12 October 2012

On the Cincinnati Reds NLDS Elimination

For the last several seasons, it seems Reds fans have caught that thing that Cubs fans have where they're compelled to shout the most negative hyperbole they can summon at any given moment. It's appalling, frankly. I've been a fan of this franchise since 1988 and anyone who thinks that there's a reason to despair about the Redlegs today has been watching too much football. Baseball is not a do-or-die sport and not every single play carries with it the fate of the entire team for all time.

Take a moment to consider that the Reds signed Ryan Madson to succeed Francisco Cordero as their closer this year, only to lose him to Tommy John surgery before he ever threw a single pitch. Joey Votto went down for two months in the middle of the season. Scott Rolen was on the disabled list for about a month. Those would be crippling blows to many, if not most, teams.

The Reds won 97 games anyway.

The starting rotation took the mound for every scheduled start. Only a makeup game that was part of a double-header was started by someone other than Starting Five. Johnny Cueto won 19 games. Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter in his penultimate start of the year. Aroldis Chapman (who missed two weeks due to fatigue, incidentally) saved 38 games. He went three months without giving up a single run. And Brandon Phillips made one superhuman play after another, sometimes several within the same game.

Going into the National League Divisional Series, I heard a lot of fans complain about the fact that this year, the schedule was for the team with the home field advantage to open on the road for Games One and Two, then coming home for the duration of the series. I've always hated that the LDS is a best-of-five series, and a large part of that is that its structure has always been 2/2/1 with the first two and the fifth games scheduled in the ballpark of the team with home field advantage. That often means flying across the country after two games, then after another two, just to play one. It's entirely unorthodox given the stable structure of 3 and even 4 game series throughout the regular season.

This year's 2/3 structure was far more appealing to me than the traditional 2/2/1. So it meant the Reds had to open in San Francisco for Games One and Two. Well, what of it? They were going to have to play at least one game there anyway. Best case: they sweep in San Francisco and come back home with three consecutive home games, needing to win only one. Worst case: they're swept in San Francisco and then come home needing to sweep three consecutive home games. I liked that. It seemed more favorable to the Reds than a 2/2/1 schedule.

In Game One, Johnny Cueto left after just one batter with back spasms. It was one of those moments that makes your heart sink as a fan. What happened? Sam LeCure came in and got the Reds through the first two innings unscathed, Brandon Phillips ignited the offense and then Mat Latos came in and pitched the most impressive four innings of his entire 2012 season. Aroldis Chapman gave up some hits and even a run, freaking out more of the Chicken Little fans. Apparently, they've never seen players experience the adrenaline of the playoffs for the first time. All things considered, I was roundly impressed by Chapman's performance in that game. The Yankees might make it look easy, but paying attention to every other team in the majors has made it clear that the postseason has nuances that the average fan doesn't even consider. That's on top of the fact that only the guys who have actually played in those environments know what it's really like.

In Game Two, Bronson Arroyo shut out the Giants through eight spectacular innings, not even allowing a baserunner at all until the fifth. The Reds came back to Cincinnati up 2-0 in the series. Homer Bailey was set to start Game Three - on a Tuesday. That was particularly encouraging as Bailey absolutely owned Tuesdays (Bow Tie Tuesdays for Reds fans, a tradition in which TV broadcasters such as Chris Welsh, George Grande and Thom Brennaman wear bow ties).

In the first inning, Brandon Phillips was thrown out trying to get to third. TBS commentator Ron Darling and numerous fans have fixated on the play as though it was the single most glaring miscue of all time. Frankly, they're wrong. The Reds had a 2-0 series lead. It was the first inning of what was an elimination game for the Giants. I thought it was brilliant for Phillips to put the pressure on the Giants from the very beginning. So he was thrown out by Buster Posey. The point is, he made Posey have to make the play. It was solid baseball.

The Giants prevailed in Game Three, and then went on to sweep the Reds in Cincy. Some fans point to Phillips being thrown out at third as the "worst" play of the series; some to Scott Rolen bobbling a grounder in Game Four and some to Mat Latos giving up a grand slam in Game Five. Some complain about 2/3 schedule (still). I'm sure somewhere, someone is convinced that Cat Latos is to blame for the Reds being eliminated.

The Reds played well enough to win all five games and the Giants simply played a bit better in three of them. It's as simple as that. There were no terrible calls that went against either team (as what happened to the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card Play-In game). They had their A-team on the field and even though they lost Cueto to those back spasms, LeCure and Latos were outstanding and neutralized that loss in Game One. Any Reds fan who went into any of those five games lacking confidence needs to consider not following baseball anymore.

Having said all that, I do have a complaint as a fan: the schedule. Not one of these five games started at, or even near, 7:00 PM Cincinnati time. Games One and Two, the only two LDS games scheduled on the west coast, began at 9:30 local time. Fine. I get it. At least Game One was a Saturday night game, but I wonder how many Reds fans missed Game Two because they had school and/or work on Monday morning. Still, it wasn't an elimination game so if you're going to have to miss a game, that's the one to miss.

However, all three home games became mid-afternoon starts. Game Three started at 5:37; game Four at 4:07 and Game Five at 1:00. Really, Major League Baseball? Way to screw the fans of both teams. Reds fans had to hustle home to catch the end of their home games. Giants fans were still having breakfast when Game Five started! I understand that no one is ever going to take away a prime time start from the vaunted New York Yankees, but are you telling me the Tigers/Athletics and Nationals/Cardinals games all needed to supersede Reds/Giants on every night?

So, in conclusion: Reds fans need to lighten up. We got to watch a remarkable team have a terrific season. Yes, it's deflating to be eliminated but the Giants earned it. Tip your cap and move along. MLB should keep the 2/3 LDS structure, but they should be more thoughtful about game start times.

Oh, and while you may or may not want to follow Cat Latos on Twitter, you should definitely follow Dallas Latos, Mat's wife. She's feisty and a lot of fun, though generally NSFW.

2 comments:

  1. My favorite sports fans are those who can look rationally at losses and not always blame the umps or other external factors for their team not winning it all. The fact that some of your fellow Reds fans were still blaming the 2/3 structure even AFTER the Reds won the first two games on the road truly means that they will grasp at anything. We're always told that "fan" is short for "fanatic," but a little less fanaticism equals a lot more personal grace.

    Of course, they can also blame me as a jinx, since I predicted that the Reds were going to beat the Orioles in the World Series this year. Glad I didn't put any money on THAT.

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    1. It's been very irritating the last several years to see Reds fans devolve into the kind of naysayers that Cubs fans have always been. I try to avoid even looking at comments on any articles about the Reds because no matter how things go, there are always a lot of haters who can't and won't be satisfied. Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter at the end of the season and I guarantee you there were plenty of fans who complained that it wasn't a perfect game, or made remarks about how he couldn't do that again if he tried, etc. Are you kidding me? Dude threw a no-hitter and that's not good enough for you?

      One of the biggest problems with baseball fans, frankly, is football. Too often, they want to apply to baseball that do-or-die, the-whole-season-turns-on-every-single-play mentality they find exciting about football. It doesn't work, though, because baseball's structure is entirely different. Even in the playoffs, who wouldn't rather their team be in a best-of-five series than a single elimination game?

      Just now, the Reds extended Dusty Baker's contract by two years and the Facebook comments are already scoffing about how "IF they make it to the playoffs again, it'll just mean ANOTHER early exit." It's appalling. That's the kind of attitude you have with teams that either win all the time and spoiled fans expect perfection (New York, sometimes Boston) or teams that never win and fans fear success (Chicago, often Boston). Why Reds fans insist on not enjoying the team's success for what it is, I don't know.

      Of course we want to see them win it all. Of course it's deflating to see them eliminated. But getting caught up in pitching a fit about every possible bogeyman that prevented victory only cheapens the success they had. It sends the message that only a trophy will satisfy, and that's absurd.

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