Tame in wild-card stretch
Overachieving club runs out of steam in must-win series
BY PAUL DAUGHERTY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Say goodbye to pennant fever, such as it was. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's creation of the wild-card playoff berths might be a great idea in some places, but in Cincinnati it has produced more yawns than 3 a.m. Exactly 16,957 somnambulant souls watched the Reds bow out of realistic postseason consideration Thursday afternoon. Their 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres left the Reds dead men walking.
And we do mean walking. By the time the eighth inning lazed around, Cincinnati's position players had eased to their spots with an economy of movement best timed by a sundial. Water moves faster uphill. The only thing swift about the Reds on Thursday was the speed with which they closed their own casket - their game took just 2 hours, 32 minutes to play.
After losing two of three in a series they had to sweep, the Reds are 4Ĺ games out of the wild-card lead, same as they were 10 days and seven games ago. They have 16 games to play. Some teams could overcome that gap; not this one. The Reds would have a better chance of beating the Bengals on Sunday.
Those who feast on Jerry Narron's in-game strategy bones would be wise to recall this: The Reds manager is working without a closer and a cleanup hitter. He's got a DH playing left field, a first baseman playing third base, a first baseman playing shortstop and a part-time catcher hitting .187. His best run producer has four RBI in the last 20 games. His leadoff hitter is playing on heart and memory. Adam Dunn and Ryan Freel seem to be in need of hammocks and soft breezes.
The fact is, the Reds entertained us at least a month longer than we guessed they might when the season began. The second fact is, they have a lot of work to do between now and April, even to be as average as they've been this year. It's funny how a few bad weeks can color perceptions. On Aug. 22, at 66-60, the Reds looked poised for a September run. Twenty-three days later, losers of 14 of 20, they look outmanned, out of energy and out to lunch. This team wouldn't win 70 times next year.
The Reds need a closer, a shortstop and an everyday outfielder or two.
They need to solve the problem of Jason LaRue.
They need to convince Ken Griffey Jr. that a corner outfield spot is not a demotion.
They need to deal Adam Dunn and hope they can get value. The home run-hitting left fielder who walks to his position could be available. Trading Dunn is an obvious solution, but his high salary - $10.5 million next year - and his future as a DH might make that difficult.
Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky wasn't in a chatty mood Thursday when the subject of next year arose. He didn't want to talk about the future in the fading light of the present, other than to say organizational meetings are in October. That's the baseball version of "I'll have to look at the film." You don't need a meeting or videotape to tell this team is miles from playing in October.
The Reds will trade for a closer, or buy one with some of the roughly $20 million they'll pick up from added local TV money and the trades of arbitration eligibles Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns. They could move Brandon Phillips to short and hope Rich Aurilia, at 35, can play 135 games at second base. They'll try to deal LaRue, who has been a backup this year, but will have to eat some of the $5.2 million he's set to make next year. They'll need a fourth outfielder who can play defense. They'll need a lot of people who can play defense.
What this mostly pleasant summer has done is raise expectations unreasonably. Baseball isn't football. Teams do not change who they are overnight. Krivsky's Reds are still in large measure Dan O'Brien's Reds. And Jim Bowden's. With the trade of Wily Mo Pena for Bronson Arroyo and the acquisition of Phillips - not to mention the on-the-fly reinvention of the bullpen - we can see Krivsky wanting a faster club with better pitching and fielding. The current version too often has lots of homers and not much else.
It will take time. Meanwhile, take it easy on the current club. It surpassed expectations. Until now.