Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Moving day 

I've moved to a new website; here's the link to the new site. Thanks to those who have visited, I hope this new site will be as much fun as this one has been.

Monday, June 07, 2004

IT'S OVER!!!!! 

How's about that...Lord Stanley's Cup goes to Florida...

Another hockey observation 

I never thought it was possible for anyone to be hotter than golf wives, but after seeing a shot of the Lightning's players wives, well, that's changed now. Dave Andreychuk's wife is gorgeous, and she's probably pushing 40. I'd rank sports wives in order of hotness: hockey, golf, NASCAR, tennis, basketball, baseball, and football. This needs to be delved into further.

And another thing: more Erin Andrews is good for me. Talented and fine.

1 minute to go....

Go Cup Crazy!! 

Less than 9 minutes to go, and the Lightning lead 2-1. I can just see all the hockey purists cringing at the thought of the Stanley Cup residing in Florida for the next year.

If Tampa wins by one goal, the play that no one will mention that clinched the cup for the 'Ning was Pavel Kubina's diving poke that knocked the puck away from a Calgary defenseman. Small play you would think, but that kept the puck in the Calgary zone, which Tampa worked around and eventually forced Calgary into a penalty. They then scored on the ensuing power play. No poke, no penalty, no goal.

Kubina's proven to be a top-notch defenseman in the playoffs, but the Conn Smythe Trophy (given to the playoff MVP) has to go to Brad Richards. 26 points in the playoffs, and a beautiful setup shot on the first goal tonight, has to be him.

5 minutes left now...

Reds draft review 

With their first pick, number 7 overall, in this year's MLB draft, the Reds selected high school pitcher David 'Homer' Bailey. Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

1. High school pitchers taken in the 1st round rarely pan out. I don't know what the numbers are exactly, but the success rate is pretty poor. I think it's probably because high school coaches see a physical specimen and have no issue with having him throw 140 pitches every fourth day, with no regard for his future.

2. Kind of the same way Tara puking before the final rose ceremony with Jesse was a bad sign, so is drafting a pitcher nicknamed Homer.

Judging from the initial scouting reports (and I don't profess to know anything more than that), I'm not so excited about this draft. Princeton OF Brandon Szymanski is the only one of the first five picks that interests me. We didn't need another catcher, and a pitcher that is described as being a raw power pitcher yet only tops out at 91 on the radar gun sounds like a career minor leaguer to me.

It would have been nice if the Reds were able to select Vandy pitcher Jeremy Sowers, who they selected three years ago out of high school but did not sign in the Lindner penny pinching debacle. However, the Indians took him right before the Reds with the sixth pick. It would also have been nice if Colerain grad and Miami (Ohio) 1B Mike Farris had fell to the Reds in the third round, but St. Louis was smart enough to snag him in the second round.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

French whaaaa.... 

What in the world happened at the French Open today? In all my years of watching tennis, I have never seen a nuttier match in my life. Coria had it all wrapped up and then suddenly pulled up lame with some sort of unspecified leg ailment, then pretty much took off sets 3 and 4 to get healthy. Set 5 was an abysmal exhibition of tennis, with neither player able to hold their serve. I guess kudos should go to Gaudio for hanging around and winning, but honestly there should have been no winner, the match was awful.

And speaking of that, I couldn't stand listening to Ted Robinson talk about what a great match it was, and how intense the end was. Just because a match is close in score does not mean it is a good, or even competitive match; it's just close. This was a perfect example of that, I was praying for the match to end right around 4-4 in the fifth.

Reds 6, Expos 5 

It's now becoming a broken record, but some late-inning heroics have pushed the Reds to yet another improbably victory. The day started poorly for the Reds, as Van Poppel gave up three runs in the first, but then he settled in and pitched four scoreless innings before being pulled in the fifth for a pinch-hitter. Griffey then pulled the Reds even with a pair of homers, bringing him to 498 for his career. Things stayed quiet until the 9th, thanks to successful inning-long efforts from Reith, Norton (or as Nuxie called him today, Norman), and Jones.

Jones then ran into trouble in the 9th, allowing a double to Juan Rivera and then a soft single to Termel Sledge to give the Expos a 4-3 lead. Mathews then came in and balked Sledge to second. Termel then went to third on LaRue's 7th passed ball of the season, and scored on a bunt single from Brad Wilkerson.

The Reds moved things along with Larson drawing a walk, and then Cruz launching a two-run blast off of Rocky Biddle (who should not be a major league closer) to tie the game. Back to back singles by semi-injured brethren Larkin and Freel set the stage for Jimenez to win the game with an RBI single.

Jimenez went 3-5, upping his average to .250. Freel went 1-5, slipping down to .237 (he may be proving my theory about being a part-time player). Dunn whiffed three times to lead to an 0-4 day.

Game 7, the sweetest words in the English language 

Martin St. Louis' putback early in the 2nd overtime ties up the Stanley Cup Finals at 3-3, setting up the grand finale in Tampa tomorrow night. I think what's so exciting about playoff hockey is the potential sudden finality of it, that any play could end it in overtime at any point (and usually too late of a point for me to be awake for it, as was last night). Either way, this one is going to be a blast. If Tampa comes out like they did last night, it's going to be tough for the Flames to keep pace. Tampa Bay 3, Calgary 1.

Jones improving 

As you may have noticed, I like to do before and after comparisons. As you also may have noticed, I'm not particularly fond of Todd Jones. However, to be fair, he has improved considerably over the past month. Since his disastrous 1 inning, 4 hit, 3 run outing on 5/2 against Houston (which raised his ERA to 6.28), he has allowed only 4 earned runs over his last 15 games and 17 innings, an ERA of just over 2.00. Nothing much has changed statistically, he's allowed about the same number of hits, walks, strikeouts, and homeruns before that outing as he did afterwards. But for some reason they're not translating into runs crossing the plate. Whatever it is, I can't find a reason other than maybe he was just unlucky early in the season, and it's coming around now. We'll take it though.

Reds 6, Expos 3 (10 innings) 

I don't know if there's a specific point at which we're allowed to compare this team to the 1999 version of the Reds, but after last night's roller coaster 6-3 victory, I think we're fast approaching that time. After staking themselves to a 3-1 lead in the 9th, Graves blows his first save opportunity in almost a month by giving up back-to-back homeruns. Then the Reds come back in the 10th inning by getting Casey on with a double, then an intentional pass to Griffey. Dunn then blasts a Chad Cordero offering into the right field stands.

The downside of the evening was that Graves' performance blew the win for Wilson, who was near masterful for six innings in his first start after missing his last assignment with a pulled groin. Wilson allowed only one hit over six innings and 89 pitches. Riedling relieved him with two shutout innings, saved by a pair of double plays.

Jones struck two batters out in the 10th, including pitcher Cordero, who was sent to bat for himself with two out. There was some controversy over allowing him to bat for himself; I don't really see the problem. With two out you're not likely to score anyways, and Expo skipper Frank Robinson probably felt he could get another inning out of him, so why not let Cordero hit?

In addition to the 10th inning shot, Dunn also belted one in the 4th inning off of Tomo Ohka to tally 17 for the season, as well as a single that was his first non-homer hit in 13 games. Also in the 4th, Griffey tagged Ohka with a longball, which was hit 496th of his career. Casey and Larson each contributed a pair of hits, but Pena's 7 game hit streak came to an end. Still, Pena has looked like a professional hitter lately, and he eases the stress of having Kearns out with a thumb injury. On the negative side, Lopez went 0-5, and looks to be hopelessly mismatched at the major league level. One can only hope that Larkin or Freel gets back to health soon.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

French Open Finals prediction 

It's pretty easy to say Guillermo Coria should win in straight sets over Gaston Gaudio. Coria is probably the best clay court player in the world right now, and Gaudio, ranked 44th in the world going into the tournament, typically wipes out in the first round or two of a tournament. So it would be easy to make the above prediction. Well I'll take the easy way out; Gaudio just has no chance tomorrow. Winning a set would be a victory for him.

Also, with the Coria/Gaudio men's final, and the disappointing Myskina/Dementieva final from this morning, has there ever been a worse set of Grand Slam finals ever? Someone has to check on that.


Brad Richards scores at 15:43 of the 2nd period for the Lightning to put them up 1-0 over Calgary. Go ahead and send the series back to Tampa for game 7. The 'Ning is 30-0-2 when Richards scores, and the team that scores first has won every game in the series. Plus Tampa has totally outplayed Calgary tonight. This is the most exciting series in a long time.

My one horse racing post for the year 

In case you were living under a rock, Smarty Jones lost his bid for the Triple Crown when he was passed by Birdstone in the last 1/4 mile or so. I'm sure there's a term for how many furlongs were left when it happened, but I don't know what a furlong is, so I won't try and guess.

Speaking of horseracing, is there any bigger idiot than the average person that tries to sound knowledgeable about the Triple Crown (Disclaimer: I did watch the race, I was curious and I appreciate the possibility of history being made)? Honestly, other than the professionals, none of us know anything about horse racing. The person who says they actually saw Smarty Jones race anywhere before the Kentucky Derby is either a liar, or Hank Goldberg.

The problem is, no one really understands how horse racing works. They kept saying Smarty Jones was undefeated going into this race. For all I know he might have been running against ferrets. It's not like watching college basketball, where you know that just because Winthrop was 28-1, they're still no good because every team they played against has the words Tech, A&M, North, South, East, or West in their school name. They have that Beyer speed number in the racing form that's supposed to capture that info, but I think that's only created to give schmucks like that more opportunity to make themselves look like idiots.

Most of the people that talk about the Triple Crown will not watch another horse race for the next 47 weeks, then will begin to talk as though they've spent every day at the track.

Expos 4, Reds 2 

The bats go silent, opportunities are missed, and the Reds blow a two-run lead to lose 4-2. Other than the Dunn homer, the Reds couldn't muster much against Expos hurler Zach Day, who is really looking like a very good pitcher even after Tommy John surgery last year. Brad Wilkerson laid a pair of long balls on Acevedo, who pitched rather well with those exceptions (2 walks, 7 K's in 7 innings).

The Expo pitchers handcuffed the Reds all night. After Day's 6 innings, the Expos threw out three pitchers for one inning each - Luis Ayala, Chad Cordero (who looks as dominant as Ryan Wagner was supposed to be), and closer Rocky Biddle - that held the Reds to two hits. Biddle almost gave up a ninth inning homer to Wily Mo, but it fell about five feet short of the stands.

The only bright spot was LaRue, who collected three hits and threw out two base stealers. And though Dunn did hit one out, he hasn't had a hit other than a homerun in 12 games. Remember back when he was hitting over .300? Well since then he's gone 8-56 (.143), with 27 strikeouts against only 8 walks in those last 16 games. Compare that to 34-113 (.301), 41 walks and 42 strikeouts in the 38 games before that. In that 16 game stretch he's lost 52 points of his batting average, 65 points off his on-base percentage, and 86 points off his slugging percentage. He was a real bright spot early in the season, but I'm really worried he's drifting back into being the one-dimensional slugger he was last year.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Bad injury news 

The Reds get a trio of hurts and ouchies tonight, as Freel begs out of tonight's game with an unspecified injury, Larkin sits with an abdominal pull, and Harang goes on the DL with a ligament strain in his elbow. They call up Larson to replace Harang (a mean-spirited person would call that a fourth hurt, for the fans), and Larson promptly got plunked in the forearm in his first plate appearance.

The real question on Harang (and I'd wondered this over the past few days) is how long this problem has been going on. He hasn't gone more than 5 innings in any of his last 3 starts, and he's always had one horrible inning (usually the fifth) that just ruins his outing. Plus when you really dig into the numbers, you really get a sense for how bad it's been. Get a load of these numbers:

StartsERAOpp BAWHIP% of pitches for strikes
First 4 starts3.52.2701.4360.8%
Last 7 starts6.62.3471.8567.0%
Last 5 starts6.00.3271.6769.2%
Last 3 starts8.18.3922.1069.0%

As you can see, Harang's been awful the last three starts, a .392 average and a 2.10 WHIP are inexcusable. The interesting stat, which I didn't even realize until I starting writing this, is that as the quality of his starts has decreased, the percentage of the pitches he throws for strikes has increased. So it would stand to reason that, while his control has improved, he's putting more pitches in the hitter's wheelhouse. This isn't an indictment of the Miley regime's 'pitch to contact' mantra; I think it's worked too well for other pitchers to rip it because of Harang. But one would have to guess from this that he's simply placing too many pitches where he shouldn't, and that leads me to believe that this injury is more a lingering one than a sudden one.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Fun Reds stats 

Just some fun facts on the Reds over the past several games, since I've been gone so long I feel the need to catch up:

Reith - has allowed just 1 earned run in his last 4 appearances (I know, lame, but you gotta be positive about something)

Graves - his last walk was allowed on May 9th, which is also his last appearance in a non-save situation

Wagner - compiled a 1.35 ERA in May, after an 11.25 ERA in April

Norton - is allowing lefties a .253 BA, righties a .375 BA. Also had a 1.64 ERA in May

Casey - has an 8 game hitting streak, hitting 21-47 during the stretch

Jimenez - has raised his average from .216 to .246 in the last six games

...more to come later.

Reds 3, Marlins 1 

After going 6 2/3 innings without so much as a baserunner, the Redlegs manage to make up a one-run deficit and knock off the Fish for a clean sweep (yet another case of the Reds struggling with lefties). Casey broke up Dontrelle Willis' perfect game in the 7th with a line single (Casey has experience in this area, having broken up Andy Benes' no-hitter in 1998 in the 9th). Then Casey belted a two-run blast off of lefty specialist Matt Perisho in the 9th to win it. This was the second homer in three days that Perisho had surrendered to a lefty, after only giving up one hit to a lefty prior to that in 2004. Lidle pitched a pretty strong game, allowing 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 6 in 7 innings. Reith then came through with his second straight solid outing in the 8th, followed by a 1-2-3 9th from Graves.

On the scary side, Felipe Lopez made two errors in his first start of the season. I'd really like to believe he's gotten past his issues from last year, but this certainly doesn't help his case. Also, Graves has saves in his last five appearances...which have all come in the last six days. Can we rest him, please?

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Marlins 3, Reds 0 

Ok, I couldn't resist one last post. In the words of famous Major League Cleveland Indians broadcaster Harry Doyle, 'one hit, one god damned hit, that's all we got?'.

No more posts till next week 

I'm heading off to California, so no more posts until I get back next Tuesday. Have a safe holiday weekend!

Why, Griffey, why? 

So here's my issue with Griffey's staredown with Jack Mac from last night. The Reds are in first place, which I think Griffey wants. He's hit homeruns in the last three games. He proved that you shouldn't intentionally walk Casey to get to him. So why can't he just take his four bases and go back to the dugout and gloat? Why does he feel the need to make it a personal issue? The bottom line is, Jack made a smart move, if for no other reason than to set up the double play in a tight game. It didn't work out.

There's always been this whole issue of Griffey feeling 'disrespected' since he got here. But now this is getting to where he can't even tell the difference between a cold baseball move and a personal slight. I just wish he could just let it all go and just be happy with things going as well as they have.

On a personal note, I really do root for Griffey to do well, but he just always seems to draw controversy to himself. It's not the media's fault, it's not the fan's fault, it's his. And honestly, he needs to learn to just drop a grudge for once. It's been four years since the whole season ending incident, he should just move on.

Worrisome stat on Wilson 

Ok, I've been giving Paul Wilson a little bit of a hard time lately. Forgive me, I like power pitchers, the less opportunities a batter has to put a bat on the ball, the better. However, there is one stat that really concerns me: strand rate. Basically, strand rate tells you what percentage of baserunners you allowed end up not scoring. The stat also removes homeruns from the equation. The idea is, most pitchers should strand a steady percentage of the runners they allow (usually around 70%). If there's a major deviation from the pitcher's norm, it usually means a stretch of good or bad luck (for example, Cory Lidle's strand rate went from 69% in 2002 to 61% in 2003, which was likely a major contributor to his dramatic increase in his ERA during that time).

So let's look at Wilson's strand rate over the last four years:

2001 69%
2002 71%
2003 71%
2004 79%

Could this mean he's become a mentally tougher pitcher in 2004, and handles situations with runners on base better now? It's certainly possible, but history usually dictates that this isn't the case. If Wilson's strand rate was in line with history, his ERA would be more like a 4.10 than the 3.34 that it is. I'm certainly willing to enjoy the ride while it's there, I think we just need to realize there's some luck involved as well.

Reds 5, Marlins 2 

Some things just don't make sense in life: Area 51, paradoxes, Nick and Jessica to name a few. The Reds' 7 game winning streak goes in that category. The numbers don't add up, but this team just keeps on winning. Seven solid innings from Wilson, big homeruns from Larkin and Griffey, and a save from Todd Jones (yes, you read that right), and the good guys haven't lost in over a week.

It was a pitcher's duel until the sixth, when Freel got yet another big inning started with a single (side note: I'm beginning to rethink my post from last week, this guy just gets involved in every big play on this team). After Larkin moved Freel over to second on a groundout, Marlins skipper Jack McKeon intentionally walked Casey to set up the double play. Griffey then made them pay with a three run homer, on which he stared into the visiting dugout (I'll discuss this more in another post). The game was basically over from there, the only items of note were Riedling giving up another earned run (raising his ERA to a modest 1.46), and Jones setting down the Marlins in order in the 9th for his first save in three seasons.

Wet blanket stat of the night: It's not really too horrifying, but Dunn is 4-27 on the homestand, most of which has come from hitting behind Kearns. It's not too scary since the offense is still producing, but it does bear notice that the support in the 7-8 spots is pretty shaky.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

French Open surprises 

About as surprising as Agassi's early exit to a qualifier (those kinds of upsets seem to happen every year to a guy that's on the way downhill) was Rainer Schuettler's straight set loss to Xavier Malisse, the Belgian talent that could just never get it all together. I really thought Rainer could make a deep run, but Malisse decided to show up here. That really opens up the draw for a sleeper like Romanian youngster Victor Hanescu. Hanescu could easily make the quarters to take on a Juan Carlos Ferrero, or perhaps even a Jiri Novak.

The injury to Agustin Calleri pretty much blows my bracket up, though it does set up an intriguing run for power player/head case Marat Safin. Safin will likely have to run a clay court gauntlet of Felix Mantilla, Sebastian Grosjean, and David Nalbandian to get to a quarters matchup with Roger Federer.

The only real repercussions of the Agassi upset is it gives an upstart like a Luis Horna to break through at a major, though I still like Juan Ignacio Chela to go through that quadrant of the draw to get to the semis. But then again, two of my final four are already out, so what do I know?

Reds 7, Astros 5 

For the longest time, Kearns looked as if something was still wrong with him physically. From the time he injured his shoulder in a head-on collision with Braves reliever Ray King, until his latest trip to the DL, he was hitting somewhere in the .130's. After his exhibition over the past few days, culminating with his game winning three-run homer last night, I think he can officially be proclaimed healthy.

Kearns wasn't the only live bat last night. Early solo shots from Griffey and Casey spotted the Reds a 2-0 lead, and a long Griffey double increased the lead to 4-1. Acevedo threw six strong innings before giving up a homer to pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro. He was relieved by Riedling, who then served up a fat one to Lance Berkman for a two-run jack to tie things up. This tripled the amounts of earned runs Riedling has allowed from 1 to 3. A pessimist like me would look at this as a bad sign; a strong reliever pitching way over his head, finally coming back to reality. This is why I don't manage.

Overall Acevedo's outing was pretty solid, allowing no walks in 6+ innings (Bill James gives a more detailed treatment of

how important walks are in Paul Daugherty's column today. Other than the homerun, a good night.

After Larkin's triple to lead off the eighth (which was a questionable send on Mark Berry's part), the Astros pulled perhaps the most curious move I've seen in some time; they walked Casey (understandable), but then pitched to Griffey with runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs. What's the point there? If you get a DP, the run still scores. They got lucky in coaxing him into a hard grounder to first, holding Larkin at 3rd but moving Casey to 2nd. So wouldn't it make sense at this point to walk Kearns, even with Dunn coming up and no lefty in the bullpen? By pitching to Kearns, you're betting that you'll have to face Dunn anyways. But no bother to us, Kearns goes yard, and the Reds have a three-run lead. Then they turned it over to Graves.

For those of you that still like Graves as a closer, was last night enough to change your mind? First batter lines a single up the middle. After a pop-out, Jeff Kent strokes a pinch-hit double off the wall, putting the tying run at the plate. Then LaRue commits a passed ball (I thought we were past this), allowing the runner to score and moving Kent to third. Then finally Graves settles down to get the last two outs. Perhaps he's tired from pitching five of the last six days, but this highwire act is getting tiresome.

So from last night, the worries are: no production outside of batters 2-5, and a shaky Graves. The positives are: Kearns is healthy, Griffey's power stroke is back, Acevedo doesn't need to worry about the blisters anymore, and the Reds are now in first place. I'll take that in a heartbeat.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Reds 7, Astros 0 

It only took 106 pitches from Cory Lidle to put the Reds temporarily all alone in first place. This one was over early on a Kearns two-run single in the first, followed by a surprise solo shot from Valentin in the fourth, and a two-run jack by Griffey in the fifth (his first in the last seven games). Kearns notched a pair of hits to make him 5-15 since returning from the DL. Casey and Castro (of all players) reached base on three hits each, one of Casey's on his fifth dinger of the season. Even Jimenez contributed without a hit, walking and scoring in the first. Three double plays killed any rallies the Astros tried to create. The only downside was an error committed by Jimenez, albeit only because he slipped as he was making a throw off of a great snag. That was the Reds' first error in seven games.

As for Lidle, the complete game shutout came with only four strikeouts, and six hits in the nine innings. It wasn't necessarily a dominant performance, but he's been pitching a lot better than his numbers have indicated thus far, so you can almost look at this as his luck starting to come around. His ERA currently stands at 4.52; he's probably pitched about a half-run better than that, given his above average control and low hits/9 innings.

French Open predictions 

Those who know me, know my pre-occupation with tennis. So this begins four enjoyable months for me, as the major Grand Slam tournaments begin tomorrow with the French Open. The one thing I love about tennis is that players that play well on one surface can be almost useless on another. You don't find that in any other sport, but I enjoy seeing who can compete under any circumstances.

Having said all that, I'm going with Guillermo Coria to win the French Open over Rainer Schuettler. Coria is due, and probably could have won last year had it not been for the unbelievable two weeks Martin Verkerk pulled off. And I see the draw opening enough for Schuettler to make it to his 2nd grand slam finals.

Other notable players: Roger Federer, the #1 seed, has much too difficult of a road. Having to play Thierry Ascione, and likely Gustavo Kuerten and then Feliciano Lopez, I'll be surprised if he makes the quarters...

This isn't Andy Roddick's best surface, so I don't see him going very far, I have him going out in the round of 32 to Fabrice Santoro. Even if he gets past that, he'll likely have Juan Ignacio Chela waiting for him in the next round, who will take care of him.

I wouldn't normally think Andre Agassi would do too well here, but the draw breaks well enough to get him to the quarters before he's put down by Chela. Were he and Roddick to continue winning, however, they would meet in the quarters.

Obviously I see Chela as a breakout performer in this tournament, as I also see for Agustin Calleri, who I think will take down Felix Mantilla, Sebastian Grosjean, and a hobbled David Nalbandian in order, which would be quite a clay court feat.

However, if Nalbandian gets healthy quickly (not likely on a surface that drains even the fittest of players), all bets are off, he could take the whole thing.

Reds 8, Astros 7 

On paper, the Clemens/Harang matchup looked to be a mismatch for the Reds. But in the words of Kenny Mayne, games aren't played on paper, they're played inside little TV sets. The Reds are now in a first place tie after knocking off the 'Stros. Neither starter was particularly effective. Clemens was roughed up early, allowing four walks and nine hits in five innings. The Reds got a runner to third in the first inning, and plated runs in the next two on a LaRue double, bases loaded walk to Kearns, and a two-run double by Dunn (who is 4-4 lifetime against Clemens). Harang dodged a couple bullets before giving up back-to-back two run hits to Jeff Kent and Lance Berkman, Kent a double, Berkman a HR.

After gaining a two-run lead in the fifth, Wagner allowed a longball to renowned power hitter Mike Lamb. Wagner looked awful, and was pulled for Reith, who bailed him out in the sixth, then promptly gave up a pair of hits in the seventh. Jones came in and gave up a sac fly, which charged the run to Reith and eventually gave him the win. I shouldn't criticize Jones, he pitched two solid innings last night. Eighth inning doubles by Casey and Griffey spotted Graves a two-run lead going into the ninth.

Then the heart palpitations began. A Kent single, a Berkman double, an RBI single by Morgan Ensberg, and there's runners on first and third, 8-7, with no one out. Castro, brought in in the 8th for defensive purposes, made a good play on a Richard Hidalgo grounder to catch Berkman in a run-down. After a Brad Ausmus pop-out, Jose Vizcaino pinch-hit for Brad Lidge and lined a shot right down the 3B line. If it got through it's probably two runs. But Castro made one of the nicer diving catches you'll ever see to end the game and preserve the win.

So the post-mortem reads: mediocre pitching performances by all but Jones, Graves gets extremely lucky, the batters leave 12 men on base, but overall the hitting numbers looked good. Dunn makes up for his 3 K night with a 2-2, 2 walks, 2 RBI evening. Larkin breaks out of his mini-slump with a 3-5 night.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Graves being abused as trade bait? 

One of the more popular topics on talk radio the past week has been that the Reds may be trying to throw Graves in every single save situation to pad his save stats, making him more attractive to other teams as trade bait. Chris Welsh remarked during last night's game that even the Astros players were surprised at the amount of save opportunities he has gotten. While it can't be proven, people may be onto something.

So far, through 41 games, Graves has pitched in 25 games. That means he's on pace to appear in close to 100. That's right, 100 freaking games!! Find me another pitcher in the past 20 years that's even come close to that. That's not just scary, it's almost abusive.

Second, Graves has currently appeared in 23 save situations. Only two other pitchers in the majors have appeared in more than 14: Armando Benitez (17) and Mariano Rivera (16). Granted, the Reds have probably played more close games than anyone in the majors this year (I don't have the data on 3 run games at my disposal), so they likely have more save opportunities.

What's more indicative of a possible plan to boost his saves total is the ratio of save opportunities to appearances. Again here, Graves leads the majors with a 92% ratio (23 save ops in 25 appearances). Only 3 other pitchers are even above 80%. What this tells me is that the Reds save Graves more for closing duties than any other team in baseball. Even Rivera and Eric Gagne have appeared in six non-save situations.

Oh, and another point. I've been very critical of Graves' ability to close games out without giving fans heart attacks. Well, of the 10 pitchers with more than 10 save ops so far this year, only Troy Percival has a worse save percentage. So why would the Reds push Graves as the closer so much unless there was another motive?

I'm not saying they're definitely doing this, obviously no one has any proof one way or the other. But there is some very intriguing circumstantial evidence here. I wouldn't exactly be torn apart inside if they did trade Graves, but again, this team really needs to watch its perception among the fans. A trade would just be seen as another way for Carl to save money and put it in his pocket, and not improve the product on the field. Of course, having Riedling as the closer might make things better, but perception is reality for fans.

Reds 7, Astros 4 

So much for the invincible Andy Pettitte. The Reds get to him with two runs in the first inning, including a bases loaded walk, and chase him after just five innings and 103 pitches. Then Brandon Backe and Dan Miceli (who I swore was retired) followed up with a horrendous sixth inning, allowing the Reds to cross the plate five times. The clincher came on an intentional walk to Casey (Freel was on second, but first was open) to pitch to Griffey, who then popped an RBI double, putting Cincy ahead for good. Kearns then blooped a two-RBI single, which he really needed to get back into the swing of things. Overall a good hitting night, Dunn and LaRue were the only starters not to get a hit (Dunn K'd 3 times, that's a little worrisome). Casey, Griffey, and Kearns snagged a pair of hits each. Casey now leads the NL with a .368 batting average. Another error-free night as well. I'm thinking this lineup may be the best one this club has.

From the pitching side, Van Poppel was serviceable, if not effective. No walks and 5 K's in 5 2/3 IP is pretty solid, but the four earned runs are a tad troubling. Riedling threw yet another two perfect innings, ostensibly to give Jones a rest so he can ruin another 8th inning, despite Riedling proving he can handle that inning capably. Graves tossed a solid 9th, that's two straight non-scary performances.

A couple thoughts from the evening: why is Mathews only allowed to pitch situationally, yet Norton and Reith are allowed to go full (or even multiple) innings? Might as well give him a chance to do some more.

Second, can we get rid of the ridiculous hold stat? Honestly, Backe pitched 1/3 of an inning, gave up two hits and two earned runs, and yet he gets credit for holding the lead? What does this stat measure, except not imploding?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Just some random thoughts... 

Here's some random thoughts I'm having while watching the Reds game:

1. What made the Blue Jays decide to change their uniforms and logo to be completely similar to the Devil Rays? Were they trying to co-opt some of that Tampa karma? It sure isn't working for Sweet Lou right now.

2. What's the point of these short films on ESPN's SportsCenter? The only thing I can figure is that there's a mention of a Craftsman mower, so maybe it's a big plug for Sears.

3. Isn't it fitting, in the playoffs before the big NHL lockout that could shut the game down for years, that the finals could be played by teams named the Lightning and the Flames?

4. I never thought I'd see the day when I could say with a straight face that Ervin Johnson was unquestionably the best center on a team in the NBA conference finals.

5. I'm gonna miss the Kurt Warner era. His first three years with the Rams were just amazing to watch, it was almost like watching Tecmo Bowl, you just knew they could score on every play.

5a. I'm also going to miss the potential for media spats between Mike Martz and Cloris Leachman...I mean Mrs. Warner.

Reds 3, Rockies 1 

89 pitches over 8 innings was all it took for Paul Wilson to shut down the Rockies. Miley then turned it over to Graves in the 9th, who set down three in order to become the all-time Reds saves leader with 149. Wilson actually asked out of the 9th so Graves could get the record on his win. This may have been Wilson's best game ever as a pitcher. He was just dominant, his pitched move well, he placed where he needed to, changed speeds nicely, just a great overall performance. I'll post later more about the significance of his improvement.

Having said all that, the game was almost a lost cause, thanks to an unfortunate long ball from Castilla (his second in two nights), and the Reds inability to hit anything from Rockies pitcher Joe Kennedy for the first five innings. I'd never seen him pitch before, but he has an awkward, Danny Jackson-like across the body delivery, and quirky pitchers just seem to rattle the Reds. LaRue of all people broke up the no-hitter with a single in the 6th, followed by a Wilson single. Then Freel worked his Freel magic by laying down a great bunt, which Kennedy slipped while fielding and chucked the ball past 1B Todd Helton, allowing LaRue to score. A sac fly from Larkin, an RBI single from Casey, and that was all the Reds needed. Big defensive plays from Larkin and Jimenez kept them in the game as well (you have to see the replay on Larkin's moonball toss, it was something to behold).

Only a couple disappointments from the evening. Larkin went hitless and is now 2-16 in his last 5 games. Kearns still looks somewhat uncomfortable at the plate. Jimenez's 4 game hit streak is over. But these are minor issues.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Bachelor finale wrap-up 

I guess if I had to use one word to describe the final episode of The Bachelor last night, it would be this: vomit. I don't think I've ever seen someone puke more than Tara did in the last few hours before her eventual rejection by Jesse. But in the end, Jesse defies his friends, family, and probably good sense and just selects the hottest chick (which I can respect). So let's examine what we've learned from this season's episodes:

1. Apparently chicks will flock to you if you say everything is 'amazing'.

2. If you start puking uncontrollably hours before a major event in your life, you might want to reschedule.

3. Making out with multiple chicks on a date is acceptable behavior in 2004 (someone explain to me why I grew up in the 80's by the way).

4. Lack of suave behavior is forgiven if you're overly attractive, have a high-powered job, or are being videotaped I guess.

5. None of these women know anything about the NFL, or they'd realize this boy is going to be scrambling for a job next year (word to Jessica: hold off on using that one-way ticket to NY, you may need to change the destination).

6. Even though Trish was pretty distasteful, life's a bit more exciting with someone to hate around. Let's face it; every Red Sox needs their Yankees, every Sacramento needs their Lakers, Jack Abbott needs Victor Newman, Hulk Hogan needed Roddy Piper. It just wasn't as much fun to see two likeable people at the end than it would have been to see good vs. evil.

By the way, I'm betting this relationship is over before Jesse takes his first preseason snap...wherever that may be.

Reds 4, Rockies 3 (10 innings) 

Here's a line you never thought you'd see: Jimenez rescues the Reds. Apparently the trend with the Reds is, you get dropped in the order, and your stroke comes back. D'Angelo collects four hits, including the game-winner in the 10th, after dropping to seventh in the order. In all fairness, he was dropped back on Saturday, and has a four game hitting streak since then. Casey and Dunn also collected a pair of hits each, which was good since LaRue was the only other Red to get one. Acevedo tossed a brilliant game, handcuffing the Rockies over 7 innings, striking out 11 without walking a single batter.

Now the bad news, and not surprisingly it comes from the bullpen. Jones comes right in the 8th inning, walks Royce Clayton, then gives up a homerun to Vinny Castilla, who at last check is older than dirt and mulch. Then Graves comes in and, on the very next pitch, serves up a fat one for Jeromy Burnitz, blowing the win for Acevedo (if you're still counting, that's 7 allowed in 23 innings). So who comes in to save the day? Yep, Riedling, whose ERA is now down to 0.45. I guess I'm just dumbfounded as to why Miley is insistent on sticking with Jones as his 8th inning man, when Riedling is clearly the hottest pitcher on the staff. For that matter, why Jones is performing anything more than mop-up duty is beyond me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Celebration part 2 

Austin Kearns is back with the big club, and Jason Romano is optioned out. God willing someone else will pick him up on waivers so we don't have to worry about him coming back up to the Reds.

Rockies 8, Reds 3 

Not much really to say about last night's debacle at GABP. Lidle did a good job of throwing strikes, unfortunately they were all hitable strikes. 11 hits in 5 innings, yikes. And the two homeruns aren't encouraging. And I hate to sound like a broken record, but could we just give up on Reith already? Two homeruns in two innings? Enough's enough already, he has a 2.000 WHIP, he's shown no semblance of ability at the major league level. It's time to cut the cord. Nothing else really to point out, other than Pena's homerun, which comes at an opportune time for him.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Six worries about the Bengals 

Since the sports day is pretty light today, I want to get to a topic I've been wanting to discuss for a while. As much optimism that has been shown for the upcoming Bengals season (a couple prognosticators have even picked them to go to the Super Bowl), I think there are a lot of issues with this team that need to be discussed.

1. This Carson Palmer thing...I'm as big a proponent of him being the starting QB as anyone, but how is everyone so sure that he's going to be an immediate success? I don't have the exact numbers at hand, but it's a known fact that QB's struggle in their first season. Mike Vick, Steve McNair, Peyton Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Troy Aikman, Jeff George, the list of high picks goes on and on, and they all had mediocre first seasons. At least the team has shored up the TE spot with Reggie Kelly and Matt Schobel to give Palmer an easy out in pressure situations.

2. Are we sure yet that Rudi Johnson is a franchise back? He gained 957 yards last year in 13 games, but 521 of those came in three games. In five of his last six games he didn't average four yards per carry. Are we 100% sure he can do the work over a full season? And I have to be honest, Chris Perry as a backup doesn't ease my mind either. Lloyd Carr gave him a lot of work at Michigan, and I worry how much he has left in his legs.

3. I think this team under-estimates the impact of losing Mike Goff. Granted, he wasn't worth what San Diego was willing to pay, but he played a pretty significant role on the offensive line, and I wonder whether Bobbie Williams is at the same level. I also get a little nervous anytime you make a change on the line, just from a continuity standpoint. People take for granted how large a role chemistry plays in the trenches.

4. The Darryl Gardener impending signing scares me...a lot. I have a lot of confidence in Marvin Lewis and his ability to pick out players that would fit in, and I give him the benefit of the doubt. But Gardener has been a huge problem in Miami, Washington, and Denver. He's talented, but he's also the type of player that could tear this team apart if things begin to go wrong.

5. Is Deltha O'Neal the answer at CB? I know that Mike Shanahan was probably over-reacting when he benched O'Neal last season and told him he'd have to play WR to play this year, but his play really did slip last year. You just have to wonder if he can get back to where he was a couple years ago. The one encouraging fact of the secondary is that the safety position has been upgraded, which should allow O'Neal and Tory James to take more chances at the corners.

6. Have you seen the schedule? It's brutal! I see three easy games: the opener at the Jets, the Bills (who may be the most unnecessarily overrated team in the NFL) in Week 15, and the Giants the next week. But with home games against Miami, Denver, and Dallas, and games at Tennessee, Washington, New England, and Philadelphia, there are no breaks. It wouldn't shock (nor disappoint me) to see this team drop to 6-10 next year.

At least he holds onto leads...usually 

A funny story on Danny Graves from ESPN.com. Perhaps Danny was too busy thinking about where his next tattoo would go, or what new car or ATV he would buy, to be thinking about his wallet.

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