2013 Reds / Editorials

St. Louis: Cincinnati’s Heart of Darkness

It’s gotten to the point where every Reds/Cardinal series feels like a trip upriver with Captain Willard and Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now—you don’t know what you’re going to see, but you have the distinctly uneasy feeling it could get pretty harrowing before all is said and done.

Google map-it how you will. Despite the fact that the Reds have won two of the last three division championships, Route 162 seems to snake through the Baseball season like some main circuit cable plugged straight into St. Louis, Missouri.

Here we are again one more time. To fully understand where we are, a look backward is in order. The first series in the rawness that is April was a feeling-out affair, both teams routing each other, bookending a Bronson Arroyo collapse in the 6th inning of the middle game. The end of the month brought three closely contested and low scoring affairs at Busch, with only Mat Latos able to come out a winner in the series opener. The Reds had quickly dropped the first two series of the young season to their most hated rivals.

June brings with it the first real feeling that serious summer baseball is here, and on a beautiful, warm Friday night full of flip flops and Summer Shandy, the local media got all caught up with the moment and themselves, telling us we were in must-win mode:

Mike Leake went out and pitched uninspired baseball and Logan Ondrusek came in and punted the game away.  The next night Mat Latos pitched like Mat Latos does and the back end of the bullpen held serve, leaving Sunday’s contest the series decider.  With all that on the line, Arroyo exited with a two run lead in the top of the 7th, only to see the bullpen melt down and lose the game in extra innings.

Early August saw another “must-win” series and before the 4th inning of the first game was over, Arroyo was gone and the Reds trailed 9-0.  The next night, the Cardinals got their first look at Cingrani—and although it took 30 pitches to get out of the first, the Kid stifled the Cards, Devin Mesoraco hit two HRs and the bullpen was good enough to send the series again to another rubber match on Sunday. Then, Mike Leake gave up 4 runs in the first inning, was relieved by an ineffective Ondrusek in the 6th and the Reds were routed once more, 15-2.  Another Sunday gone and now for the fifth time this season, Cincinnati had lost to St. Louis by seven or more runs.

Late August brought the Reds to Busch Stadium and despite being staked to an early 4-run lead, Leake was once again not up to the task. J.J. Hoover came in, and for the second time this year, was victimized by the Cardinals, this time by an ignominious grand slam at the hands of Allen Craig.  By now, Redleg Nation was at DEFCON 1 with Mat Latos the firewall between a fan base ready to perform self-immolation.  Latos gave up 2 runs early, St. Louis starter Joe Kelly was shaky, but it was the base running circus in the 4th inning—with Bruce, Cozart and third base coach Mark Berry conducting an impromptu team meeting at third base—that sealed the fate of the Reds in game two of the series.

The Beast was feeding now. Conventional wisdom declared the Reds were intimidated by the Redbirds. Unforced base running gaffes, bobbled balls in the field and a not ready for prime time bullpen were indisputable proof that this team saw itself as little brother in the NL Central. The narrative was being written: like actors suffering from flop sweat,  the Reds were spooked by the bright lights. Paul Daugherty called for a shrink. The players, backed into a corner, took their frustration out on an Enquirer beat reporter, then took the field and punched Adam Wainwright in the mouth, while Homer Bailey put a pillow over the face of the St. Louis offense.

Then a funny thing happened. They played with much the same ineptitude against the Colorado Rockies.

I had bought into the Little Brother trope. Denver was an epiphany. The Reds didn’t need the Cardinals to play Buttermaker Baseball. Sure, they could kick it around when St. Louis took the field. But, they could do that Mile High and valley low. The Reds are a good fielding team that can lose focus at any moment. They can also run the bases like Forrest Gump when the situation calls for it. Cincinnati’s problem isn’t intimidation, it’s insouciance.

Upon closer examination, what St. Louis was doing to the Reds was beating up on the back of the rotation and a bullpen missing Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton. Yes, Tony Cingrani has been a brilliant sub for Johnny Cueto, but he’s only pitched once against St. Louis. Dusty Baker hasn’t seen the urgency to set up his rotation for these epic heart-of-darkness battles between good and evil. Accordingly, the Cardinals missed Bailey in June and again in early August.

To beat the Cardinals, the Reds need to knock the bats out of the hands of the Cardinal hitters. Velocity does that. Only Latos has pitched each of the last three series against St. Louis.  Even Mr. 106 could be a factor, assuming he can be found.

Come October, the Reds should have either Marshall or Cueto back in the bullpen. Maybe both if the Baseball Gods let the Reds up off the medical mat.

Meanwhile, the Reds have now scored runs on ace Adam Wainwright in eight straight innings. Bailey goes today. Cingrani could anchor the series on Thursday, if a certain manager sees the urgency.

On June 8th, Reds/Cardinals was an entertaining diversion. This week, we find out if the Redlegs are worthy warriors or merely errand boys sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.

15 thoughts on “St. Louis: Cincinnati’s Heart of Darkness

  1. ….or maybe we won’t find out if they’re worthy warriors. To me, the gist of this post is that you gotta take the long view, even if that means there is no defining moment that you can look back upon in retrospect. We humans crave certainty, but this is likely one of those seasons that tests the fans even more than the seasons where they suck, simply because we still don’t know who they are.

    I always try to put myself into the player’s shoes. These guys have been playing baseball every day for 6 months. I’m sure they can barely remember who they played last week much less have enough perspective to approach the remaining games ‘with urgency’.

    Selfishly, there’s only a month (or more) of Reds baseball left before the long winter. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  2. Amen, Brother!!! Velocity and LH pitching. Arroyo has to go in with a different game plan tomorrow night.

    • @Y-City Jim: I’m typically optimistic, but even I can’t see how Arroyo is going to learn how to throw left-handed in the mid-90s by tomorrow

  3. There has been a shocking lack of persepective on the part of some fans this year. People seem to forget that we’ve still only made the playoffs, twice in the last 18 years – and have not won a series in either of those years.

    15 games over .500, sitting 3.5 back in the division, and currently holding a WC spot is nothing to be ashamed off. I still think the Reds can win this division but however it turns out, we’re right in the thick of a divisin race in September. Enjoy it.

  4. Related to this series and a neat factoid I just read that sort of blew my mind:

    The Reds had the best record in the division (24-19) since the All-Star break.

    Let that sink in. As frustrating as they were in August; the Reds are playing better than the Pirates or the Cardinals right now. Hopefully that trend continues through this series that’s a “must win.”

    • @Zach: Yeah, how’d you like to be a Cardinals fan right now? They’ve been spoiled by years of success and are probably pulling their hair out.

      “There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations”

  5. Last week and article on blogredmachine detailed the Cardnials success against the Reds. The bottom line is the Cardnials dont have a mental adavantage over the Reds. The Cardnials advanatge is that they have hit the weak end of the reds rotation, 7 of the 10 Victories are against Arroyo and Leake. Arroyo has an ERA of around 9.00 I think and Leake I think 8.00. All the more reason I wish Dusty would manage these games diffrently.

    • @Larry1980: This got me thinking… had Bronson thrown a good game against a good team this year?

      Quality Starts (6+IP, 3 or fewer ER)
      MIL (3), ARI, CHI (2), SD, SF(2), SEA, ATL, PIT, STL (2), COL, PHI (2), MIA, and LAA.

      19 of 27 starts have been QS, with 5 of the 19 coming against playoff contending teams. So, I suppose the answer to my questions is yes. I guess the meltdowns just stick in the memory longer!

      • @prjeter: His stuff is better suited to lesser hitting less disciplined teams. His career ERA against the Cardnials is bad. Its why he always seems to have a good start against the Cubs.

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