View Full Version : Reds surprising contenders in another losing season (10/2)

10-04-2006, 01:45 AM
Oct 2, 2006

Reds surprising contenders in another losing season
By JOE KAY / Associated Press Sports

CINCINNATI (AP) -At least they tried.

The knock on the Cincinnati Reds lately was that they weren't giving their best effort - the owners and the front office, that is. The franchise's value increased with the move to a new ballpark in 2003, but it didn't show in the payroll or the planning.

A very strange season smashed that perception.

After moving to within a percentage point of first place on Aug. 24, the Reds imploded down the stretch, leaving them with their sixth straight losing season. It's their longest such streak of futility in 50 years.

But losing season No. 6 had an entirely different feel.

New owner Bob Castellini was true to his word, increasing payroll to try to bring the city a winner in his first year running the franchise. New general manager Wayne Krivsky remade the roster on the fly, acquiring 36 players after he got the job on Feb. 8.

There was no sitting back and waiting this year.

"You can't complain about it,'' said right-hander Bronson Arroyo, brought over from Boston during spring training. "Those guys came in and said they wanted to win, and they proved they wanted to win.

"Wayne has done the best he could for us. It wasn't quite good enough, but I think it gives him an idea of where we can go with the talent we have, and what we're still lacking that we're going to need to get us over the hump.''

First, they need to figure out what happened in five futile weeks.

The Reds led the wild card race for 46 consecutive days until Aug. 28, when a 2-8 trip to the West Coast marked the beginning of their miserable finish. They lost 21 of their last 34 games, dooming them in a weak division where teams with losing records were still in contention.

They were a season-high seven games out on Sept. 20 and started trying players in different roles for next year. Then, they found themselves back in the race when eventual division winner St. Louis collapsed.

Too late. They finished 80-82, slipping behind Houston into third place at the end.

"We've been so weird and inconsistent,'' first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. "If we had played better when we thought we were kind of out of it, we could have been right in it.''

During most of their losing decade, the Reds have been done in by their pitching. They were last in the league in 2005 with a 5.15 ERA, undercutting one of the NL's top offenses.

In a surprising twist, the hitters let them down this time.

The Reds finished second-to-last in the NL with a .257 average. They were second with 217 homers, but only middle-of-the-pack in scoring runs. All too often, they were all-or-nothing.

Ken Griffey Jr. missed most of the last month with an injured toe. Adam Dunn, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Phillips, David Ross and Hatteberg - prime players in the early season surge - were among those who finished with a whimper.

"It was a letdown when we had a chance to separate ourselves on that West Coast trip and we didn't,'' said Dunn, who drove in only five runs in the last 37 games. "I personally struggled when it mattered most.''

So did the defense, a sore spot all season. When they were still marginally in contention, the Reds kicked one game away with six errors - their most in 35 years. They had 128 errors overall, second-most in the league.

They finally made inroads in pitching. Arroyo and Aaron Harang were reliable at the front of a rotation that led the league with nine complete games. The pitching staff finished seventh overall in the NL - a major improvement.

Krivsky completely remade the bullpen as the season went along, with mixed results. The bullpen improved dramatically when closer Eddie Guardado was acquired in July, but an elbow injury sidelined him a month later and led to surgery.

"Wayne's doing everything he can to put a winning club on the field,'' manager Jerry Narron said. "He got a late start. Basically we came to spring training with a club made up by four general managers. That's unusual.''

The flurry of trades and signings at midseason turned the clubhouse into a rest stop for pitchers either coming or going.

"I've never seen that before,'' Arroyo said. "It's a tough thing to do, to pick and choose. You're almost grabbing at straws to see if you can put something together that works. The starting rotation has been pretty steady - a couple of guys were hurt here and there - but the bullpen has been insane. That's one facet of the game you can probably afford to do that with.''

Now, the new ownership and Krivsky get their first offseason together to map where they want to go with the payroll and the roster. Given their aggressiveness during the season, major changes could be on the way.

Given the state of the NL Central, they're figuring they can contend again - and break that six-year slump, too.

"If you had said at the beginning of the season that we'd have been in the running with two days remaining, it's a huge improvement,'' Hatteberg said. "We took big strides. Now we've got a lot of guys not expecting to be in the cellar.''

That's an improvement right there.

10-04-2006, 01:54 AM
October 2, 2006

Up-and-down Reds foster same feelings
Eric Crawford / The Courier Journal, Louisville

Mixed emotions beat definite disgust any day.

If you're a Cincinnati Reds fan, that's how you have to feel at the end of the 2006 season, at which the Reds learned Saturday afternoon that they were out of the hunt for a playoff berth and proceeded to lose a pair of shutouts in Pittsburgh.

They finished the season 80-82 yesterday, faltering to their sixth straight losing season.

It'll go down as a step forward for the franchise, under a new ownership group headed by Bob Castellini and behind a new general manager, Wayne Krivsky. The Reds were expected to do nothing. They were a trendy pick to finish dead last in the National League (Comedy) Central.

So to remain in contention until the St. Louis Cardinals stumbled to the pennant has to be progress.

Still, it was a strange team and a strange season. These Reds could take your breath away with late-game rallies and walk-off wins. They also could leave you breathless with sheer ineptitude -- as they did in an 11-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 23 when they committed six errors.

Many point to a 2-8 West Coast swing in late August and early September as the season-killer. They were tied for the lead in the Central and had a 11/2-game lead in the wild card when the trip began and never seemed to recover. But just as damaging as the trip, in the end, was dropping three straight series after they got home.

Still Krivsky, for better or worse, never stopped making moves. There's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes even a bad move helps shake up the negative inertia.

When Krivsky dealt Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner to Washington for three pitchers, Royce Clayton and Brendan Harris in July, it emphasized that Krivsky was focused on pitching and defense and was positioning himself financially for more shuffling.

A host of high spots

It's not hard to find highlights in the just-completed season.

The combo of starting pitchers Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo give the Reds one of the best 1-2 punches in the NL. They finished 1-2 in the NL in innings pitched and led the Reds to a league-leading nine complete games. The team's ERA rose from close to the league basement to seventh in the NL, even behind a painfully bad bullpen.

The Reds' power hitting wasn't what it was before Krivsky started dealing, but they still managed to rank ninth in the NL in scoring, even if they were next-to-last in batting average.

They found a core of solid contributors in Rich Aurilia, Scott Hatteberg, Juan Castro, Chris Denorfia, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Freel.

Star turns pose tough choices

But they do have some problems to address, beginning with their two biggest names.

Adam Dunn hit only .157 in the final month of the season and struck out 36 times in 83 at-bats. He still wound up leading the team in RBIs and is a hard worker who plays every day -- in fact, he kept playing through the slump because of team injuries when he probably would have benefited from sitting. But with Dunn's salary scheduled to rise to $10.5 million next season, Krivsky should be looking to deal him.

And while superstar Ken Griffey Jr. turned in a solid season, his insistence on playing center field no longer should be honored by manager Jerry Narron. With Freel healthy, his range is too great and Griffey's too limited to make this concession make sense.

Stats that must improve: The Reds hit only .240 with runners in scoring position and ranked 14th in the NL in fielding percentage.

But if Krivsky has shown nothing else, it's that he's ready to make moves to address shortcomings. Next year, don't be surprised if the Reds are in even better position to have the last laugh in the Comedy Central.

10-04-2006, 02:10 AM
October 1, 2006

The year in review

The year began with a new owner followed by a new GM. The season began with a lot of new faces, then more new faces, then some more. The Reds were in contention until late in the summer. Then they appeared to be out of it. Then all of a sudden, on the last weekend of the season - this weekend - well, you know. As the team prepares for its final game today, Reds writer John Fay provides a rundown of one wild season and previews what promises to be an equally eventful offseason.


Walk this way

The Reds had 11 walkoff wins. The granddaddy of them all came June 30 against Cleveland when Adam Dunn hit a walkoff grand slam in an 8-7 victory, capping a comeback from a 7-0 deficit. It was only the second time in the storied history of the Reds franchise that the club has won on a walkoff slam. Dunn's shot followed an earlier three-run, pinch-hit homer from Juan Castro.

The Catch

Ryan Freel's running, diving catch of an Albert Pujols drive into the gap in a 10-3 win over St. Louis on Aug. 8 might have been the highlight of the season. The game was in the balance at the time of the catch, and the house was packed. It was as electric as Great American gets.

Pitching duel

Aaron Harang outdueled Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter 1-0 on April 14 and drove in the only run. It was the first sign the Reds' starting pitching might rival the Cardinals'.

Beating Roy O.

The Reds got the 800-pound gorilla off their back by beating Houston's Roy Oswalt 5-4 on April 27. Oswalt was 16-0 against the Reds before the loss.

Junior achievement

Ken Griffey's pinch-hit, three-run homer in a 5-4 win over the Cubs Sept. 25 was bittersweet. Sweet because it secured a win; bitter because it made fans wonder what might have been had Griffey been healthy in September.


Low of lows

The 6-5, 16-inning loss at Los Angeles Aug. 29 on a home run by Ramon Martinez on the first pitch from Ryan Franklin. The Reds had a half-dozen chances to win the game before the 16th. No loss stung more. The clubhouse was a morgue afterward. It was the absolute low point on a road trip from hell.

Goodbye, Eddie

On the day closer Eddie Guardado walked off the mound with a sore elbow in late August, it didn't seem like a big deal. But when it turned out Guardado was done for the season, it was. The bullpen had fallen in place well when he was healthy.


Wednesday's 7-2 loss to the Marlins in Miami was a study in frustration. The Reds were 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position and left 15 runners on base. The club failed the same way in many games - but this came when they could least afford it.

King Albert

Albert Pujols' third home run of the day was a walkoff in an 8-7 St. Louis victory April 16. It was a statement by the Cards.

West Coast blues

The Reds didn't hit from Aug. 24 to Sept. 6. It started on the West Coast and carried through the homestand that followed. The Reds averaged 2.7 runs a game and went 2-10. They went from a virtual tie for first in the Central and a 1-game lead in the wild card to six games out in the Central and 4 back in the wild card.


Who plays shortstop?

Brandon Phillips is an option and might be a good one. That turns the question into: Who would play second? The Reds have alternatives there: Rich Aurilia (if they agree on his mutual option), Ryan Freel or Ray Olmedo. Signing a shortstop would be a major investment. The wise route might be to go with Phillips, fill second base and spend the money that would have gone to a shortstop on pitching.

Who's the closer?

The Reds don't have an obvious internal solution. So they'll probably go the trade or free-agent route. The free-agent list is fairly underwhelming, by the way.

Where does Homer Bailey start the season?

Krivsky showed remarkable patience with the club's prized prospect. He's been mentioning Triple-A and Bailey in the same sentence lately. Bailey (above) will be in the rotation at some point, probably sooner than later. Florida's Anibal Sanchez went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA and pitched a no-hitter this year. And his numbers in the Southern League this year were not as good as Bailey's.

Which relievers come back?

David Weathers, Ryan Franklin and Scott Schoeneweis are free agents. They were key to the bullpen down the stretch and pitched well. Should one, two or all three be back? Or none?

What happens with the outfield?

Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Freel are all under contract. But there's a strong argument for moving Griffey to right and playing Freel in center. Dunn was horrible down the stretch. He had 87 RBI on Aug. 20 and he'll finish with fewer than 100 after back-to-back 100-RBI seasons. It makes sense to test the market and see what he could bring in a trade.


10-04-2006, 02:12 AM
October 1, 2006

MVP? Either Arroyo or Harang

PITTSBURGH - Reds manager Jerry Narron's team MVP?

"All of them. How about that?" he said.

It is a difficult choice.

"You can make a case for a lot of guys," Narron said. "We've had a lot of guys with solid years."

But the club probably doesn't have one player who will receive even one National League MVP vote. And the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots list a top 10.

If you have to choose a position player for Reds MVP, Rich Aurilia is probably the guy. He's hitting .300 with 23 home runs and 70 RBI. He has played well defensively at all four infield positions.

He also has had a good September, something no other position player can say. Aurilia is hitting .344 with four home runs and 17 RBI in the month.

Adam Dunn led the club in home runs (40), RBI (92) and runs (99) going into Saturday. But he was hitting .235 overall and he's been dreadful late in the season.

Edwin Encarnacion (.276, 15 HRs, 72 RBI) and Brandon Phillips (.276, 17 HRs, 75 RBI) also faded late.

But if you take MVP literally as Most Valuable Player, you have to go with either Bronson Arroyo or Aaron Harang.

Arroyo finished the season 14-11 with the loss Saturday; Harang ended 16-11. Arroyo's going to lead the league in innings (2411/3); Harang is going to lead the league in strikeouts (216). The Reds would not have had the kind of year they've had without either pitcher.

"Not even close," Narron said.

COMPLETE ME: The Reds lead the National League with nine complete games. Harang has six; Arroyo three. The Reds haven't led the league in that category since 1944 when they had 93.