Envy

There’s a reason people do not like Boston sports fans. They say it’s because they’re jerks, or they’re too cocky, or stuff like that. The real reason is because Boston teams win…a lot, and their teams don’t.

Look at this picture:

 

That’s just silly, right? I mean I have lived for 29 years and haven’t been to one single championship parade. Here is this dude who has lived 12 years less than I have, and has seen 12 more parades. You want the truth about the disdain for Boston sports fans, which sometimes spreads to the Boston sports teams? People want to be like them.

I have been a Cincinnati sports fan for my entire life. I’ve lived in different places than Cincinnati, but I never stopped being a fan of Queen City sports. I’ve endured the struggles of the 90’s for the Bengals, the lack of relevancy (except on a few occasions) of the Reds, and the March sadness of the Bearcats. I still hold my head high that one day, it’ll happen. Yet, here’s this kid who, just about every year, celebrates his hometown team in (insert sport here) win another trophy. I’m not afraid to admit it, I am straight jealous.

Are the Reds close to doing this? The Bengals? FC Cincinnati is just started professional sports, so we’ll give them a few years. Mick Cronin and the boys are retooling. Luke Fickell is in a tough spot in that the college football playoff voters will never give a playoff spot to a team from the American. Sorry, they’re not. So, things have to happen, for any one of our wonderful, awesome, amazing teams before we will be going to a parade.

Meanwhile, Bostonians are marking their calendars when the next possible parade may be held. Must be nice.

Happy Veterans Day Weekend, Cincinnati

It’s Friday and my mind is focused on a three day weekend, but I did want to impart some thoughts on the world of Cincinnati sports for this weekend.

The Bearcats football team has a massive matchup this Saturday night. USF comes into Cincinnati an underdog, but I do not believe they’re as bad as the line (UC favored by two touchdowns), but this is definitely a winnable game for UC. It all comes down to focus. Luke Fickell had the boys ready for Navy’s triple option offense, a running attack that put up the loftiest rushing total by an opponent in Bearcats history, last year. This year, though, the Bearcats held them to just over two yards a carry. Now Fickell has to keep his team reigned in as they approach a monster matchup with the best team in the conference, the “defending national champion” Central Florida Knights. South Florida is not good in the cold, and it will be coooooold tomorrow night. Still, the Bearcats cannot take them for granted, as the Bulls were undefeated and ranked in the Top-25, as soon as three weeks ago.

The Xavier Musketeers play their second game of the season on Saturday, against Evansville. Another solid mid-major opponent for the Muskies to grow against. The question will be, will Naji Marshall return to the floor in this one? Didn’t have him in the opener and they got by, it will be difficult against a solid squad from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Men of Steele found a way to win, forcing turnovers late, we will see if that trend continues. Xavier hasn’t had a good defense in the past few years, but if they consistently force turnovers, there’s your defense.

The Cincinnati professional football team may be smashed this Sunday. They may also (tiny chance) win. The New Orleans professional football team is really good. They have a future hall of famer at quarterback and, possibly, a future hall of famer at coach. They have oodles of talent at running back and wide receiver. They are also coming off a huge win to knock the Los Angeles professional football team off their undefeated pedestal and have to travel to a non-conference opponent and play in dismal weather. Not the brightest, most motivational backstory for the fleur de lis-wearing pigskin professionals, but they are a much better team (given injuries) than that of the Orange and Black. Honestly, if Marvin Lewis’ men come out on top, I will be pleasantly surprised, but if they don’t it won’t even phase me. The all-important game for the Bengals is next week, in Baltimore, against the Ravens. So long as they don’t come out of this week’s game with even more injuries than they are already plagued with, I think they’ll be fine. Also, a personal reason I wouldn’t mind the Bengals losing, is I will be at a wedding watching on my phone. Shout out to Zack on his big day (holler at me if you actually read this, bro).

Two Reds rumors circulating have me feeling a certain way. The first is that some teams are interested in Eugenio Suarez. Well, so are we in Cincinnati, frankly, and I do not want to see him traded. The other rumor is very encouraging, and that is the Cleveland Indians are open to trading away their ace, Corey Kluber. Now, it will require a king’s ransom, but go for it, Reds! He is one of the best pitchers in the game. He will cost a few top prospects, but he is also the kind of pitcher who will bring the wins. He’s under control for a few years, so it won’t be a rental, which gives the Reds the perfect pitcher to build their rotation around. Plus, I am sure Derek Johnson will enjoy having a vet like Kluber to be the “stopper” of the rotation. I am a Cincinnati sports optimist, to a fault, but I am excited by what’s going on around Great American Ballpark.

Here’s to a three-day weekend, for some of us and Happy Veteran’s Day!

Tuesday Thoughts

Happy Tuesday! Got a handful of random thoughts on my mind that would take a lot of effort to make into full posts, but look great in a list!

1. Matt Harvey makes his Great American Ballpark debut. I do not have tickets (going to see Deadpool 2, again) but I will be watching. My expectations have been low since he became a Red and, so far, I’ve not been disappointed. As far as this night, in a vacuum, I want to see him get a quality start. Give the loyal Reds fans a six-inning outing with three runs allowed, maybe pepper in some strikeouts, and walk nobody. I don’t ask for much, I feel.

2. The Reds begin a home series against the Pirates. Pittsburgh has surprised the experts around the league and held their own at the top of the Central Division for the first few months in the 2018 season, but the winds are changing. The Buccos’ sails don’t have that breeze pushing them forward, right now. The Jolly Roger sits stagnant in the water as they’ve dropped three-straight games, losing a four-game series to the lowly Padres while allowing them to score 21 runs during that set. Now they sit fourth in the division. This is music to the Reds ears as they dropped three of four in Pittsburgh back in the beginning of April, leading to the worst start in franchise history. Time for Cincy to shake off the bad juju and get back on some sort of track.

3. Lebron scores his tail off, getting 44 points, and the Cavs won by only nine points. I have been verbally saying this, but now I’ll put it on the internet, I think the Celtics win in seven.

4. Every sports fan’s favorite words, “Game Seven,” seem to happen a lot in hockey. The Caps and Lightning are going to do it on Wednesday and I love the storylines for this game. Tampa is 5-2 all-time in Game Sevens while DC is 4-11. The game is on the Lightning’s home ice and I’m thinking it’s going to be classic. Plus, Doc Emrick is on the call. That dude could announce paint peeling and I’d be enthralled. Best play-by-play guy in any sport.

5. I’ll get you out of here on this – Jim Harbaugh. The man has to be in the crosshairs of Michigan’s boosters. The Wolverines have tread water throughout his short tenure in Ann Arbor, but now the Maze and Blue have something that should push them over the top: a quarterback. Dude from Ole Miss, Shea Patterson, got his waiver to transfer out of the Rebels disfunction and onto a team he can play for right away, and Jimmy H got him. Patterson was a 5-Star recruit out of high school and threw for over 3,000 yards last season in ten games. This is going to have Michigan fans buzzing, but anyone with an objective point of view toward the Wolverines will be keeping their eye on Harbaugh. He hasn’t had a notable signal caller yet. Now that he does, will Michigan be in playoff contention, as they pine for every year, or will it be another year with a busted bowl game appearance? Jim, you have the floor.

Now go get you some tacos and make Tuesday great again for the first time.

Skyrim: Single A Baseball Edition

Got to the seat just before first pitch. Sitting third-baseline.

Second pitch and the no-hitter is broken up by a single to left field.

Packy is a lefty who uses location and movement to get the hitter out. High pitch count pitcher.

Well….this changed. So I had planned to make this a live blog…sorry. Went to get a hot dog and some beer…and then it rained…and kept raining. So, after 4 1/2 innings, and a 2-2 tie, rain falling and no end in sight, I downed my beer and my friends and I skedaddled.

This was, sort of, the minor league version of the Battle of Ohio with the Dragons representing the Reds and the Lake County Captains representing the Cleveland Indians.

A few observations…like I mentioned earlier, Packy Naughton, the starter for the Dragons in this game, is a finesse-type pitcher. In this particular game, his consistency was off. He fanned a few batters and walked a few batters. Looked like he served up a few ducks with his fastball, one of them being hit onto Patterson Avenue. He’s a deceptive lefty, which, if the Reds farm system can develop him, could be interesting in a few years. Plus, that is an awesome name.

John Sansone hit a rocket out over the left field wall to account for the Dragons pair of runs. The ball careened off an umbrella and that umbrella didn’t miss a beat.

Most minor league clubs understand the fan experience is paramount at a game that, with a ll things considered, doesn’t quite have the talent level on the field to enthrall the audience. The Dragons do this better than most. Every inning break has something to engage the fans. During the break between the 3rd and 4th inning they held “the Human Dot” race. It’s a three legged race, with three sets of races, with the added caveat of the pairs donning a circular costume. It actually turned out to be interesting, with the yellow “dot” beating the blue dot by a nose…or a dot…whatevs.

With the craft brew scene being so huge in Ohio, I was a little surprised to see the craft brew bar, down the first-base line, only had two, southwestern Ohio-brewed beers. I ended up getting a pint of Deschutes called Twilight Summer Ale. It was smooth and refreshing. There’s a new-looking brewery right outside the gates of Fifth-Third Field called Lock 27. Plan on trying it sometime, but I was surprised that I did not see a tap of Lock 27 in the stadium. Anyways, I digress.

The only real prospect that played in this game for Dayton was the second baseman by the name of Jeter. No, not that Jeter, Jeter Downs. Youngster from Colombia led off and didn’t collect a hit. Seemed to have a nice glove on a couple of occasions, though. He’s a deep prospect who was just picked last year.

Planning on a few more Dragons game this year, so I may actually get the live blog gig rolling. Until then, I’ll write other things.

Looking at the 2018 Cincinnati Reds

Firstly, let me warn you, this is an optimistic outlook. I have seen plenty of pessimistic opinions on this team to know that what you are about to read may seem foolhardy, but bear with me. That being said, the Cincinnati Reds will finish the 2018 season having won 50% of their games, and what follows is why I believe that.

The Intro

After another disappointing season in 2017, the Reds front office believed that it, mostly, had the cards in their hand they wanted to play with and only signed two free agents to major league contracts. Adding David Hernandez and Jared Hughes strengthened a bullpen that finished second only to the decimated Mets in worst bullpen ERA (4.65). A few minor-league contracts with Spring Training Invites later, and the roster is rounded out and ready for Opening Day.

The Pitching

Part of the team’s struggles could be due to the fact the bullpen pitched a total of 610 innings last year, which isn’t the worst (the Marlins bullpen pitched 612 innings), but it is close to 40 innings more than the next highest team. Also, the Marlins have pretty much punted the 2018 season before it even started, so being lumped in with them is not good in any regard.

The bullpen’s struggles are not entirely their own making. Sure, there were guys like Blake Wood (5.65 era in 57 IP) and a washed up Drew Storen (57 hits allowed in 54 IP) getting calls from the bullpen, but the starters were what really crippled the Reds in 2017.

Two pitchers, that’s right only a pair, threw for more than 100 innings last year and neither one is on staff this season. In fact, neither Scott Feldman nor Tim Adleman are even on the roster. Homer Bailey is the only pitcher currently in the starting rotation (shout out to his first Opening Day nod) who even eclipsed 90 innings. Now the modern day fan still looks at these numbers and sees a doomed squad that will continue to wallow in mediocrity. Let me tell you why it will be completely different this year.

Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Amir Garrett, and Cody Reed were all given auditions last year. Management was never going to put a bevy of starts on them their first full year in the majors as they felt the youngsters needed time to adjust to the Major League grind. Instead, the Reds turned to guys like Feldman, Adleman, and Bronson Arroyo to eat up innings, despite their protracted usefulness. Heck, raise your hand if your really thought the Reds front office saw Asher Wonciechowski or Lisalverto Bonilla as rotation pieces moving forward…didn’t think so. My point here is, 2018 is when the guys who should be in the rotation…Romano, Castillo, Mahle, and Garrett…will be turned loose.

I’m not even counting Anthony Desclafani and Brandon Finnegan. I almost see them as midseason additions to the team as neither one has been healthy for almost two years now. The guys they got in the Opening Day rotation are healthy and ready to prove they belong.

Here are a couple of stats to get you excited. Luis Castillo struck out 27% of the batters he faced in 89 innings last year. Tyler Mahle induced a ground ball 52% of the time (huge in such a homer-friendly park like Great American). Sal Romano had the third best WAR on the team for pitchers last year at 1.3. Homer Bailey was an unlucky pitcher last year as his ERA of 6.43 is countered by a 4.90 FIP, which means the pitching statistics that he had direct control over show he should have given up almost two less runs, per game. Lastly, Amir Garrett is the oldest of the young guns (25), as Castillo is 24, Romano is 23 and Mahle is 22.

Now here comes the fun part, the reason that, if, the pitching can shave off a few runs per game, the Reds will definitely win 82 games.

The Hitting

Cincinnati set a franchise record in 2017, having 6 players hit at least 20 home runs. I’m not sure if this is any kind of record, but three of those guys hit over 30 dingers. As a team, the Reds were 6th best (22.7 WAR) in the National League, according to Fangraphs. That means the Reds bats were worth 22 more wins compared to a replacement level team. They scored the 8th most runs (753) and had the 8th best batting average (.253), just 4 points off from being a top five batting average team, and it was all led by one of the best players in the game today.

Joseph Daniel Votto finished second in MVP voting last year for a team that won 68 games. If you ask me, the fact that the man who beat him was traded to the American League, they should give him the trophy now, but I digress. Joey had a phenomenal year. He batted .320 (4th in the NL), he hit 36 homers (tied for 6th in the NL), he had 100 RBIs (10th in the NL), and he scored 106 times (6th in the NL). His peripheral stats are even better. He was on base 45% of the time, he slugged a slip of .578, and he walked (19%) more than he struck out (11%). No one man can carry a baseball team, but Joey is a close as it gets.

Now that I’ve gushed about my favorite player, I’ll let you know the guys around him are pretty good, too. There are three guys, two you’d expect and one breakout, who will help Joey will this team to a .500 record. We’ll start with the man who just got a whopping 7-year contract extension, Eugenio Suarez.

By every stretch of the imagination, Suarez had the best season of his young career in 2017. He compiled a 4.1 WAR, which is more than twice as good as his previous high (1.7), and he learned to take a walk, with 13.3% being much better than the 8.1% in 2016. Due to this newfound patience (Fangraphs says his swing percentage was the same as Joey Votto’s), Eugenio had an on-base percentage of .368 and clubbed 26 homers. He’ll regularly bat somewhere between 2nd and 5th in the lineup and he is going to get a lot of RBI chances this season.

The second player I want to highlight is Scott Schebler. Along with Suarez and Votto, Schebler will help round out the middle of the batting order for the Reds. Schebler crushed 30 bombs last year and doesn’t figure on slowing down. He knocked in 67 runs, which seems low, but usually hit 5th or 6th in the batting order, meaning Votto and Suarez had already cleared them for him. Some sight his .233 batting average as concerning, but may I point out the luck factor as he had a measly .248 batting average on balls in play. The league’s BABIP was .300, meaning Schebs (if no one calls him that then I take full credit for starting it) was getting the short end of the stick. If that normalizes for him this year, watch out.

The last player I want to highlight is Jesse Winker. Now, I know I’m not actually making some sort of breakthrough hot take by saying he is going to break out this year, but Winker will be the leadoff hitter, sooner rather than later. The new guy in town, and Bryan Price’s 4th outfielder (a plan that wont last too far into the season), has gotten on base better than 32% of the time his entire minor league career. In 137 plate appearances during last year’s cup of coffee in the Majors, Winker built an on-base percentage of .375. What do you need a leadoff hitter to do? Get on base! What does Winker do? He gets on base. Put this kid in, coach, he’s ready to play.

So, I am sure, if you’ve stayed in this long on this TLDR post, you may have something to say about something I said. Leave me a comment! Tell me what you think about the Reds this year.

Looking Forward to Calls to the Bullpen

A quick thought for today. I’m really pining for some baseball. Usually happens every year around this time. Sure, countdowns to pitchers and catchers reporting help to excite me, but ultimately I’m waiting for the real thing on March 29th. You can bet I’ll be at the stadium again this Opening Day, but I’m sure they’re be a few more blogs between now and then about that. This post is focused on one thing, the Reds bullpen.

Now I know that’s not grabby, may have even lost one or two folks who clicked in to this post, but the Reds just signed their second free agent reliever of the offseason. Both relievers were signed to two year deals, and neither one is a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. They’re bonafide, major league deals, meaning the front office believes these guys can bring some real value to the bullpen.

Jared Hughes was signed a few weeks ago and David Hernandez was inked at the beginning of this week. Middle relievers don’t tend to move the needle in January, but it’s these types of guys who playoff contending teams go after in July…so it only makes sense to see value in having them for an entire year.

I’ll not get into the stats, right now, but leave it to an emotional response. I love these signings. It shows that the coaching staff believes in the young pitchers vying for spots on the starting rotation, and it is the Reds way of emulating teams in years past whose bullpen propelled them to a successful season.

Sure, Milwaukee getting Christian Yelich is the kind of transaction that galvanizes a fan base. It officially signifies a team’s belief that its window to the playoffs, and possibly contending for a world championship, has opened. The deal was one the Reds could not make, though. The Bre Crew had to give up one of their two best prospects and 3 of their top 10. To put that in perspective, that means the Reds would probably have to have traded Nick Senzel. If you haven’t heard of him, that’s because he is still in the minor leagues, but he is the Reds future great hitter. A future that could begin this season at some point when the Reds call him up to the majors. He is not someone I want the Reds to trade…unless they are getting Clayton Kershaw…and that ain’t happening.

The Reds now have a bullpen that could easily finish in the top half of the league, so long as health problems do not become a thing. If the starting rotation can just be average, with the lineup they can run out each night, the Reds have a real shot to improve this year.

And I know I am crazy biased…but I really don’t think I am far off when I say they could finally end the streak of losing seasons in 2018

Pitchers and catchers report in 13 days.