Saturday, August 30, 2014

Close defeats riddle Reds in forgettable regular season

Few seasons in recent memory have possessed the frustration and disappointment that the 2014 regular campaign for the Cincinnati Reds has. Heartbreaking losses, untimely injuries, and sheer unluckiness has riddled a once-promising season. And it has rightfully led many around Reds Country to desire a fast forward button to 2015.

If the campaign could be summed up in one adage, perhaps the old line of being "a day late and a dollar short" would suffice? Under the guidance of first-year manager Bryan Price, the Reds have already managed to lose a whopping 33 (19-33) games by just one run this season. That is the most of any club in the major leagues and it isn't even close (the New York Mets are second with 26 losses by one run).

For kicks and giggles, let's say the Reds could have turned five of those one-run losses into wins. Entering Sunday, this would give them an overall record of 70-66 instead of the 65-71 tally they currently hold. More importantly, this would mean the Queen City's favorite team would still be a mere 1.5 games back for the second Wild Card spot. They would also be 3.5 games behind for first place. But even a division title would seem out of reach at this point in spite of a better record in one run games.

Coincidentally, the 2011 version of the Reds also had a propensity to lose close ball games. That Dusty Baker-led squad led the majors with 33 defeats by a single run. But even that perplexing club found a way to win nearly half of its one-run contests (29). And cause many of us to pull out our hair too.

The fact that Cincinnati has somehow found ways to end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard in majority of close games is mind-boggling. The general consensus among the baseball community is that these sort of things even out over time. Not this year. Not for the Reds.

Is the ball not bouncing their way? Is the absence of key players causing them to come up short? Is Price not pushing the right buttons? Or are other teams starting to improve while the Reds are slowly declining?

In my opinion, the answer to these questions is "all of the above." A casual observer would probably agree that the Reds have been bitten by bad luck in '14. But bad luck alone doesn't tell the whole story.

Two of the club's biggest offensive threats (Joey Votto and Jay Bruce) have been virtual non-factors. The club is paying for more production than it's getting from an aging Brandon Phillips. The same goes with Ryan Ludwick. Homer Bailey isn't quite living up to his big contract. Billy Hamilton has been fun to watch, shows promise, and is likely to win National League Rookie of the Year honors, however, his .303 on-base percentage isn't stellar for a leadoff hitter.

Furthermore, Cincinnati faces a quandary with the likes of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, and Alfredo Simon. Enjoy the foursome in Reds uniforms while you can because the odds of all returning in 2015 are slim to none. Look for at least one to be traded in the offseason and maybe another (or two) to be moved sometime during next year as well.

If this year's Reds team has been close, but not good enough to win, what lies ahead for the organization? Sure, injuries have hampered the team's ability to compete. But while the other four teams in the division seem to be trending upwards with an infusion of young talent, the Reds appear to be locked in status quo.

Unless a major shakeup occurs, I fear the Reds are destined for mediocrity, or worse, irrelevancy in the years to come. And all of these one-run losses may not seem so bad to Reds faithful.

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