6 teams in the NL Central. The Cardinals have this division under control, but I question their "invincibility" over the season. Don't get me wrong -- their .644 winning percentage is 2nd-best in MLB -- but the Cubs appear to be coming around, too. Can the Reds win this division? My guess is NO ... but anything is possible.

-- Can the Reds win the Wild Card if they don't win the division? Maybe, I say, because the overall National League has bright spots like the Cardinals (.644), Padres (.583), and the surprising Nationals (.567), but I watched the Reds play some very solid games (despite some BAD games, too) against each of these teams. Why am I convinced this team is better than it's 24-35 record? I have watched them play multiple games in person at home, and I know what this team CAN DO in the right situations. Only time will tell now...

In a nutshell, the Reds have had an up-and-down roller coaster season. Every good stretch is followed by an uglier bad stretch. Look at the month of May for some proof ... 5 L, 1 W, 2 L, 1 W, 1 L, 1 W, 1 L, 1 W (see a pattern yet?), 4 L, 1 W, 2 L, 3 W (post-Graves release), 1 L, 1 W, 1 L, 2 W, 1 L. 18 Losses (5 by one run) and only 11 Wins (3 by one run) set the tone for the season, and we are here at 11 games under mostly because of late April and all of May. In the first two weeks of June so far, 4 straight losses (actually 5 with the last game of May) and 3 straight wins (matching the season high) continue the steaky play.

Can the Reds actually win a 4th (or more) straight game? If this team reaches 6 straight (i.e. sweep Baltimore this weekend), then we have a legitimate contender. If they take 2 of 3, I am encouraged as well, but anything less than 2 wins this weekend is a bad omen. The series at Boston does not bode well unless miracles happen, although I like their chances in the subsequent series first versus Atlanta and then versus St. Louis at home. Watch the next four series to know what to expect the rest of the season (IMHO) ... they need to win each series to get back into contention (2 of 3 for three series and 3 of 4 for the Atlanta series). I think it is very possible, and I HOPE to write on June 23 that this team is no longer 11 games under ... they SHOULD HAVE won 10 of their last 13 and stand only 4 games under .500 and back in contention for the division and the wild card.


Posted by JD Rentz on June 09, 2005 at 11:11 PM in My Team(s) Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

June 01, 2005
A Blessing in Disguise ... or An Eventual Curse?!?
Will the Reds regret releasing Danny Graves when all is said and done? My current answer would be NO, but, at the same time, the euphoria over winning 6 out of 9 since the release of Graves could be an omen of better times ... or worse times if the team has another letdown. Will another player need to be let go if that happens?!?

Well, regardless of my speculation, seeing a team winning at a .666 clip is evidence enough that the team made a pact with the devil before releasing Graves. All kidding aside, winning 2 series (versus Cleveland and Washington) and splitting the third (versus Pittsburgh) has to be seen as overcoming great complacency earlier this season. More specifically, the move of Graves was a trigger that has sent the Reds flying faster than a speeding bullet over the past two weeks.

Yes, this team still has issues, but I stand by something I said on my personal blog at the start of the season: the Reds are still playoff contenders. What I will say now that I also alluded to then was this: the Reds' pitching staff will make or break them ... period. Not that the fact that pitching almost always wins in a playoff scenario makes that statement any less significant, but I do know that quality pitching is what the Reds have lacked for the past 5+ seasons. Paul Wilson is not, and has not been, a bonafide ace. Eric Milton was an "ace" with the Phillies, but, again, that isn't saying much. Aaron Harang, if folks may remember, was an Oakland Athletic at one time alongside the likes of Hudson, Zito, and Mulder (the Big 3 that rivaled Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz as multiple aces on one staff). Harang has lived in the shadows for some time ... might he be the new ace of this staff? I can only hope. Claussen has been the "next big thing" for some time ... maybe he'll pan out eventually.

All of these guys bring me to Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz had a very good season in 2002, especially given he was instrumental for the Angels winning the Championship that season. I give Ortiz the credit he deserves -- he was a good pitcher on a good team that paralleled the success of previous "underdog" teams of their kind (e.g. 1990 Cincinnati Reds). Underdog teams have nothing to lose and everything to gain ... they're not expected to win, so the pressure is on the other teams to beat them. Ah, aren't Cinderella stories grand?!?

I used to like Atlanta Braves' baseball until they became so darned repeatably good. However, given that they have only won one Championship in all of those years of divisional and league championships, I still admire the consistency they display despite a changing cast of players. The Yankees try to buy wins ... but MLB proves money doesn't buy success, or championships at the highest level, either.

Small-market teams, like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, KC, and, particularly, St. Louis, are proof that lack of money can cost victories BUT not necessarily cost championships. Yes, the Yanks and Sox will be "better" without a salary cap; however, the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds,, manage to do more with less. Baseball IS a TEAM GAME ... let us hope that the good GM's out there don't forget that.

Posted by JD Rentz on June 01, 2005 at 02:08 PM in My Team(s) Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)

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