Entering the 2012 season, the Red Leg Nation had high hopes of potentially stealing a National League Central Division championship from the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. After today's 9-4 win over the Chicago Cubs, the Reds now sit at 6-8, three games back of the Cardinals with their game having yet to be played.
Despite having a record that now sits at two games under .500, the Reds have been in a position to win almost every game, losing by more than three runs only three times and going to extra innings in three losses.
The reasons for the inability to come up with wins in clutch situations, and for the number of losses in general, can be pinned on many things. My point of focus goes to the bullpen, and not because of a lack of talent there (although another big name is definitely needed if the Reds want to make a NLCS anytime soon). To me, it seems like manager Dusty Baker is setting the team up for failure.
Before I begin, let me make clear that, in my eyes, the Reds bullpen is Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall, then everyone else. Sure, Bill Bray and Sam LeCure can do some damage when they are on their best days, but neither of them are able to do what Chapman and Marshall can on a day-by-day basis.
That being said, one would think that, this early in the season, Baker would want to use Marshall and Chapman only when they are needed, when a minor slip-up is the difference in the game, and use the other relievers when winning is either more assured or not likely to happen.
Otherwise, if he continues wasting his best relievers on games that won't be decided by one pitch and forcing himself to use second-tier relievers for the tight games, this could be a long season for Cincinnati.
For example, on April 12th against the Washington Nationals, as the game went into the bottom of the 10th tied 2-2, instead of getting a better shot at a series-opening win by using Chapman, Baker turned to Alfredo Simon.
Simon, for those of you scoring at home, came into that game with a 6.75 ERA and a WHIP approaching 2.00. As you could probably predict, Simon gave up the winning run on...wait for it...wait for it...a wild pitch.
But, of course, the very next day, in another tight game, Baker decided to use both Chapman and Marshall in the same game as he probably should have in the last one. But, by this time, the Nationals had already taken the momentum from the Reds from the previous day's extra-inning win and won that game 2-1 in 13 innings.
Baker's bullpen botch happened again in the next series, this time against the ever-so-pivotal Cardinals on April 17th. With the game tied going into the bottom ninth, Baker used LeCure. Admittedly, this is not the worst mistake that Baker could have made. There are definitely worse pitchers in the Reds bullpen.
However, LeCure put runners on first and second and had to be taken out. This gave Baker the chance to right his wrong and let his marquee guys give his batters another chance to seal the win.
If the Reds miss the playoffs this season, would you consider firing Dusty Baker?
Enter Bill Bray to walk another batter and give the Cardinals a third win in four games against the Reds.
To give credit where credit is due, Baker did manage his relievers properly the next two games. Baker did not use Chapman or Marshall in the 11-1 blowout loss on April 18th and used Marshall to close out a tight game and get the Reds a 6-3 win on April 19th.
My roommate, an extremely dedicated Reds fan, is joyous with pride in Baker's managing decisions that day. Baker used the big name reliever when they were needed and it resulted in a win. Go Reds and all of that great stuff.
Now comes today. The Reds, up 7-4 entering the 8th inning, used Chapman for an inning against the Cubs. Why? Why would Baker use the biggest non-closer in the bullpen in a game that is basically won, in which the Reds have a three-run lead against a 3-10 team with winds blowing into the stadium, making good hitting much harder to accomplish?
The worst part of that decision is, if the Reds find themselves in a tight game tomorrow and are having to stretch to avoid a loss in a series that they should probably sweep, Baker will be tentative to turn to Chapman and will likely give the ball to a pitcher much less dependable than Chapman.
In short, it seems as if Baker is looking to the future games when he needs to be focused on the game happening in front of him right then and vice versa. If this continues, and the Reds continue dropping important games in late innings because the wrong pitcher is on the mound, the Reds could very well miss the playoffs.