As they enter the wild – card game Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, losers of five straight games, they look ready for a quick removal.
What happened? And if the Reds can not get past the Pirates and Cardinals, what happens in 2014 if, as expected, they lose free – agent outfielder Shin – Soo Choo?
The Reds, despite making their third postseason appearance in four years, is full of such questions. A loss on Tuesday night, and the question will grow even more uncomfortable.
Questions about the leadership of manager Dusty Baker. Questions about undesirable approach by first baseman Joey Votto. Questions about what the future hold for the Reds to a branch that will grow even more competitive as the Cubs continue building and the Brewers are looking to bounce back.
On September 8, the Reds Pirates tied for second in the NL Central, 1 ½ games behind the Cardinals. They proceeded to lose consecutive series with a pair of non – contenders, the Cubs and Brewers.
A three – game sweep of the Houston and series victory in Pittsburgh seems to put the Reds back on track. But after a victory against the Mets, they dropped their last five home games, including three in the Pirates with home – field advantage in the wild – card game at stake.
So now they get Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano, who has a 1.47 ERA in 11 starts at home as opposed to a 4.33 ERA in 15 starts on the road. As if that was not daunting enough, Liriano held left-handed hitters to a .131/.175/.146 Cage / on – base / slugging line – a .321 opponents’ OPS that was the lowest in the majors.
Not good news for a Reds lineup that relies heavily on the three left-handed hitters – leadoff man Shin – Soo Choo, No. 3 hitter Votto and 5 not. Hitter Jay Bruce.
The Reds’ hating not reflect a terrible imbalance – their .722 OPS against righties is not higher than their .709 OPS against lefties.
Liriano creates imbalance itself.
“(Clayton) Kershaw is the best left-hander, if not the best pitcher,” said Votto. “(Liriano) are neck – and – neck with him as far as being very challenging. He was a tall man in the face, a tough guy to compete against.”
Well, the Reds left themselves with no choice, in part because of an offense that was maddeningly inconsistent despite ranking third in the NL in Runs, behind only the Cardinals and Rockies.
The Reds average 4.37 per game Runs through August 31, then 4.00 in September. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick, one of the top teams for right-handed hitters, rejoined the team on August 12 after dislocating his shoulder on Opening Day. His return, however, did not provide the expected support it.
Ludwick said of his comeback from surgery was “the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do to entertain.” He still can not bench press or perform curls, and his lack of strength contributed to its lack of power – he batted. 224 in September with no homers in 84 plate appearances.
The debate about the Reds’ offense, though, goes beyond Ludwick.
Inside and outside the organization, some wonder if Votto is too passive, too willing to settle for walking when he could be expanding his zone and driving Runs.
True, Votto had only 73 RBIs in 581 at – bats. But he also reached the base of a major – league leading 316 times, separate the club Pete Rose’s record. The player who most often hit behind him, Brandon Phillips and Bruce, both ranked in the top four in the NL in RBIs.
Votto is justifiably proud that he played in all 162 games twice after undergoing knee surgery last season. But he, too, was disappointed with his sins , not only for the reasons you might think.
The numbers bothered Votto was his 30 doubles, 24 homers and .491 slugging percentage. The total doubles and slugging percentage are career – lows, and home -run total matched his career – low for the entire period.
Votto said of his career – high 135 walk is a product of getting “pitched around in some way.” This decline in his power numbers is attributable, at least in part, the same problem.
“That stood out,” said Votto of dropoffs. “I noticed it. I have not had a lot of results.
“I’ve paid for it by taking the base and by playing every day, but it ‘s been annoying, no doubt about it, it makes not driving the ball.
“The RBIs, sorry, it does not bother me. It really does not. It’s just not.”
The question is one of semantics, not something to get all hot and bothered about. If Votto power numbers rise, his RBI total will rise, satisfying both old and new schools.
A better No. 2 hitter in front of Votto also can help. Baker used Zack Cozart in place for much of the first half, and then just started hitting Cozart moves down the order. The Reds finished with the third – lowest OPS in the majors out of the area do not . 2.
The sabermetrically inclined despise Baker on a regular basis, and some of their criticisms are valid. Which Baker has always excelled, however, is communication, motivation, all the intangible qualities that no one can measure a manager.
As lifeless as the Reds look of late, it’s fair to wonder if the baker is losing his touch, or perhaps if the Reds need an edgier mix. (“We do not have that kind of swag over here,” Phillips told Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi. “We have only just me.”)
The qualifier, of course, is that the teams always looked lifeless when not reachable. And Baker, coming off his third 90 – win season in four years, can rightly point to his record and say, “What’s wrong?”
It is highly unlikely that the Reds will fire Baker, who has one year left on his contract, worth about $ 4,000,000 . But what if the Reds’ season ends with sixth straight loss Tuesday night? What if their pitching coach, Bryan Price, becomes a leading candidate for the Mariners’ managerial tomorrow? The Reds like Price. They might anoint him their manager in waiting? Or consider other potential replacement?
A big run in October, and such questions will fade from relevance. A quick exit, and the landscape can change.