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(Photo Courtesy of The AP)
There's one major reason the Reds lost Game Four of the NLDS: Because they didn't hit.
Ten innings, four hits, one run. The box score doesn't lie.
But it doesn't tell the whole story either.
If you're like me, and I can't tell you much how much I hope that you're not, you spent the time immediate after the game's final few moments thinking about one of its first. In the first inning, Brandon Phillips got greedy, crossed that thin line between aggressive and stupid, as was thrown out at third base.
With no one out.
And good hitters still coming up.
Had he made it, chances are I'm not even mentioning this. And if I am, I'm saying something about forcing the issue and putting pressure on the San Fran defense.
But he didn't. And when get thrown out by half the distance between Cincinnati and San Francisco, it's most definitely not good baserunning.
The cardinal rule is simple: don't make the first out of an inning at third base. With no one out, and with Votto and Ludwick still due to hit in the inning, the risk/reward calculation fell in favor of standing at second - already in scoring position - and letting the inning play out. As it is, Ryan Vogelsong needed 30 pitches to get through the first inning and did allow a run, but even as the Reds took a quick 1-0 lead, you couldn't help but wonder if they'd let a very, very, good opportunity to go for the jugular get away.
Turns out, they did.
Brandon Phillips, otherwise brilliant in this series, was boneheaded in the first inning last night. It was the kind of small miscue that set the tone for a night full of them.
*Homer Bailey was fantastic last night, and there's a very good argument that he shouldn't have been taken out when he was but in the third inning he hit Gregor Blanco and walked Brandon Crawford. Neither are major threats with the bat. Both were bailed out by Bailey. One scored on a sac fly.
*Ryan Hanigan's passed ball. For all the talk of whether Chapman should have been taken out after the ninth, neither of the two biggest mistakes in the top of the tenth were on Broxton. Hanigan had one, which set the tone for the other.....
*Scott Rolen's error. A great defensive third baseman made a mistake. Happens. But it can't in that situation, tie-game, go-ahead run on third, top of the tenth inning of a game in October when runs are hard to come by.
There were two major managerial decisions worth revisiting in a tension-filled, yet entertaining pitcher's duel.
*Should Homer Bailey have been left in to pitch the eighth? I admit I'm on the fence on this one. Homer was dominant. The third inning issues aside, he was as spectacular as he's been all season, no-hitter included. I don't think I would've hammered Dusty for leaving him in - he'd only thrown 88 pitches and the Giants seemed baffled by him (as they have against most Reds pitchers) - but I understand why he did what he decided to do. He went for the kill, using a pinch-hitter with some pop, and trying to get someone on base just ahead of the team's hottest hitter. It didn't work, but the two pitchers that followed Bailey were both effective, and in a night where the Reds simply didn't hit, I could see why Dusty was trying to force the issue with some offense in the seventh.
*What about taking Chapman out after the ninth? If Broxton gets out of the tenth, as he would have without Rolen's error - and the Reds win it in their half of it, we're not asking this. In fact, we're not revisiting any of this. But this is a good question. Chapman looked like Chapman last night, and threw just 15 pitches. His spot never came around to hit in the bottom of the ninth, and the Giants were set to begin the tenth with two of their best offensive players leading off, both of whom singled. I know he was recently shelved because of fatigue, and I know he didn't look great Saturday, but he looked anything but fatigued last night, he had thrown just the 15 pitches. I know how they use him is a touchy subject, and I know he'd only gone more than one inning twice since becoming the close, but I would've seen if he could've at least started the tenth.
None of these things matter as much if the Reds would have hit just a little bit more last night. But not doing that one big things made the other little details matter just a little bit more. They may have added up to one Giant problem for the Reds.
As many questions as we have about last night, there's even more pressing questions to focus on for today. Namely, who pitches?
It ain't that simple. Here's what Dusty, Brian Price, and Walt Jocketty have to sort through....
*What is the status of Jonny Cueto's injury? There doesn't seem to be a consensus. Yesterday afternoon, Dusty and Trainer Paul Lessard were saying oblique strain while Walt was on radio still calling Johnny's problem "back spasms." Which is it, how severe is it, and how much does the injury compromise his availablilty, and just as important his effectiveness in the NLCS?
*Is Mat Latos physically capable of pitching on three-days rest two times in five days? He's never done this, so there's no track record to go by. Starting on three days rest is rare for a reason, so giving a guy the ball three days after a 57-pitch outing that came just three days after a 78-pitch outing isn't something you just do without seriously considering every other option.
Based on what we think - which will include an assumption that Cueto's injury is an oblique - my thoughts on today...
-Give the ball to Mike Leake this afternoon. No, this isn't ideal. What would be ideal would be Johnny Cueto not getting hurt Saturday. I understand the hesitation - he's their fifth starter and he's very inconsistent, and he's only pitched twice in the last 29 days.
But I start him anyway.
If I'm Dusty, I'm not managing this series with the next one in mind. I'm not making important decisions based on the hope that Cueto just might be able to pitch in a series we haven't yet qualified for. I'll deal with who's going to pitch against either Washington or St. Louis once we get there. And we ain't there yet.
I don't need Leake to throw eight shutout innings. I need him to get me through the early part of the game. Against a Giants team that's not hitting (they looked as bad as they have all series last night), and against a team he's beaten this year (complete game on June 29th), and with the safety net of a very good bullpen, and yes if needed, Mat Latos, I'd see if he can get me through five innings.
I'd have him on a reasonably short leash and I'd make sure Latos knew that he could be used today, but I'd see if maybe we could score a few runs early to give him some cushion. If the Reds don't score, I'd have a plan to get him out of the game in the middle innings, and if the Giants pile on him early, I'd resort to using Latos, knowing that Arroyo on three-days rest is my Game Five Guy.
I get the rationale behind starting Latos. Side-by-side comparison between the two, it's not even close. Mat's the guy. And he would be pitching against a team he's successful against. But given his health and how frequently the Reds have used him recently, any Leake/Latos comparison is unfair.
If Leake gets pummeled and the Reds lose, I have Latos on regular rest ready to go tomorrow. I'll take my chances.
As for the Cueto factor, if you can guarantee me 100% that the Reds will make the NLCS and then guarantee me 100% that he'll be able to pitch in it, AND guarantee me that he'll be effective when he does start in the now-inevitable National League Championship Series, I forgo disabling Johnny and adding Mike.
You can't. So I won't.
-It might not matter if the Reds don't hit. To that end, I make one change. Todd Frazier plays today. I heard some losing their minds, overreacting to Rolen's error last night, not about how it cost the Reds the game, but how it showed how clear-cut the decision was all along to play Todd ahead of Scott.
It wasn't. Neither guy hit much down the stretch and Rolen's glove is supposed to be better.
But while Rolen does have one of the bigger hits in this series, I'd give Frazier a chance today. Can he give the Reds, at minimum what Rolen is at the plate? Right now, yes. And if Rolen is in primarily because of defense and his defense hasn't been good, then can you really justify not at least considering making a change at third?
No. Todd Should be hitting sixth, playing third.
-The view from Section 520....
A listener by the name of Scott sent along this panoramic photo his brother shot from the same section. The ballpark looked beautiful last night....