As the calendar turns to July 22, it simply marks 23 days as the last time the Cincinnati Reds won a baseball game on the road.
There were extenuating circumstances, such as the All-Star break and a homestand, but in the last seven road games, the Reds have been nothing short of beatdown. Baseball is a game innately designed to teach fans, players, and media alike how to lose. Where the murky line is drawn is in how ugly the losses can get.
Fans can take their pick between which sweep was uglier: San Diego or New York. One team is headed towards nowhere but a battle for third place in a division, while the other is battling for a wild card spot with a $178 million payroll. (Take a guess which is which.) On paper, the Reds had no business being dismissed in each series as if they were a spider crawling across a carpet.
Of course, baseball is not played on paper. While statistics such as WAR, xFIP, BABIP, and many other useful ways to explain what occurred can do just that, they cannot tell the whole story. There is no quantifiable way to express the wind completely coming out of the sails of the 2014 Cincinnati Reds when Brandon Phillips went down with torn ligaments in his left thumb.
For years on end, the debate has raged about who was the Most Valuable Player to this Reds club. There were legitimate cases for Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Brandon Phillips. With the latest swarm of injuries, there should now be no question that the answer is Brandon Phillips.
Unquestionably, Phillips rubs a certain, old-school fan part of the fan base the wrong way. With an effervescent smile and an electric personality, asking Phillips to tone that all down would diminish what makes him so tremendous in the first place. That becomes the equivalent of asking Pete Rose to calm it down with the headfirst slides and sprints down to first base.
The development of an accurate defensive metric is still a work in progress by my estimation, although great strides have been made. In the meantime, not much can top the eye test of fans who watch Phillips play night in and night out. Even in his absence over the past two weeks, it becomes blatantly obvious that there is no second baseman in this organization that can hold a candle to him defensively. While it may be a stretch, broadcaster Tim McCarver has referred to Phillips as “the best ever defensively at second base.”
This is all before we even begin to discuss him offensively. Phillips was off to a dreadful start in 2014 with the bat, with his swing rates at pitches outside the strike zone astronomically higher than in season’s past. While at the time of his injury, he was producing career-lows in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage, he had recovered significantly from his horrendous start. Not to mention, he has batted nearly everywhere in the lineup.
There seems to be little doubt who the Reds’ best player is, and that is Joey Votto. But, when it comes to terms such as “Most Valuable,” Phillips’ first significant big league injury proves his worthiness of that claim.
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In case you missed the news yesterday, the San Francisco Giants took a leap of faith and signed Dan Uggla. To be honest, I could not think of a worse situation for Uggla. AT&T Park in San Francisco rivals Petco Park in San Diego as the most unfriendly hitter’s parks in the league, a clear disadvantage for the slugging Uggla. Not to mention, Tim Hudson and the rest of the groundball-inducing staff may not be too pleased with Uggla’s defensive abilities, which have been in doubt since his meltdown in the 2008 All-Star Game. Overall, I think the Giants took a gigantic risk that may happen to pay off. On the Reds side of things, I think they missed out on an intriguing opportunity.
Over the past few days, just a few names I have seen the Reds linked to: Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and Marlon Byrd. The legitimacy of any, or all, of these claims is nothing more than speculatory at this point. While the idea of both Murphy and Zobrist intrigues me (I stand by my assertion that acquiring one of the two is imperative to salvage 2014), I cannot for the life of me understand acquiring Byrd.
Around this exact same time last year, a large portion of the fan base was clamoring for Marlon Byrd. As things played out, he went on to homer off Johnny Cueto in the one-game Wildcard Playoff and drive a dagger into Reds fans hearts, but the move to acquire him in 2014 seems like a stretch. It would tell me two things: 1) the Reds have little, to no faith in Ryan Ludwick, and 2) Skip Schumaker is going to become the full-time second baseman.
The concept behind acquiring a player like Murphy or Zobrist is that they are going to be a significant improvement over the carousel at second base for their stay in the Queen City. Picking up Marlon Byrd and playing him over Ryan Ludwick may be a marginal improvement (at best) that could influence an extra game or two, opposed to three or four from a new second baseman.
Either way, the Trade Deadline looms. I would be stunned if General Manager Walt Jocketty stayed put with the current club and did not make a move to improve the club in some capacity.
The clock may be nearing close to striking midnight on this 2014 Cinderella season.