Four teams won 90-plus games after finishing the 2011 season below .500: Nationals (98), Reds (97), Athletics (94) & Orioles (93)–a first in major league history. But, not a one remains in this year’s postseason.
The Orioles, despite a convincing 5-1 win against Texas in the AL play-in game, fell victim to Yankee Stadium’s postseason magic. Or in other words, they blew it.
Baltimore not only let Raul Ibanez beat them once, but twice in Game 3…and then floundered with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth with the tying and winning runs aboard against CC Sabathia in a decisive Game 5.
The Yankees left the door wide open for the O’s to take the series. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and A-Rod went a combined 9-for-75 (.120) with 26 strikeouts. Baltimore, however, went 8-for-37 with RISP, the worst mark in the AL in the Division Series.
The A’s, conversely, just couldn’t get on base against the Tigers, whose 88 regular season wins were the fewest among AL playoff teams. Granted, the A’s did face Justin Verlander twice, but the Athletics had the fewest hits (30) and most strikeouts (50) of any team in either league in the Division Series.
Cincinnati inexplicitly lost its Division Series after winning the first 2-games on the road at San Francisco, allowing the Giants to become the first-ever National League team to recover from an 0-2 deficit after losing the first 2-games. Not to mention, the Reds had 3 straight home games to close the series in this year’s 2-3 format, but failed to do so.
The Giants hit .185 with RISP for the series, the worst mark of any postseason team in 2012. The Reds, meanwhile, had the highest NL average with RISP (.220), but didn’t drive in runs when it mattered most, including having the tying runs aboard in the final four innings in Game 5.
Ah, then the Nationals, who now famously will be remembered for not only shutting down its best power-arm before the postseason, but also allowing St. Louis to overcome the largest-ever deficit in a winner-take-all game…rallying from 6-runs down in Game 5–four of which were plated in the top of the ninth.
So what does it all mean? Basically, the regular season means little, if anything, when it comes to postseason baseball. Some teams, like St. Louis and New York live for moment, and some teams, like the four above, crumble under the pressure. How else do you explain the slumping Bombers and cockroach Cardinals advancing?
The Reds, with arguably the most formidable bullpen in the majors, were suppose to be battle tested after being swept out of the Division Series in 2010 against the Phillies. The Orioles were figured to be battled tested having survived the tough AL East. Oakland was riding the huge momentum from its thrilling season ending sweep vs. Texas to win the AL West…and the Nationals entered the tournament with the most wins in all of baseball (98).
And not one of them has anything to show for it—eliminated, finished, collapsed.
It’s the teams that advanced who understand the postseason is not the same as the grind of a 162-game regular season schedule, but rather the awareness, ability and determination to not let a summer’s worth of hard work be undone.
Hey, 90-plus wins coming off a losing season, that’s nothing to sneeze at…we’re all happy for ya. But to actually make those wins mean something…you’ve got to make them count in October.
What a terrific comeback by the Giants who become the first team in the National League to win the NLDS after losing the first 2-games of the series…not to mention, doing so in this one-year format where they had to play the last 3-games on the road. Outstanding.
Buster Posey’s fifth-inning grand slam made the difference as part of a 6-run inning against Reds starter Matt Latos. Cincinnati had plenty of chances, including having the game-tying runs at the plate in four consecutive innings. It was too little, too late from the Reds who could never finish off the Giants after leaving the bay up 2-0.
“The Reds did not lose this series, the Giants won it.” -Ron Darling TBS
The Cubs’ inability to win its weekend series against St. Louis effectively ended the National League wild card chase, which I found more frustrating than the club’s pursuit of avoiding a 100-loss season. Chicago still needs four more victories, by the way, to reach 63-wins.
So go ahead and pencil the Cardinals in as the second wild card team (Atlanta) now that both the Dodgers and Brewers find themselves 3.5 games back of St. Louis.
The Cards, meanwhile, began its season-ending stretch with another win against the pathetic Astros Monday night…and they’re certain to win at least one more game at Houston to wrap up the three-game series.
Although the NL East champion Nationals visit the Cardinals next, Davey Johnson says he’ll rest his starters before the postseason. And it’s likely the same will be said for Dusty Baker’s NL Central champion Reds, who follow Washington to St. Louis to finish out the 162-game schedule.
Even if St. Louis only manages to go .500 the rest of the way (4-4) they’ll finish with 87-wins, meaning Los Angeles and Milwaukee will need to win eight of its remaining nine-games just to tie the Cardinals…hard to believe that happens. Sigh…
So which teams roll-over against St. Louis this October? Nats, Reds, Giants, Braves…Rangers? I’d count on the Brewers and Phillies, but neither apparently wanted to wait as long as last year to disappoint.
Thank goodness the Cubs don’t face the Reds again this season. I’ve had my fill of Baker’s boys thumping the Cubbies, which I’m sure has tasted real sweet for the former Chicago bench boss.
POLAR OPPOSITES: We’re talking about two teams that couldn’t be more opposite. Cincinnati (90-59) is fighting for the best record in the National League after clinching a playoff spot with its 5-3 victory vs. Chicago this afternoon–completing a three-game sweep of the series. The Cubs, meanwhile, are fighting to avoid 100-losses (58-91).
The Reds are playing like a team poised to make a World series run, and they have all the parts to do it. Its starting rotation is both strong and reliable. They have one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. The lineup is solid top-to-bottom with good bench depth. They field the ball well…blah, blah, blah.
The Cubs are, well, being the Cubs and looking at a high draft pick and any help they can find…in all areas. For all intents and purposes, the Reds are exactly what the Cubs want to become, and where we hope the rebuild leads to–a World Series contender.
When that finally happens it will be a nice change of pace to the season series vs. Cincinnati, which has leaned heavily in the Reds’ favor over the past three seasons. Cincinnati is (33-15) against the Cubs, including a (17-8) mark at Wrigley Field since 2010.
In 2012 the Reds are (10-4) against Chicago and (7-2) at Wrigley. The Cardinals may still be the arch rival, but St. Louis hasn’t had nearly the success the Reds have had against the Cubs in recent memory. Ugh, painful.
IN DUSTY REDS TRUSTY: As much as Cubs fans don’t want to admit it, the Reds also have one heckuva manager in Dusty Baker, who will become just the third skipper in Reds history to lead the team to the postseason more than once joining Bill McKechnie, Sparky Anderson & Davey Johnson (yes, the same Davey Johnson skippering the Nationals (90-58)).
If Baker’s Reds do, in fact, take home the best overall record in the NL there’s a good chance Dusty wins his third Manager of the Year Award. His next victory, by the way, ties him with Pete Rose for the sixth most wins as a Reds manager in franchise history.
NOW ST. LOUIS: Next up for the Cubs are the Cardinals, winners of four-straight and leading the wild card by 2.5 games over the Dodgers and 3.0 over the pesky Brewers (at the time of this post).
It’s the last series of the season for the Cubs to really play a spoiler role in the National League. Colorado, Arizona and Houston are the final series of 2012 with basically zero playoff implications on the line.
If the Cubs don’t take two of three from the Cardinals this weekend, it probably spells the end of Milwaukee’s late charge as they head to Washington for a four-game series against the Nats.
Here’s a quick overview of the National League Central’s postseason race as we’ve reached the final month of the regular season…
The Reds’ Magic Number is (18), the lowest of any division leader in baseball. They lead the Cardinals by 8.5 games and stand to win the division running away.
Cincy’s starting pitching has been incredibly durable this year, but it’s the lights-out bullpen that’s the difference-maker.
Marshall to Broxton to Chapman is as close as it gets to a sure victory with a late-inning lead, and the Cuban Missile has found his groove having converted his last 27 save chances–a franchise record.
There’s also plenty of offensive fire-power to go along with the pitching, as evidence by the club’s (32-16) record during the absence of Joey Votto, who was activated yesterday but did not play.
I’ve been on the record since spring training with Cincinnati as my favorite to win the division. Now I’m on the record as saying they’re my favorite to win it all in the National League this October.
Either way, there’s no ignoring the job Dusty Baker’s done in Cincinnati, which could earn him the NL Manager of the Year Award.
As much as I’d enjoy writing the Cardinals will miss the postseason, I still think they’ll earn a wild card.
While there’s little chance St. Louis catches the Reds, they do lead the NL in runs scored and the starting staff is plenty strong to hold off the wild card competition.
There’s also building speculation the seemingly indestructible Chris Carpenter will return to the rotation before season’s end.
Who knows how effective he’ll be after returning from a procedure to relieve his thoracic outlet syndrome (numbness), but it could be a key ingredient to securing a playoff spot if he’s indeed healthy down the stretch.
Per the usual, however, the Cardinals just win, always finding a way when there’s no clear path.
The Pirates’ listless second half continues. Although the Bucs are a mere 1.0 game out of the wild card, I’ve anticipated for weeks their season was about to get worse before it got better.
Those feeling have proven true with the Buccos relinquishing a 3.5 games lead in the wild card after posting a (7-17) record since August 9th.
The starting rotation is looking more tattered and thinned by the game. James McDonald has struggled with consistency after a brilliant first half. Wandy Rodriguez (3-4), acquired at the trade deadline, has basically been a bust. AJ Burnett (15-5) remains the lone bright spot on a starting staff that has allowed only seven fewer runs than the Cubs.
Only the Reds and Braves, however, have a stronger bullpen than Pittsburgh’s. But a faulty rotation has led to the pen’s overuse since the trade deadline, and it shows with the Pirates having allowed the most runs in August of any contender.
Pitching isn’t the only hole on this sinking ship; Pittsburgh is 11th in runs scored since the All Star break—not nearly good enough to keep up with the big boys in September.
That issue could have been resolved at the trading deadline, but Pittsburgh simply failed to add the offensive boost is so desperately needed to stay in contention.
The organization’s unwillingness to move prospects via trade is likely to pay off as early as next season, but it killed any momentum they had entering August.
With each passing week it becomes more clear how much the Pirates overachieved in the first half of the season when they led the division at the All Star break.
But this early feel-good story has become eerily similar to the club’s second half collapse last season when the Pirates led the division 100-games in only to finish with a 90-loss record.
A demise to such depths won’t happen this year (there’s only 37-games remaining), but I feel confident the Buccos (71-64) will eventually end up below the .500 mark for a saddening 20th consecutive year.
Cubs fans are asking me with more frequency how much longer before our boys in blue are competitive again?
What I can say with certainty is: not next year, and probable not the following season, either.
A best case scenario, meaning most of the Cubs’ young prospects and draft picks pan-out, is three years from now in 2015–and that might be pushing it.
A more cautious, but realistic prediction, is actually four or five years down the road before we’ll see the Cubs in championship form. That feels like eons from now, but such is life for a rebuilding baseball franchise.
LOOK NO FURTHER THAN THE REDS
A current example of a proper rebuild is the Cincinnati Reds, who coincidentally, were busy taking three of four games from the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend.
It’s already been seven years since Bob Castellini purchased the Reds and promised the return of championship baseball to the Queen City.
The Reds, of course, haven’t won a championship or even appeared in a World Series during Castellini’s reign, but it hasn’t been from a lack of effort.
Similar to the Cubs recent state, Castellini was rebuilding the Reds from the ground-up in 2006.
He began by breaking the franchise’s frugal traditions and re-signed top of the rotation arms Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to major extensions.
He then signed high-priced manager Dusty Baker, parted ways with over-valued stars such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, and sought the services of general managing guru Walk Jocketty.
The Reds maintained its emphasis on the June amateur draft (Homer Bailey & Jay Bruce were 1st Rd picks in 2004-05) selecting Drew Stubbs, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Brad Boxberger and Yonder Alonso–the later two being dealt this past December to San Diego for starting pitcher Matt Latos (10-3, 3.81). The others are regulars in the Reds everyday lineup.
Castellini also surprised the entire league with a Jorge Soler-type commitment to Aroldis Chapman, signing the Cuban Missile to a 6-year, $30.25M deal in 2010.
And that’s just a brief look at the over-haul, which doesn’t include the emergence of Joey Votto as the National League MVP or the acquisitions of key veteran players such as Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick.
However, it took the Reds five rebuilding years before they posted a winning record, an NL Central division title in 2010.
But even then, the young club was caught in the headlights of postseason baseball, no-hit by Phillies’ Ace Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLDS and quickly swept out of October two games later.
Last season was another down year with a few more additions needed to complete the rebuild. And finally, seven years later, the rebuild has come to completion.
The Reds, at long last, are poised for a World Series run, and should be for the foreseeable future.
DAVE OTTO KNOWS BEST
Former Cubs pitcher, Dave Otto, a part-time radio/television analyst on Cubs broadcasts, reinforced the patience of a rebuild during his on-air interview with Len and Bob Sunday afternoon.
Otto was a member of the Cleveland Indians during the 1991-92 seasons when Cleveland’s recommitment to rebuilding through the amateur draft brought in the likes of Manny Ramirez, Chad Ogea, Paul Byrd and Paul Shuey.
These players joined the ranks of the Indians other young core players such as Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Mark Lewis, Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga and Julian Tavarez.
The Tribe, mind you, lost 105-games in 1991 and 86-games both the following two seasons.
In 1994, however, Cleveland was on its way to a winning season before the infamous strike, but rebounded in 1995 with a 100-win campaign.
The Indians lastly surrounded its young core with talented free agents such as Dave Winfield, Orel Hershiser and Dave Martinez, among others.
The 1995 season marked the first of seven consecutive winning seasons, including six playoff appearances and two World Series births–all over the stretch of 10 years since the beginning of its rebuild.
REBUILDING THE RIGHT WAY
The example of the Reds and Indians are just two of many successful rebuild stories that have happened in my time following the game.
But I choose these two franchises because they rebuilt the right way; from the ground-up using draft picks to create a young, talented core surrounded by quality veteran free-agents.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are taking similar action with the Cubs rebuilding efforts. Out with the old, in with the new and waiting to sign big-name free-agents as icing on the cake. And as we understand from the two examples above, that doesn’t happen in one offseason.
So to best answer the question “how long will it take the Cubs to rebuild?” is–not any time soon. But however long it does take should be well worth the bumpy ride in the long run.
As Tom Petty would sing, ‘it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.’
Got to wonder if Alfonso Soriano’s game-winning home run against the Reds last night is his last as a Chicago Cub?
He’s played exceptionally well since resting his tired legs during the All Star break (.279/.319/.581 – 5 HR, 18 RBI), at least well enough to entice a contending team to trade for him this month.
That would obviously be a huge plus for Chicago, but Soriano’s hefty contract ($18M through 2014) and no-trade clause does make it a bit tricky for the Cubs to find the right suitor, as was the case at the non-waiver trade deadline.
That said, there’s still a handful of contenders in need of an offensive upgrade for the stretch run, and but few players available are performing as well as Soriano.
WAS THERE SOMETHING MORE TO SORIANO’S HR?
I’m also wondering if Logan Ondrusek unintentionally lit a fire under Soriano when the pitcher’s apparent irritation with the Wrigley Field mound conditions drew the grounds crew out to manicure the bump in the middle of Soriano’s at-bat?
The entire game to that point had been played under rainy conditions, not once being halted mid-contest to landscape the diamond, and now suddenly the game needed to be interrupted?
Soriano followed by manicuring an Ondrusek pitch into the juniper bushes for the game-winning hit. Nothing quite like a walk in the park after some unnecessary field maintenance
SORIANO MOVING UP CUBS ALL-TIME HR LIST
That bomb marks the eleventh straight season Alfonso has hit at least 20 home runs. Pretty darn impressive.
It’s also his 152 career home run with Chicago, good for 13th place on the franchise’s all-time home run list. Andre Dawson is next with 174.
Billy Williams, who sang the seventh inning stretch yesterday evening (and added a nice tribute to Ron Santo beforehand) is third all-time with 392. Ernie Banks’ 512 dingers ranks second behind the one and only, Sammy Sosa’s 545.
CUBS IN FULL SPOILER MODE
The lowly Cubs, losers of eight-straight, appeared to be the cure-all medicine to the Reds four-game losing skid entering last night’s contest.
Instead, the Cubs 5-3 win was a bitter pill to swallow for Cincinnati, whose losing skid extended to a season-high five-straight games.
With the two clubs squaring off eight times in the next 10 days, including last night, fewer than six total wins over the two series is simply unacceptable for a Reds team fighting tooth and nail for a division title.
There’s only eight weeks left in the season and the Pirates and Cardinals won’t feel sorry the Reds are without Joey Votto.
Cincinnati has one more series left against Chicago in September in addition to six more games against Houston, the worst team in baseball. The Reds couldn’t wish for a more favorable schedule to distance itself from Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
So as insignificant as this series appears for the Cubs, if they can do further damage against the Reds in the coming days it could very well be the telling stretch Cincinnati looks back on if they fail to win the NL Central.
QUESTION: “I want to hear your thoughts on Fukudome. The Reds are looking for a 3rd/4th outfielder, and I don’t know why this guy isn’t signed yet?
It seems like he still gets on-base, is a above-average fielder, and can play all 3 OF spots, right?
Considering they are also dabbling in the Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and Juan Pierre pool, Fukudome seems like the best choice.”
- email from Michael P., Indianapolis
ANSWER: You’re right, Mike. I haven’t heard the name Kosuke Fukudome mentioned at all this offseason and I suspect that has a lot to do with his four underachieving years in Chicago and poor finish last season in Cleveland.
3B Ian Stewart (trade with Rockies)
RF David DeJesus (free agent from A’s)
LHP Travis Wood (trade with Reds) & OF Dave Sappelt (trade with Reds)
- Gone Fishing:
Sean Marshall (traded to Reds)
Tyler Colvin (traded to Rockies)
DJ LeMahieu (traded to Rockies)
Aramis Ramirez (free agent, signed with Brewers)
John Grabow (free agent, signed with Dodgers)
*Carlos Pena? (unsigned free agent)
*Kerry Wood? (unsigned free agent)