Not many people love to watch baseball.
The casual sports fan thinks the game is too slow. And while even most casual baseball fans love to go to games, the majority find it hard to focus before the playoffs arrive.
I, however, am one of a relatively small contingent that is certifiably die-hard. I try to watch every inning of every game. If I can’t, I hit the DVR later that night. And if I know I won’t even be able to swing that, I’ll engross myself in the live online gamecast on my phone, drawing the ire of dinner guests/movie patrons/wives everywhere.
It’s a curse for the most part, and a past time that anyone but a baseball purist would rank right next to “waiting for grass to grow.”
But for me, it’s a no-brainer.
I love the pace of the game. The pitcher plodding around on the mound anxiously. The hitter stepping out of the batter’s box to adjust every fold of his uniform. The commentators going on for minutes at a time on topics that have nothing to do with the game they’re watching. To me, it’s all part of the show. It’s what sets the game apart.
Lately, however, my love affair with hardball has felt strained...at best.
Ten games into this young season, the Cincinnati Reds have started down a dangerously depressing path. Despite boasting a lineup that finished second last season in runs scored, Cincy’s offense has looked downright emaciated.
Before Monday’s mini offensive explosion (four runs in one inning, three in another), the Reds were scoring less than Paraguay’s national futbol club (10 runs over six games). The drought’s been so bad I actually spent 45 minutes on the treadmill the other day thinking of things I’d rather do than watch the Reds continue to suck. Sadly, that list included “rub sand into my blisters,” “witness a Charles Barkley toilet session,” and “watch fat people take off bathing suits.”
For one of the only times ever, watching baseball had ceased to be fun.
Thankfully though, if we can allow ourselves to push through all the strikeouts and injuries and bullpen implosions, I’m here to tell you that it won’t always be this way. There is, in fact, hope.
If it seems like the Reds are having a tough time in April, well, that’s because April is supposed to be tough for this team. See, between creating a Dusty Baker voodoo puppet and cursing the Orioles for bequeathing us Fat-Alfredo-Simon, I spent some time analyzing the Reds’ schedule. For many fans, a bad April equals a bad outlook for a season. My hope was that that didn’t necessarily have to be true; And frankly, I wanted something to latch onto.
My method was simple. Take the consensus top three teams in the National League Central (the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers), and compare just how easy/difficult their schedules appear, by month. To do this, I had to decide what exactly made a month “easy” or “difficult.” So I took every team in baseball, looked at preseason prognostications/power rankings, took stock (to a degree) of their performance through a week-and-a-half, and labeled each as either quality or subpar.
My quality teams included the Angels, Rangers, Tigers, Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays in the American League, and the Giants, Dodgers, D-Backs, Reds, Cards, Brewers, Nationals, Phillies, Marlins and Braves in the National League.
17 legitimate clubs in all, which is just over half of baseball. I think that’s pretty fair.
Each time a quality team showed up on the schedule, I gave the Reds (or Cards/Brewers, respectively) a minus-1. Each time a sub-par team showed up, a plus-1.
I simply added up each month. A simplistic analysis, to be sure, but compelling nonetheless.
Here are the results...
A few things stand out here:
First, Milwaukee has an automatic advantage in this three-team race (obviously with their rampant and unchecked steroid abuse). With a favorable schedule (plus-1 overall), the Brewers have an opportunity to win their second division title in as many years. It remains to be seen if they have the firepower to capitalize without Prince Fielder.
Second, while Dusty Baker’s squad should make some serious hay in June (plus-9), the other NL Central contenders will be busy doing the same (plus-15 and plus-10, respectively). The caveat here is that six of the Reds’ “plus” games in June are against in-state rival Cleveland, a team that has historically given them trouble. Still, in order to keep pace, June has to be huge for Cincinnati.
Third, and most relevant to Reds fans today, is that April (minus-10) is a straight up gauntlet for Cincinnati. Five out of seven series are against quality opponents, including two against the World Champion Cardinals and one against the devastating starting rotation in San Francisco. If the Reds can somehow weather that storm, the rest of the journey will seem docile in comparison.
For me, these numbers are just one piece of a complicated puzzle.
No amount of schedule-padding will help the Reds if they can’t get healthy or hit better than .230. Your opponents, no matter how Houston-like they may be, will only afford you so many opportunities to succeed. At some point, teams need to separate themselves on their own merit. The Reds have yet to do that this season, but the road surely looks smoother ahead.
And for that reason, I guess I’ll keep watching.
For more sports coverage from Reed Domer-Shank visit his blog: J O U R N E Y M E N . You can also follow Reed on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact him directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.