The difference between winning and losing a baseball game can be ever so subtle.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Where the common misconception comes into place, is where fans and media types alike begin to think that these are meant to balance out, or “regress to the mean.” This afternoon in St. Louis, the Reds saw the tiniest hints of weakness exposed, and their best weaponry neutralized. Even after a late surge, the club came up short, falling by a score of 5-3.
Ominous enough was the rain falling on Busch Stadium that we should have expected this. Tony Cingrani is a sensational pitcher, and only going to get better, but having to beat a team with the skill level of the Cardinals twice in a row in the first week of April, may as well be equivalent to trying to open a padlocked door with no key. (For this, I throw my hands up in the air to the schedule makers. The most secretive job in America outside of central intelligence dictates how and where many of us will spend our summers. Obviously, the job cannot be very simplistic, but there has to be a way to space out the teams you play, especially a division rival.)
The first inning was a microcosm of how the Reds/Cardinals rivalry has played out the past few seasons. After Billy Hamilton’s leadoff double to begin the game energized the Reds fan base, they sat quietly and shook their head as Brandon Phillips laid down a sacrifice bunt to move him to third. Whether it was Phillips or Price’s decision, the point is moot; it was a calculated move that did not work. Had Joey Votto been able to drive in Hamilton, this would be a non-issue.
In the bottom of the first inning, the man who never surrenders hits gave up three of them. The final one being a bases clearing double to Yadier Molina, whom he got ahead of the count 0-2 on. As of his last start, in his career, batters were a combined 1-for-80 when getting behind 0-2. Sometimes, the more we think we know, the less we truly do.
The St. Louis Cardinals are a better baseball team than the Cincinnati Reds. It is no so much pessimism as it is actuality. They just are–from top to bottom. That’s based on the fact that the Redbirds have dominated the National League for the past three seasons, winning one World Title in 2011 and making the Championship Series each of the last three years. This isn’t to say the Reds cannot surpass them, but for now, it’s little brother trying to catch up to big brother.
The Reds attempted to play a methodical brand of ball today and it did not pan out. Each of the first four innings saw the leadoff man reach base, yet no runs cross the plate. Like it or not, this is going to happen. For years, fans have been clamoring for the Reds to score runs via ways other than the home run ball, and they finally have implemented a manager that is going to employ those strategies. As frustrating as it is to watch a hitter not drive in a runner from third with less than two outs, it’s not automatically supposed to occur. Not everything can go the Reds way all the time.
While the club cannot control where the ball may take a sudden hop, or how the defense may play it, they can absolutely be in charge of their effort. Anyone who has taken the time out to watch this club the past few seasons knows that nothing fazes them. Not Joey Votto going down in 2012, not the emergence of the Pirates last year, this team plays with a “new day, new game” mentality.
Even at low points, they don’t let up. How simple would it have been for them to fold in the ninth inning of a game they trailed by four runs in against one of the league’s hardest throwers, Trevor Rosenthal? Each at-bat was clawed at with desperation, and even though they came up short, it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Choose to acknowledge it or not, realistically, the Reds could have won every game they have played so far this season.
Alas, moves like letting Trevor Bell pitch to the meat of the Cardinals order, having Brayan Pena try to steal second on Yadier Molina (in my mind, there is no way Price called for that), stick out like a sore thumb. Part of baseball’s beauty is that you never know which run is going to be the difference maker.
For those that like their statistics, they can hold on dearly to the fact that Tony Cingrani continued his streak of holding an opponent under five hits, marking this the 20th consecutive time. Both Nick Christiani and Curtis Partch got some nail biting outs, but outs nonetheless. With Trevor Bell the likely victim going out upon Jonathan Broxton’s return, the battle between the two will continue for time on the mound.
Tomorrow, the Reds get to be on national television when they send Homer Bailey to the mound in opposition of Lance Lynn–a rematch from last week. The game will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1 at 8 P.M., but those tricky St. Louis Cardinals will find a way to not start the game until at least a quarter after the hour.
Being 2-5 is not nearly as drastic as it seems. All teams go through slumps, even good ones, which the Reds undoubtedly are. As many will learn, the rain can’t go on forever.