The Reds stepped into a time warp this afternoon when matching up against Daisuke Matsuzaka, as the former 18-game winner went seven and two-thirds of scoreless ball and turned the clock back to his early Boston Red Sox days.
At the conclusion of the game, the loss seemed catastrophic. Had the Pirates been able to beat the Cubs with Francisco Liriano on the mound, the Reds would have needed a sweep this weekend in order to gain home-field advantage for Tuesday’s one-game playoff. In situations like this, the Reds can simply be thankful for the fact that there is even a wildcard play-in game, as if the old format were to be applied, the Reds would be playing for their season this weekend.
Mat Latos toed the rubber for the Big Red Machine earlier today in what was virtually his final tune up before his career defining final outing next Tuesday. The Reds ace took to the mound with him today some of his best control all season, as he was able to pinpoint his fastball wherever catcher Devin Mesoraco flashed it, and did it with significant quickness, consistently living in the 93-95 MPH range. The only run that was scored all afternoon may have not even come around to score had it not been for the passed ball of Devin Mesoraco which led to the infield playing in, only to have a base hit by Eric Young Jr. ripped past for an RBI single. The only two batters to reach third base all day for the Mets both came via the hit by pitch, a statistic that cannot be predicted, as Latos lives on the inside part of the plate and it simply comes with the territory.
Billy Hamilton got yet another start to the delight of Reds fans everywhere, leading off and playing centerfield. Had Hamilton had another explosive outing where he had multiple hits and steals, there may have been a legitimate case for the young speedster to get himself a playoff start. While Hamilton did single once on a groundball to first base in which he simply outran everyone, he was subsequently gunned out running to second for the first time in his Major League career. Obviously, for someone who runs so often, being thrown out from time to time is to be expected, and his current 93% clip certainly does the trick. On the downside for Billy, he struck out twice; once, against Matsuzaka who unquestionably had the youngster baffled with his unique wind-up. In the bottom of the eight with the tying-run at second, he struck out once again, this time with heat upstairs. If Hamilton has any visible holes early on, the inside fastball would be his kryptonite.
It was a week of statistical anomalies for the Reds #3 hitter, as Monday night, Joey Votto walked in all five plate appearances for the first time in his career. On this sunny Wednesday afternoon, Votto flied out to centerfield all four times he came to the plate; with the last being a crucial, two-on, two-out situation that the Votto of old may have cashed in on. In order for the Reds to hoist a trophy in a month from now, Joey Votto needs to lock in and be the hitter everyone in Reds country knows he can be.
At the end of the day, today’s loss was nothing crushing. It was demoralizing nonetheless to watch Cesar Izturis lead off the third with a double and then not move before being stranded. Over the past couple nights, the Reds have not been playing their best fundamental baseball at a time when executing the fundamentals is imperative. The optimist in this situation will look at the Reds as a unit after this game and remark that there is no way that the team could continue to perform the way it has, as there is no mistake just how much talent there is in the Redlegs locker room.
It comes down to three remaining games in the season. The Cardinals eliminated the Reds with their win today and just one slip up by the Bucs, or one victory from the Redbirds, will clinch the division for St. Louis, who is without question more concerned with obtaining home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
That being said, if the Reds can hypothetically beat the Buccos next Tuesday night, regardless of where the game is played, who do you, as a fan, want to see in the first round, best-of-five series? Getting the Dodgers in a seven-game series may be insurmountable with the amount of pitching they have and having to beat the Cardinals four times is quite the proposition. Yet, for a team that has not advanced in the playoffs since 1995, maybe facing the weakest of teams due to their pitching is a good matchup for the Reds. Their offense is the definition of feast or famine, but a playoff rotation of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Paul Maholm isn’t causing anyone to run and hide. Feel free to weigh in and let me know where you feel the Reds would be best suited, should they find a way to escape the wildcard game.
A day off tomorrow will be the final breather for Reds fans the rest of the way, as 7:10 ET Friday night; Homer Bailey will be taking the hill against a familiar face in A.J. Burnett, as the Redlegs come down the homestretch. It’s a simple equation: whoever wins the series this weekend, gets to play at home Tuesday night. Two out of three is all the Reds need for the biggest game in Cincinnati baseball in the past twenty years to be played in front of Reds Country.