The Fork in the Road

To those of us who check frantically for any sort of Cincinnati Reds news every couple of hours, this past week has finally paid off. Those who have actual lives may have missed the re-signing of Jonathan Broxton, the burly right handed reliever who has ‘greater Cincinnati area’ written all over him. I hinted at this possibility at the end of my last blog post, and now that it’s a reality, I have to say I’m happier than most. The casual Reds fan may ask why I’m so excited over this news. Broxton’s good, sure, but he’s nothing to get excited over, right?

The truth is, with the decision to re-sign Broxton, the Walter and the Reds have chosen a path at a relatively large fork in the road. One of these paths has a World Series championship or two at the end of it. The other has the team’s ultimate demise. In this writer’s humble opinion, we’re on the correct path.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the signing of Broxton (and the amount of money he’s going to get) means he’ll be the one closing games in Cincinnati for at least the next three years. This allows the Reds to move Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation. In my first ever post as Staff Writer for BlogRedMachine, I highlighted the enigma that is the Cuban Missile. As those of you who have read my series of articles, I have been attempting to narrow down just where on this Reds roster we can scrap together the necessary elements to win a World Series ring. Namely, I’ve been looking for the “it” factor. And, as I stated in that first column, I believe that Albertin Aroldis Chapman de la Cruz is this team’s major proprietor of “it”.

Now, you might think it’s crazy to say that one man can bring this team to a World Series championship. And to that, I would say you’re correct. However, I believe baseball has a mythical science behind it that will tell how well your team will do over the course of the season. Stats more than OBP, ERA, Wins, Losses, Batting Average, Steals, and Home Runs. I’m talking about the very basics of human emotion. These players are, after all, human.

July 8, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) comes set as he pitches against the San Diego Padres during the ninth inning at PETCO Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

I believe the name of the game in baseball is momentum. Whether it be in one single game or over the stretch of a couple of games, gaining and losing momentum in baseball is huge. Way more-so than any other sport. You see it in the rally caps and other magical momentum bringing rituals. You saw it when a 2012 Reds team without it’s statistical powerhouse Joey Votto won 10 games in a row.
This game is still played by humans, as much as statistical analysts might have you thinking otherwise. Players who could very well wake up in the morning and burn the roof of their mouths on a cup of coffee, causing them to have an off day. Players who might wake up and think “Man, today sure is a good day to be a professional ball player” and hit four home runs that night. There are so many variables that can affect the way a player plays the game.

Momentum is all we need to know who will win a championship. The Reds had massive momentum heading into the 2012 playoffs. And then we lost Johnny Cueto. Not even a brilliant pitching performance out of Homer Bailey could break us of the funk that injury put us in. And as soon as we lost that game 3, and as much as I hated to admit it, internally I knew it was over.
So, what on this Reds team causes momentum? “It” causes momentum. What is “it”? I’ll tell you.

“It” is Aroldis Chapman’s dominant pitching style. This isn’t all drawn up into a 100+ MPH fastball. While that is a huge factor into his intimidation, you also have to take into account that the guy looks downright mean. When Chapman pitches, you can feel the intensity way before he actually throws the ball. That’s “it”.

Adding Chapman to the starting rotation probably gives the Cincinnati Reds the second best rotation in the national league, behind only the Nationals. Think about heading into a three game series having to face Cueto, Mat Latos and Chapman. Or Latos, Chapman and Homer Bailey. Or Bronson Arroyo, Cueto and Latos. No matter how you chalk up the matchups, the other team is heading into two games, sometimes three, with a severe pitching mismatch.

This leads to winning series, a main component in maintaining momentum throughout the season. Stringing along consecutive series wins is one of the most “it” things about baseball. Not only does it make you fly to the top of the standings, it also gives your players the knowledge that you win a lot more than you lose. When you have that mindset, each loss makes you think, work and push to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

So, we have the rotation “it” factor. Now, what about games in which Chapman is pitching?

Right now we can only speculate. He was good in Spring Training last year, but that was before he was known as a truly dominant pitcher. I can’t say for sure how things will pan out, but let me paint you a picture of Chapman’s upside.

Similar to consecutive series wins, on a single game scale there is nothing more momentum building than consecutive strikeouts. If Chapman pitches the way he does when he closes, you can be assured this will happen in more than one game. Imagine Aroldis out on the mound mowing down 5 or six straight guys. When you consider that Doug Fister has the record for most strikeouts in a row, set just last year, it seems more and more plausible that we might see that record be broken.

As I stated before, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen. For all I know, Chapman blows out his arm in the first game of spring training and is regulated to the DL for the season and never comes back. I’m hoping all of you at home are knocking on wood.

But, that upside is terrifying. That’s “it”. And ladies and Gentlemen, I can’t wait for “it”.