The Cincinnati Reds finished the season with 90 wins and 72 losses. For nearly any other team in Major League Baseball, that would be a success. For the Reds and their fans, it is not and should not be enough.
I have made my own disdain for Baker known in the past. Now the criticism is more justified.
In Dusty Baker's tenure, the Reds have been a great regular-season ballclub, with a record of 266-220 over the last three seasons. Forty-four games over .500 might not sound overwhelmingly impressive, but for a small-market team like Cincinnati it is.
The record is not what bothers me, and it should not bother you either. I think the Reds are capable of more wins than that, but they've made the postseason three of the last four seasons and have won the division twice in that time. That's not too shabby considering the fact that the NL Central is one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
What concerns me is the Reds in the postseason. Under Dusty Baker, the Reds have made three playoff appearances. How did they do?
Well, they were swept and no-hit by the Philadelphia Phillies and Roy Halladay, they memorably blew a 2-0 series lead against the San Francisco Giants, unable to win a single game at home, and most recently were defeated 6-2 by the Bucs, giving up 13 hits while hitting just six and going 1-10 with RISP.
For those keeping score, that adds up to a dazzling 2-7 record with some heartbreaking and appalling defeats. There is no excuse.
Dusty Baker is the problem here. Dusty apologists will make their excuses. They'll claim injuries played their part and that, despite being in the bottom half of the league in average, the team had a good OBP, which is a more important stat. They say the players love him.
Well it's great the clubhouse likes the guy because the fans at this point are becoming sick of him. The players might feel appreciated under him (Dusty told Johnny Cueto that he was "the best" before sending him back onto the mound in the fourth and pulling him after giving up one hit), but that appreciation hasn't translated to success or to enthusiasm. For all the praise Baker gets as a player's manager, this team lacks heart.
The Reds' OBP was absolutely fantastic this season: sixth best in MLB. But what happens when you pull Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo (second and fourth OBP in MLB, respectively) from the calculation? Without Votto and Choo, the obvious outliers of this Reds team, the team OBP is .297.
For an individual, an OBP of .300 is considered poor. For the Reds, that would be good enough to put them at 29th in MLB, just below the Houston Astros, ceteris paribus. I'm not in the prediction business, but I don't have to be to know that hitting coach Brook Jacoby is done in Cincinnati.
And what about the injuries? They took their toll for certain, but no season goes by without its fair share of injuries. Compared to the rest of the NL Central, the Reds were lucky.
The Pirates went through 12 different starting pitchers to the Reds' eight (and of those eight, two had less than six starts). The Cardinals lost an absolute stud in Yadier Molina for almost 30 starts along with losing Allen Craig for the vast majority of September. Missing those two players would be pretty comparable to the Reds losing Votto and Choo, and I just covered how poor the rest of the team was. The Cardinals managed to win 97 games and clinch the NL Central with their injuries (and that doesn't even touch on season-ending injuries to closer Jason Motte and shortstop Rafael Furcal).
What excuses are left I would love to hear.
The Reds choked these past seven days, but that was just the cherry on top of the season that can only be called disappointing.
After a six-game losing streak to end the season, a skid which cost them home-field advantage for the Wild Card Game, the Reds looked uninspired Tuesday night.
If you showed the game tape to someone without telling them it was the postseason, he might guess it was a game in April or May. There was no passion in the Reds' play. There was no sense of urgency. They took the field casually and lost casually.
The manager is responsible for ensuring his team is ready mentally. Dusty failed in that task, and it was obvious. Clint Hurdle is a cerebral manager, and the mental edge the Pirates had was obvious. They don't possess a clearly superior roster, but they have something the Reds do not: a quality manager.