The 2017 MLB post-season is upon us and, alas, our beloved Cincinnati Reds did not qualify for any hot playoff action this year. Yesterday, our staff here at Redleg Nation made our playoff predictions, and you all laughed at our sub-par prognostication ability. Now that the respective Division Series’ have begun, we can all settle in for the long, cold winter, with dreams of the 2018 playoffs in our heads. In the meantime, we can take in this year’s post-season as dispassionate, impartial observers.
But no, we’re Reds fans. We’re never impartial.
So let’s take a look around the rosters of the teams that remain standing, and decide where our rooting interests should lie. Since no current Reds are participating in this year’s playoffs — how did they choose these teams anyway? This isn’t fair! — we’ll have to look at former Reds. The following examination will help us decide (a) who should we root for, and (b) which team would win the World Series in a just universe where having former Reds on your roster was an important factor. As it should be.
First, let’s have a moment of silence for Matt Belisle, who was a member of the Minnesota Twins playoff roster. If you had told me nearly a decade ago, when Belisle was posting a 7.28 ERA in his final campaign with the Reds, that he would still be in the big leagues and on a playoff team in 2017, I’m not sure I would have believed it. But I always liked Belisle, and I’m glad that he has been able to put together such a long and successful big league career. Even though his 2017 post-season lasted just one game, in which he pitched a scoreless inning.
Let’s also pause to remember our old friend from the Colorado Rockies, who went down to an ignominious defeat last night. Specifically, Ryan Hanigan, who was always a RN favorite during his time as a big-time defensive catcher here in Cincinnati. (Let’s also give a tip of the cap to Pat Valaika, whose brother Chris played 33 games for the Reds back in 2010 and 2011.)
Now, on to the players who still have a chance to nab the World Series ring that tragically eluded them during their time in Cincinnati.
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astronomicals
We’re off to a slow start here. Neither of these clubs have any former Reds on their roster, and I’m already starting to think this was a terrible idea for #content for the digital pages of Redleg Nation dot com.
There is a Cincinnati connection, however. Andrew Benintendi is the name of Boston’s sweet-swinging 22 year-old left fielder. While he lives in the northeast right now, Benintendi is a Cincinnati boy through and through, having been born and raised in the Queen City.
So, almost by default, we’re going to have to pull for the Boston Red Sox in this series.
Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees
This is the most intriguing matchup of the four division series, by far. On one side, you have the New York Yankees, who have three former Reds on their playoff roster, which is tied for the most of any team. Those three players: Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, and Didi Gregorius. The Indians counter with two former Redlegs, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion.
Four of these five players actually played together on the 2012 Reds, the club that won 97 games, won the NL Central, and then…well, I don’t remember what happened next.
Gregorius only played eight games with the Reds that season; he was traded to Arizona later that year in a three-team swap that brought Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati. Aroldis Chapman was a four-time All-Star in Cincinnati, and one of the greatest relief pitchers in the history of the organization. Todd Frazier had a fine Reds career, as well, with a couple of All-Star selections and that memorable Home Run Derby championship back in 2015.
That’s a pretty formidable lineup, but the Indians have a nice Reds contingent of their own. Jay Bruce, of course, was drafted in the first round by the Reds and he hit 233 home runs — that’s 8th on the franchise’s all-time list — over 9 seasons in Cincinnati. He made three All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers, and finished in the top ten of MVP voting twice during his tenure with the Reds. He’s a future Reds Hall of Famer, and the most affable guy ever to play here.
Encarnacion didn’t have the Reds career that Bruce had, but Edwin has become a legitimate star since he was traded to Toronto in the Scott Rolen deal back in 2009. There remains a vocal contingent of Reds fans that dislike Encarnacion, but he was always one of my favorite players, and I thought he got a raw deal here. We defended Encarnacion in the pages of Redleg Nation often, and he has turned out to be the player we hoped he would be. (Though the designated hitter rule in the American League certainly helped him on that path to stardom.)
So here we have two of my favorite Reds players of the last fifteen years — Bruce and Encarnacion — versus Chapman and Frazier, who are both players I remember fondly for their Cincinnati careers (with a dash of Gregorius what if? thrown into the mix for good measure). Bruce/Encarnacion represented Cincinnati in 3 All-Star games; Chapman/Frazier/Gregorious earned 6 selections. If you want to lean towards New York in this equation, I grant you that permission.
But I’m going to root for the Cleveland Indians. Jay Bruce’s affability, plus a small proximity bonus for being a team from Ohio puts Cleveland over the edge.
Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals
The Nationals are skippered by Dusty Baker, the much-maligned (in some corners) and much-beloved (in others) former manager of the last three Reds teams to qualify for the playoffs. Whatever you think of Dusty — and we can discuss that topic all day, even after all these years — the only other former Red to appear on the Washington roster is Ryan Madson, and I dislike him much more than I ever disliked Dusty.
Okay, that’s not fair. I don’t actually dislike Madson at all. Madson seems like a good guy, and he never did anything but work as hard as he could during the short time he was with the Reds. My reasons for disliking Madson have nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the circumstances surrounding his time with Cincinnati. You may recall that the Reds signed Madson to be the closer back in 2012. Madson proceeded to get injured, which meant that the Reds abandoned their plan (much anticipated here at RN) to return the aforementioned Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation. Chapman became a closer, and the rest is history. Chapman never started again. It’s Madson’s fault (even though it isn’t his fault at all).
Okay, back on topic: the Cubs have no former Reds, which is a good thing. I generally pull for every former Red to do well in their new location, and I really don’t want a reason to cheer for anyone wearing a Cubs jersey.
So we’re rooting for the Washington Nationals in this one.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Dodgers have a full contingent of former Reds. Tony Cingrani was traded to LA at this year’s trade deadline, and you know about Cingrani. The other two former Reds never actually played for Cincinnati, but they deserve mention here. Catcher Yasmani Grandal was drafted by Cincinnati in the first round of the 2010 draft and, eighteen months later, he was dealt to San Diego in the Mat Latos trade.
Justin Turner is the biggest what if? of any of the names mentioned here. He was drafted by the Reds in the 7th round all the way back in 2006. In 2008, he was traded along with Ryan Freel for Ramon Hernandez, who had three productive years behind the plate for Cincinnati. Turner, meanwhile, just kept getting better and better, establishing himself as a part-time player with the Mets before exploding with the Dodgers. As LA’s third baseman, he made his first All-Star team this year, hitting .322/.415/.530 with 21 home runs.
The Dodgers are facing the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks, who have a contingent of former Reds, as well. It begins with J.J. Hoover — a whipping boy during his time with the Reds (though RN was always kinda sorta partial to him) who posted a solid 3.92 ERA in 52 appearances for the D’backs this season. Arizona is the fifth big league team for Adam Rosales, who was drafted by the Reds in the 12th round back in 2005. One of the all-time hustling players in baseball, Rosales has somehow survived ten years in the majors (and made $6.5 million) while posting a slash line of .227/.292/.365. Kudos to you, Adam.
He didn’t make the Wild Card roster, but the immortal Kris Negron played 14 games for the D’backs this year. Remember Negron? He was acquired in a trade with Boston for the equally immortal Alex Gonzalez back in 2009, and played 96 games for the Redlegs over parts of three seasons.
Everyone loves Rosales, but this is a clear-cut choice: Reds fans have to go with the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite the fact that the clubs used to be bitter rivals.
Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians
This one is easy. Boston has no former Reds, while Cleveland has Bruce and Encarnacion. Gotta root for the Cleveland Indians to return to the World Series, on the strength of the two former Reds they added
in the off-season since last season’s World Series loss.
Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
This is a tough one. The Dodgers have more former Reds, but they were all bit players on the Reds scene. The Nationals have one player who never actually played for the Reds, plus the third-winningest manager in Cincinnati history.
Not a lot to choose from here, so I’ll let you make your own choice. For me, I’ll go with the Washington Nationals, since the Nats feature two guys — Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle — who went to school at my beloved University of Virginia. (Yeah, I’m cheating. Sue me.)
Cleveland Indians vs. Washington Nationals
I almost want to pick Washington here, only because Joe Blanton is a National. A World Series ring might validate Paul Daugherty’s suggestion back in 2008 that the Reds should trade Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and Joey Votto for Blanton.
But I can’t do that. Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion are among my ten favorite players of the 2000s. I would love to see both those guys win a championship. But especially Bruce.
When Jay was traded to the Mets last season, I understood why it was a necessity, but I was pretty bummed anyway. (Perhaps not as bummed as I am about Tom Petty’s passing, but pretty bummed.) After the trade, I tried to sum up Bruce’s Reds career over at Cincinnati Magazine:
Over eight-plus seasons with the Reds, Bruce hit 233 home runs, good for seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. No player has hit more home runs at Great American Ball Park. One day, he will be elected to the Reds Hall of Fame.
Jay Bruce has a lot of playing left to do, and I’ll be rooting for him until the bitter end. But one day, when I’m old and gray and my son is all grown up, the Reds will schedule a ceremony to celebrate Bruce’s induction into the team Hall of Fame. And I’ll make that trip, with Casey. We’ll enjoy talking about Clinchmas, and all the other incredible highlights of Bruce’s Reds career.
And we’ll remember a birthday from years before, when Jay Bruce made a fan for life. Two fans for life, actually. Father and son.
I know they’re our Ohio rivals, but Jay Bruce plays for the Indians. Seems to me that Reds fans should be rooting for Cleveland in this post-season. Bruce is one of the good guys. I want to see him get a championship.
(Sure, I wish that championship could have been with the Reds. But I’ll take what I can get at this point.)