I can't believe I'm writing this. I was just taking a long, hot shower when I began to replay the entire NLDS in my head. And when I finished, I thought Dusty Baker did the best he could under the circumstances.
Those circumstances were: His best hitter, Joey Votto, was at about 40 percent and he was without the services of his No. 1 starting pitcher, Johnny Cueto, who was leading the Cy Young race until late in the season.
Think about that for a second. One of the three or four best starting pitchers in the entire National League is slated for two starts (if needed) in this series, and then he suddenly vanishes from your roster in the blink of an eye.
That's quite a blow to deal with.
Baker managed Game 1 quite well. He brought in long man Sam LeCure to finish the first inning and then get through the second. Then, Baker summoned Game 3 probable starter Mat Latos, who stepped up big with four innings of one-run baseball, acting as the bridge to the back of the bullpen. The Reds would go on to win, 5-2.
The Reds then smoked the Giants 9-0 in Game 2 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to Cincinnati for three chances at an NLCS berth.
At that exact moment in time, Dusty Baker had done a helluva job.
Then, Game 3 in Cincinnati. To me, even up 2-0 in the series, this felt like an elimination game for the Reds. Lose that game, you're without all of your top 4 starting pitchers for Game 4. And, if you lose Game 4, it's virtually over.
The Reds already had beaten Game 5 starter Matt Cain three times this season. The way baseball and the law of averages work, you ain't beating Matt Cain four straight times. It just won't happen.
Game 3 unfolds and Homer Bailey is plum dominating. Seven innings, one hit, 10 strikeouts and one run on a sac fly. However at the end of the ninth the score was tied at 1-1 because the Reds' bats had gone ice cold.
The best opportunity for a crooked number was in the first inning, when the Reds got to Ryan Vogelsong for one, but it could have been more had Brandon Phillips not been needlessly aggressive on his way to being gunned down at third base to make the first out of the inning.
That's not on Dusty; that was the fault of Brandon Phillips.
In the 10th inning, the go-ahead run scored on a passed ball and an error. Both not Dusty's fault.
Of course, from the moment that passed ball was surrendered until the end of the series, Dusty made about five highly questionable decisions that arguably hurt the Reds in the series. But those moves or non-moves alone did not cost the Reds the series.
If Phillips pulls up at second base after the wild pitch in Game 3 and comes around to score along with Zack Cozart later in the inning, the Reds likely win the game and the series.
Or, if the Reds simply didn't waste a historic effort by Homer Bailey by only plating one run, the result could have been different.
If the Reds had scored five or six runs off of Barry Zito in Game 4, as they should have, then who knows? And of course, if the Reds didn't strand nine runners in the last four innings of a 6-4 Game 5 loss, who knows?
Look, I personally think it's probably time for a change in the manager's spot for the Cincinnati Reds moving forward. Sometimes it's just not meant to be and it sure doesn't seem meant to be with Dusty at the helm.
Yes, there were some egregious errors made by Baker down the stretch of this NLDS. But my point is this: This historic collapse was a combination of bad luck (the Cueto injury) and just closing that thing out.
Some of Dusty's moves didn't help, but he also didn't make errors or passed balls or strand runners or throw a meatball right down the middle to Buster Posey.
This was a team effort. And the team collapsed.
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