Curious. Prior to the Reds series at PNC Park, Reds manager Dusty Baker stated that the series with the Pirates was “a dangerous series right here.”
Seriously, where was the danger? Heading into this series, the Pirates were last in the NL in the following offensive categories: batting average (.219), on-base percentage (.272), runs per game (2.98) and walks (105). They ranked next to last in slugging (.349). The Bucs also owned the second most strikeouts (396). So the focus had to be the trio of pitchers they would face: James McDonald, Charlie Morton and A.J. Burnett.
McDonald and Burnett passed this “test” with flying colors. And if you believe Twitter’s anti-Dusty brigade, Baker enhanced their chances of success for the first and last games of the series.
In the series opener against McDonald, a 4-1 Pirates win, both Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart were not in the starting lineup. The entire left side of the infield? Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo were given the nod. They combined to go 1-for-8 in the game.
In yesterday’s series finale, Joey Votto was given the day off…or so we thought and even his usage was brought into question. Actually, two questions.
One was inserting Mike Costanzo into the starting lineup at first base instead of Cairo even though Cairo started the first game of the series. Or maybe it was more because Costanzo is a lefty? The feeling was that getting him in the starting lineup would help him out of his funk. The other was when and who Votto would be used as a pinch-hitter. Heading into the top of the 9th, the Reds had two hits. They equaled that in the 9th with one of those hits coming off the bat of Votto.
These decisions open a door that, for the remainder of the season, may well never be shut. It wasn’t so much an indictment on Baker, although some severe scrutiny surfaced, but it’s one in regards to the bench that the Reds currently hown. This was brought into focus over on Redleg Nation.
And as John Fay noted, the Reds need a lefty bat. Preferably one that is productive. A player that’s got a few years under his belt. The issue is that those kind of players don’t grow on trees. We witnessed that when Willie Harris made the Opening Day roster. That didn’t work out too well.
Even if you scour every current MLB roster, and you would have to start with those teams that aren’t have a successful season thus far, finding that one guy is difficult.
Another thing we learned is the importance of Votto in the lineup. With the Reds having today off and another scheduled day off next Monday, what was the need in giving him yesterday off? We saw an instance or two where having Votto in there could have possibly made a difference. You could make that three questions now. Our own John Rentz had his opinion on the matter.
#Reds offense is Votto, not much else; his presence lacking in lineup was pretty meaningful. Bruce, Phillips have moments, they’re not Joey.
— JD Rentz (@jdrentz) May 31, 2012
I don’t want this to sound like that I’m in any way diminishing what the Pirates did. They took two of three from the division’s top team and find themselves at .500 and 3 games behind the Reds. They should be commended for their performance. The Pirates as a team and as an organization has taken some great strides over the past year and a half. Remember they actually held the top spot in the division at one point last season.
Still, something during this past series seemed…odd. Could it be that the Reds still sit atop the division despite the perceived “weaknesses”?