Time to haul out the tarot cards, the crystal ball and the Ouija board and hunt some intangibles. Specifically, the It Factor.
It came out over the weekend. I’d expected to see It on the most recent roadie, but there is no It to be gained from going 3-4. Then the Cubs came here and won twice. Maybe It wouldn’t be a factor after all.
What are you talking about, Doc?
Either a team has It, or it doesn’t. That creeping sense of triumph or dread. The notion that We’re Gonna Be OK or This is Not Our Year. You can’t define It, as with most intangibles. You only know it when It’s there.
Please get to the point, amigo.
The Reds have It. That fine and rare clubhouse alchemy, that belief in self. And now, a healthy and nearly complete roster to carry It out. OK, so it was the Marlins, a club the Reds own like sand owns a beach. The Marlins can pitch a little, but they can’t hit at all. Reds rookie V. Gutierrez toyed with them Sunday. The best thing about Miami’s offense is that its players don’t take long to make outs. They hack up there.
Like we say in golf: If you can’t play well, play fast.
But the Reds ’21 roster has never looked better. David Bell’s IQ blew up once the Club acquired Givens and Cessa and got Lorenzen back. The front office is looking good (Naquin, the free agent signed in mid-February), the mostly maligned minor-league system is now highly credible.
Gutierrez, Stephenson, India: Where would the Reds be without ‘em?
With special thanks to the San Diego Padres, who are fading faster than a Hoboken sunset, the Reds are finding their stride at the right time.
A certain Morning Man early last week predicted the scrappy local nine would occupy the #2 WC spot by the end of the weekend. And here they are, up a game on the Padres, who need some serious priestly juju to re-relevant themselves.
Can we all agree that the Reds will not catch LA/SF for the top WC spot? Passing Milwaukee is only slightly more likely. So what we’re looking at is holding off the Cards, Phils and Mets. St. Louis is 4.5 games back after somehow dropping two of three in Pittsburgh. The Phils are 5 in arrears, the Mets 7. Even if the Reds finish 18-18, the Cardinals would have to go 21-14. That’s .600 baseball. Philly would have to finish 25-13. Neither is likely. If the Reds can’t split the rest of the regular season with the schedule they have, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
Here is the problem, of course:
This team wasn’t built for lightning-round baseball. A few months of successful strive-and-grind will get them a do or die roadie in LA against Scherzer or Kershaw (three Cys apiece) or Buehler.
The Dodgers trail SF by 2.5. But they’re better than the Giants in a short series. Cincinnati’s best hope is LA wins the West and the Reds go to SF for one game.
I don’t like the wild card format. Baseball should reward the grind by making it best-of-3, at least. I’d be in favor of slimming the regular season to 154 games, if it meant beefing up the playoffs.
That’d give a team like the Reds a puncher’s chance. As it stands, the rich teams that can afford to buy pitching are always going to have the upper hand. My former team, the Pirates Who Suck, were very, very good early last decade. They won 88 in 2014, then got blown out by Madison Bumgarner, who had a dominant postseason as the Giants won the World Series. The next year was worse. MPWS won 98, then got rip-sawed by MLB’s hottest pitcher, Jake Arrieta, in the lightning round.
A team that goes 98-64 should get more than one crack at it in October.
Anyway. . .
The numbers speak truth, and truth looks like Reds-at-LA in about six weeks. The It Factor is truth, too. But it only goes so far.
Now, then. . .
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW about a Bengals game in August: Their defense played good against a lousy offense. Their offense played bad against a good defense.
The End. Thanks for coming.OH, ALL RIGHT. . . Ja’Marr Chase was 3-for-3 in dropped passes. How long before the “rust’’ excuse – he sat out last fall – loses all merit?
IF YOU WATCH ONE THING TODAY. . , Make it this 6-minute video about the success of the Savannah Bananas, a low minor league baseball team that’s re-writing the rules of how to make the National Passed Its Time, er, pastime, fun.
The owner’s wife’s title is Director of Fun.
The 1st base coach break-dances during innings, folks who are asked to throw out the 1st pitch are handed a banana. Players walk to the plate with a mic in hand, and do their own introductions. “We’re not in the baseball business,’’ the owner says at one point in the video. “We’re in the entertainment business.’’
Oh, and the Bananas have the best record in their league over the past six years.
I think I recall this group, the Coastal Plain League, also came up with the best rule modification I’ve heard. To reduce the plague of foul balls that add several minutes to every MLB game, the CPL early in the year mandated that any foul ball caught by a fun would be an out.
I love that. Bring your glove, help your team. Maybe sign your best fan fielders to contracts. Yeah?
BEARCATS A PLAYOFF TEAM? USA Today says they’re one of eight breakthrough candidates:
Putting together an unbeaten regular season would virtually guarantee a spot. It will be much harder, however, with road games against Notre Dame and Indiana on the non-conference schedule. The positive? Cincinnati controls its own destiny.
GOOD STUFF FROM Saint Joe, to The Ringer:
“I like having as many routes available to me as possible. Five people out in the route just to stress the defense. Because what I’m good at is feeling space, feeling defenders, feeling where they’re supposed to go, feeling the zones that open up behind them,” Burrow explained. “So when there’s only one or two guys out in the routes, that’s not where I’m at my best.”
Of course, that means a fair amount of empty backfield sets, which means 5-on-5 blocking up front, even without blitzers. The Bengals season rides on Burrow’s field vision (so far, so very good), his ability to get the ball out quickly (check) and, of course, the line’s ability to keep him healthy. (Um, ah, well. . .unproven.)
That necessitates quick, easy completions, spreading every player out, and using Burrow’s strengths. “Joe can diagnose exactly what he’s getting,” Callahan said. “Then the flip side is, most of the time you have to get rid of the ball pretty quickly and efficiently, or otherwise you’re gonna open yourself up to some protection issues.”
This is the push and pull as the Bengals build around Burrow: His greatest strength is his ability to quickly diagnose plays and get the ball to the open receiver, but it also potentially exposes him to getting hit hard.
BECAUSE TV IS MY LIFE I am addicted to Alone, first on History, now on Hulu. I’ve always liked the roughing-it reality dramas, from the absurd (Naked and Afraid) to the merely ridiculous (Bear Grylls) to the realistic-but-dull (Survivorman).
Alone is better than them all, more honest and believable and rich with genuine emotion. The only suggestion would be to move the locales more. Most of the 8 seasons are shot in northern Canada. They all look the same.
Two thumbs up otherwise. Someone who can’t put hammer to nail without smashing a thumb is awed by people who build huts straight from trees.
TUNE O’ THE DAY. . . Elton John is not among my favorite artists, but Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is among my favorite albums, a rare double set not plagued by filler. This is an underrated rocker.