Every baseball teams has that one player that gives them their identity. Whether that be the team’s heart, soul, brain or braun, that player embodies the team in a nutshell. Known for star pitching? It’s probably your ace. Known for good defense? It’s probably your shortstop.
What comes to mind when you think of the Cincinnati Reds? What is their identity? Good defense. Power hitting. The way they allow their biggest strength let them down. What player embodies that mindset? Jay Bruce.
Bruce is not the best hitter on the team, technically speaking. But in broad terms, he holds the title. He can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the majors for power. Make a mistake, Bruce is jogging around the bases. And just like the rest of the team, his biggest strength seems to be the very thing that holds him back.
I’m not saying every player on the team is like Bruce. And I’m not saying they are “home run or strike out” players. I’m thinking bigger picture. In terms of hitting, the #Reds aren’t lacking. But hitting and hitting when it counts are two totally different things.
Hitting when it counts? Don’t I mean runners in scoring position? Well, sure. But I’m talking in general. Jay Bruce seems to allow his hitting, which, just like the Reds, is his identity, let him down.
Let me explain.
The Cincinnati Reds were not a small ball team last season as I’ve explained before. The team learned to rely on power hitting, mainly home runs. That was their strength. Unfortunately, however, you live by the long ball, you die by the long ball. Jay Bruce led with that philosophy, and the team followed suit.
The very thing that led them to victories was the very thing that wouldn’t allow them to advance in the playoffs. Point blank, they couldn’t hit. How many games last year did you watch where they hit 5 home runs one day, just to strike out 12 times the next? Yes, that’s baseball. But when that happens more often than not, that’s your culture. As it is with Bruce, it is with the team.
When you allow yourself to be dictated by home runs,like Bruce, you’re throwing your ultimate success up to chance. You forget the basics, especially bunting. Nobody on the team seems to remember how to bunt. Even the bench guys. (For the love of god, Heisey, just bunt the ball. It’s not that hard!)
It’s so easy to let the culture of your team slip away. It’s so easy to let Jay Bruce win games on home runs. But the more you give in to that way of baseball, the harder it is to find the way to succeed when the long balls aren’t coming.
I know I’ve gone back in forth over my last several articles, both praising and criticizing the philosophy and culture of the offense. In the end, I don’t think home runs are a bad thing to build your team around. But when you forget the small things, like bunting, like running, (such as the Reds have via Bruce leadership), consistency won’t be a friend.
Just like in life, baseball may be defined by the big plays, but they’ll always be won in the small moments.