Should Dusty Baker Be on the Hot Seat for the Cincinnati Reds' Mediocre Season?
Some fans already have one foot off the cliff, and others are on a Frankenstein-esque headhunting rampage to the Reds front office.
Even though the Reds post a modest .555 winning percentage and 61-51 record, there’s easily more doubters than believers.
The Reds are still sitting in the second wild-card slot, and they have few contenders breathing down their neck.
Arizona Diamondbacks — 4.5 WCGB
Washington Nationals — 7 WCGB
San Diego Padres — 9 WCGB
Nevertheless, the majority of the blame lands in the lap of manager Dusty Baker.
I know for some of Redleg Nation, your pitchforks are sharpened, and the torches are burning bright. But before the finger-pointing, let’s look at why Baker might not be at fault for the Reds’ mediocre season.
If it were up to me, I would have this word in bold 48-point sized font. The Reds have been completely eaten alive by the injury bug, and they still sit with a winning record.
Baker is often blamed for leaving his starting pitchers in too long. However, even with the Reds missing their ace—Johnny Cueto—the club still holds the fourth-best rotation ERA (3.42) and strikeout total (584) in the Senior Circuit.
Not many clubs could achieve that with their best man down. It's even more baffling to realize the rotation has missed Ryan Hanigan for a large portion of the season. The Reds starting catcher has only been in 46 games this season.
However, we know that the Reds’ starting pitching hasn’t kept them 6.5 games out of first place.
Some of the accountability falls onto the volatile bullpen. The Reds bullpen appeared to be throwing batting practice for the Cardinals this weekend.
However, in July, the bullpen was nearly best in the league. The Reds held a 2.71 ERA with a .227 opponent batting average and only 68 walks (all second-best in the NL during July).
This is all being achieved with two of the Reds’ top relievers—Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton—still on the disabled list.
Even though Baker gets a lot of grief for his injury-plagued bullpen and rotation, nothing quite tops the daily argument against his lineup.
While I wholeheartedly understand the frustration with the Reds lineup on paper versus what is displayed on the field, Baker is juggling a lot of bad hitting.
The 2-hole spot has been debated ever since Ryan Ludwick wrecked his shoulder on Opening Day. Zack Cozart has been the scapegoat for the Reds' offensively challenged lineup. Fellow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Kyle Newport wrote on the overblown struggles with Cozart’s offense last week.
However, Cozart isn’t the only one hitting below average. Todd Frazier easily has one of the worst slash lines (.207/.286/.317) from the last 30 days.
Brandon Phillips’ bat might as well be on the side of a milk carton because it’s missing, too. Since being hit by a pitch on May 31, Phillips is batting .228/.284/.325 with four home runs and only seven doubles (per Baseball-reference.com).
Even the Reds’ best leadoff man in years—Shin-Soo Choo—has a .152 AVG with five hits in 33 at-bats when hitting second in the lineup.
It’s hard to blame one man for the actions of so many. Whether or not Baker is dealing with an unnatural cleanup hitter in Phillips, a struggling third baseman or with bleak production from left field, the fault always seems to find Baker.
Who Can Fix It?
If the Baker-haters have read this far, the question might be: If not Dusty, then who?
It’s a really good question. The Reds don’t have a leading veteran like Scott Rolen to run the clubhouse. The next veteran in line would be Ludwick. With his injury, the Reds are not only missing his bat but his clubhouse presence, too.
Another complaint that infests any Reds article comment section is on the trade deadline silence.
A quiet trade deadline is discouraging for a potential playoff team. The Reds are in desperate need of an offensive addition. However, there’s not much Baker or Reds general manager Walt Jocketty could have done by the deadline.
The Reds needed a right-handed hitter, but they were coming at a steep price.
Mark Sheldon of MLB.com interviewed Jocketty about the lack of moves: “This was the quietest Trade Deadline day I've had…the guys we wanted weren't available and didn't get traded," Jocketty said.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports mentioned the Reds going after Hunter Pence. However, the San Francisco Giants wanted a ton in return for a rental. The trade would’ve likely sent a few of the Reds' top pitching prospects or major leaguers for a few months of Pence.
The Reds would’ve depleted their farm system with that move. And the club was unlikely to acquire Alex Rios or Alexei Ramirez from the Chicago White Sox.
Playoffs Are Still Possible
The 2013 Cincinnati Reds demand a lot of patience. And even though Baker has shown some questionable moves lately—especially with his bullpen staff—he’s not the sole reason for third place in the NL Central.
If you had the decision today, would you fire Dusty Baker?
John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer recently pointed out the difficulty of winning the division or the first wild-card spot.
Still, the Reds have a great chance to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Since that hasn’t happened in nearly 37 years, Reds fans shouldn’t be discouraged.
No matter how upsetting it gets, the Reds need their manager to stay put. The club is without some very crucial players and has 50 games left to piece together their best lineup.
The Reds need to let Baker handle the club for the remainder of the season, and he at least deserves to work with a healthier one, too.
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