The Cincinnati Reds (57-77) fell 20-games under .500 after their loss to the Milwaukee Brewers (75-60) on Thursday, but, honestly, I am not writing about that game. I want to talk about what happened Wednesday night.
The Reds and Brewers played a game that may fly under the radar, when national writers look back on this season, but it deserves a lot of attention. The Brewers being a team right in the middle of the hunt for playoff October and the Reds simply existing for another 30 games. Close to four and a half hours later, they both collapsed as if runners who just finished the Flying Pig.
There is much on the stats for the game, but I am going to focus on the narrative and feel. My seat was right next to the ball boy, down the third base line. Being near the Brewers bullpen, the visiting fans encircled me. They were happy from the get-go as Milwaukee got two quick runs in the first inning. Nestled in there was Christian Yelich’s first hit of the night, a single.
Right as I was about to down my beer and go get another to deal with, what looked to be another debacle of a game, Billy Hamilton clocked a Freddy Peralta pitch into the moon deck. I mean, it was a shot you’d expect to see Joey Votto or Eugenio Suarez uncork, but this was Billy, it revived the crowd a bit. An actual half-inning of scoreless baseball happened for the Reds in the top of two, something Harvey would put together until the fifth.
Then, in the bottom of the second, Tucker Barnhart laced a two-out double. Honestly, and there are no numbers to back this up, but I feel like Tucker hits .700 when I attend games, but I digress. Curt Casali then shot a laser into left and scored Tucker from second to tie the game at two.
Needing a refill in the fourth, I ran up to the bar that stretches down the third base line. The place includes many fine local, as well as national brews. I got a MadTree Rounding Third to kick the game off so I figured I’d change it up with a Rivertown Lager. Just as the guy was getting the pour going, Tucker launched the Reds second homer for the lead. Feeling pretty good about things, my buddy Pat and I took a walk to check out the team store in the top of the fifth…little did we know the score would turn sour as Milwaukee put a four-spot on the board. Also, the team store did not have the Phil Ervin shirt I am in search of…so double whammy.
Now back in our seats, the Brewers fan next to me was happy. They had a three-run lead on the home team, and, although the Reds had runners on first and third with one out, Josh Hader was coming in to pitch. “They can’t hit Josh,” the Brewers fan said, “Not a chance!” Scooter Gennett then doubled in the two runners (Dilson Herrera and Billy) knotting the game up at five. “Lucky break, Josh won’t give get hit, again!” Suarez blasts a moon shot to the moon deck to give the Reds a two-run lead. Brewers fan, now dumbfounded, “Josh never gets hit…I don’t understand…”
After Yelich doubled for his fourth hit (he singled in the third and homered in the fifth) and moved Orlando Arcia to third, Travis Shaw brought Arcia in on a sac-fly, which perked Brewers guy up, ever so slightly. Hader, subsequently, gave up a walk to Tucker and a single to Casali to start the sixth, prompting Brewers guy to leave the stadium when Hader was then pulled for Taylor Williams. Little did he know, what happened next sparked controversy.
Michael Lorenzen, who came in to pitch the top of the sixth, came to bat. He squared around to bunt, foul ball, strike one. Squared around again, missed, strike two. He settled in one more time, trying to move the runners from first and second to second and third. As the pitch approached, it was bound for his chest. Lorenzen is then hit with the ball, but the sound of a bat resonated through the stadium. Had he stayed squared and, technically, fouled off the third bunt attempt, for strike three? Those of us in the stands thought so…but the home plate umpire said “Not so!” He ruled Lorenzen had pulled the bat back, as he fell, and the ball incidentally contacted the bat, making it a normal foul, dead ball, still two strikes on him. Mirroring Craig Counsel, the Brewers fans around me were incensed. “He’s out! He was offering at the pitch! This is ridiculous!” and other, less-than-savory things were said. Didn’t matter, the umpires all conferred and agreed that Lorenzen was not yet out. Given a 4th strike, or not, Lorenzen then crushed the very next pitch into the terrace outfield seats, giving the Reds their largest lead of the night at 10-6. Pat and I were jumping up and down, high fiving, and overall elation was had.
The celebration led to a trip to Taft’s concessions stand, right next to Gapper’s Alley, where I got my favorite Great American Ballpark beer of 2018, Taft’s Nellies. Light, refreshing, nothing better to drink while watching a game. Anyways…
Despite the advantage, the first two Brewers got hits: one a single and the next a two-run homer. Immediately, the mood in the ballpark changed from Reds fans cheering, back to Brewers fans. I think there were 11,000 fans at the ballpark, probably 2,000 of them were for Milwaukee.
David Hernandez then came in…and had a bad night. He started by watching Billy making a diving catch on a liner hit to shallow center. Things then collapsed as he hit Manny Pina in the face with a pitch, allowed Lorenzo Cain to double (scoring pinch-runner Erik Kratz), bringing up Yelich. Already 4-for-4, many fans in the stands, and I’m sure plenty at home, were yelling to walk him. No such strategy was in place. Yelich flared his fifth hit, a triple into right field, giving him the cycle. First of those I’ve witnessed. Oh, and that officially erased all that the Reds had built to that point, and we were all tied up at 10. The Reds got nothing in the bottom of the seventh and then the Brewers took the lead on a Mike Moustakas homer in the top of the eighth.
Feeling the normal angst a Cincinnati sports fan knows, spirits were low in the stands. With two outs and Billy on third, there was a smidgen of hope. Joakim Soria then threw a shoe-shiner into Erik Kratz that bounced straight back toward the mound. Ready to go on anything but a straight catch, Billy broke from third and streamed toward home. He went into a head-first slide, on the right side of home plate, and snuck by the tag, as he is so apt at doing. But no, the umpire ripped it out from underneath of the fans. No tie, he’s out….but not so fast, my friend (shout out Lee Corso). Jimmy Riggs darts out of the dugout and challenges the call. Review overturns it as the replay shows Billy’s hand finds the two inches of home plate not blocked by Kratz, officially tying the game at 11.
A sterile inning ensued in the ninth, something that hadn’t happened since the third inning, although Yelich beat out an infield single, getting his sixth hit of the night. That hasn’t happened in Cincinnati since something like 1949…just wish it was a Red who did it. Raisel Iglesias did nail down free pizza for everyone, so that’s cool, too. Just one more thing that happened in this insane turn of events.
Walking up to the concourse to finish the game by the Reds Live show set, the Brewers scored a pair in the top of the tenth. One of the cameramen for Reds Live was beside himself, “We have a noon game, tomorrow, which means my day starts at eight. I’d like to get more than an hour of sleep tonight, is this ever going to end?” Brandon Dixon then made us think it would last longer, as he nailed a Jeremy Jeffress pitch into the batter’s eye, but that was it for the Reds and the game ended, 13-12, in 10 innings.
And if you read this all the way to the end, you know some semblance of how much this game just refused to quit. I had to be up for work in the morning, but that didn’t stop me from watching every minute of the game and getting home after 1 a.m.
The Reds have the Cardinals, in St. Louis, up next. Keep it tuned to @lockedonreds and @jefffcarr for your daily Reds content.
Jeff Brantley talks Bell, new pitching coach Derek Johnson and more
I discuss one free agent pitcher that should be on the Reds’ radar, plus Jeff Brantley joins me to discuss the hiring of manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson on today’s podcast. Listen and subscribe below.
Bell hiring finally rings in a new century for Reds
The innovators are often criticized. It’ll never work, they’re told.
Wind the baseball tighter to allow more home runs? Ty Cobb hated it because it took the science out of the game. But Babe Ruth loved it, so did the fans and the sport grew. Show sports on a cable channel for 24 hours a day? Nobody will watch that. The Internet? It’s just a fad.
The Cincinnati Reds love their tradition, so it’s no surprise that it has taken them this long to embrace the modern game. This is baseball, not math, the Reds have said for the past 20 years while others have proven that math matters. Not the kind of math of counting stats that says he’s a good hitter or pitcher because he has this many of this or that. But the kind of math that looks at percentages and formulas that aren’t easy to understand. They call it analytics and it makes old-timers (mostly people over 30) roll their eyes from man caves to the broadcast booth. A lack of understanding is not a reason to dismiss an idea. It’s a reason to learn before you judge.
The Reds have finally been convinced that their way doesn’t work anymore. They’ve stopped rolling their eyes, let go of the eye-rollers who blocked progress and hired a manager with vision. Those old ways once worked for the Reds — though not as much as we’d like to think— when all teams did it that way. But when smarter ways to build a good team passed them by, so did their ability to win.
To be fair, the Reds have been moving in this direction, the one Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s began following in 1997. The Reds have an analytics director and three people they call data scientists. The problem is that too much of that information was stopping at the field manager’s door. The guys running the dugout weren’t doing enough with it. They were baseball men, after all, and they only trusted their eyes and tradition more than a spreadsheet or report they probably didn’t take the time to understand.
And the front office allowed the dysfunction to fester through Baker, Price and Riggleman. Finally, there is reason to believe that the Cincinnati Reds aren’t stuck in the 20th century.
There’s a new guy in the dugout named David Bell who has caught this vision since he left the Reds organization after managing in the minors. He’s worked for the Cardinals, Cubs and Giants, teams that have obviously done a lot more right in recent seasons than the Reds have. Yes, Bell had to leave the Reds to learn a better way.
When Bell was introduced as the new manager he said things that were an indictment of the front office and on-field dysfunction. He talked about how all of the information had to be considered from upstairs to downstairs. He asked for an offseason office upstairs and will live in Cincinnati in the offseason.
He has this crazy idea that the front office and manager’s office ought to actually work together and have shared leadership instead of a top-down model that didn’t work. Remember Jesse Winker from odd-man out to everyday right fielder in a 24-hour period? Then there was the indecision about what to do with Homer Bailey. Who’s in charge we wondered? Does this team have a strategy?
Bell surely interviewed the Reds as much as they interviewed him. He discovered the lack of communication between the front office and the dugout. He must have told Dick Williams he’s ready to listen to them, and it appears they’re ready to listen to him.
This is good for the Reds. A true strategy that teaches on-field fundamentals and has an appreciation for complex data will have a chance to develop and flourish. Players will come up from the minors and maybe not sit the bench. They won’t hear a different message from the one they’ve heard in the minors.
Now this is going to take some getting used to if you don’t buy all this analytics mumbo-jumbo. The in-game moves and strategies won’t be what your used to:
- The lineup might not be predictable.
- You won’t agree with a lot of pitching changes.
- You’ll wonder why Winker isn’t playing tonight.
- Why not bunt in this situation, you’ll wonder.
And the offseason moves:
- Why did they sign that guy?
- Why didn’t they sign that guy?
- Who are these all these prospects we just got for a proven player?
- Those aren’t the pitchers we should have gone after?
Not every move will work, but you have to play the percentages. Not every move (not even close to it) worked the old way. It’s a new world in Cincinnati. If you still have a Big Red Machine hangover, get over it. Rose, Morgan, Bench and Perez would have been free-agent eligible by 1975. In today’s market, there is no way all of them (if any of them) would have been teammates that deep into their careers.
The Reds can’t compete with big payrolls. They must copy what other small-market teams like the A’s are doing. It’s the only way to have more good seasons than bad ones like the A’s have. And maybe they’ll find that year like they did in 1990.
That’s the promise of the Bell hiring. Not because he’s necessarily destined to be a great manager but because his hiring has signaled a fundamental change in the way the Reds intend to do business. Maybe Bell will preside over the next playoff team, maybe he won’t.
But at least we can finally welcome the Reds to the 21st century.
Reds Tab Johnson to Lead Pitching Renaissance
The second big move of the offseason for the Cincinnati Reds came last night with the signing of a new pitching coach, Derek Johnson. The Reds nabbed him from Milwaukee, a team that largely outperformed expectations to finish 6th in pitching.
Johnson has been the Brewers pitching coach for four seasons and is highly regarded by the league and pretty much everyone. Those who are around the Reds organization are 100% on board with this hire.
— Jeff Brantley (@RedsCowboy) October 31, 2018
I thought pitching coach would be the biggest hire of the off-season and the #Reds crushed it with Derek Johnson
— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) October 31, 2018
Derek Johnson??…I’m pleasantly surprised. Solid move! #Reds
— Jim Day (@JimDayTV) October 31, 2018
Based on text I’m getting back from people around MLB, the Derek Johnson hire is a big one for the #Reds. He’s very highly thought of and respected.
— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) October 31, 2018
His departure, while the third Milwaukee assistant to jump ship, drew the ire of those around the Brewers organization.
DEREK JOHNSON HAS LEFT THE #BREWERS!!! I’M NEVER GOING TO STOP BEING UPSET
— Reviewing the Brew (@ReviewngTheBrew) October 31, 2018
— The Brewer Nation (@BrewerNation) October 31, 2018
It’s profoundly strange to see a team that just won 96 games and came within a game of the World Series lose both their hitting and their pitching coach without either guy getting a promotion. I can’t figure that.
— Matthew Trueblood (@MATrueblood) November 1, 2018
Man, losing Derek Johnson really feels like it’s going to hurt the Brewers.
— Kyle L. (@brewerfan28) October 31, 2018
Sometimes reactions are evidence enough, but let’s look into Derek Johnson. He was a college pitcher, but never toed the rubber in the major leagues. Doesn’t seem to have hindered him in the coaching arena, where he has a ton of experience. He began coaching in college, and even coached at Vanderbilt for a bit, who happen to be pretty good at baseball. He even coached Sonny Gray, there, who is a possible target to bring into the Reds rotation.
His foray into professional coaching began with coordinating the Cubs minor league pitchers 2013 through 2014. That’s when the Brewers hired him onto their pitching coaching staff. Once with the Brew Crew, he immediately got to the developing of guys like Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra, Jhoulys Chacin, and other overachievers. Heck, the guy wrote the book on pitching, back in 2012 (see The Complete Guide to Pitching).
Another key factor, which has been the theme pf the Reds offseason, is he’s a coach who embraces analytics. He doesn’t go only analytics, though, and tends to use what will best aid a pitcher, without over-informing him. One thing that has been prevalent in interviews with David Bell is that there is a happy medium with analytics, and Johnson is on board with that.
Johnson also had a quote, in an interview with the Journal Sentinel, that I found interesting, and it just continues to excite me about this hire. On the question of if his personality is that of anonymity, he said this:
“I would say for sure. First off, this game is never about a coach. It’s always about the players. Players play, coaches coach. For me, we’re grinding away in the bullpens and we’re working on stuff in the games and trying to figure out what to do next and, really, that’s my main job and my main focus. The interviews, and all that kind of stuff, that’s for the players.”
I found this to be of interest, too:
Journal Sentinel: “The sentiment outside the organization coming into the season was that Brewers needed to sign or trade for 1-2 established starters in order to contend. Instead, Jhoulys Chacín was signed to a smaller, shorter deal and you’ve relied on your holdovers to fill out the rotation with Jimmy Nelson out and Chase Anderson and Zach Davies not pitching as well as they did in 2017. How satisfying is that?”
Derek Johnson: “I’m very proud of them. I’m very proud of how they’ve gone out and competed and stuck with some of the things that we’ve done in the bullpen and where we’re trying to go. I think a big part of my personality and the way I think of things is, ‘These are our guys – they’re Brewers.’ And right now, the other guys who aren’t Brewers, they don’t concern me at all, and they won’t until they become Brewers. That’s above my pay grade. What I have are 13 guys and we’re doing the best we can with them. They’re our guys right now, and I like it that way. I don’t want for anything else. It’s what we are and who we have and these are the guys that are putting the uniform on every day. I think it’s really important and honorable for us to think of it that way. I don’t care about other pitchers; I care about them.”
From what I gather from all the sources and people I’ve read, this is a good hire. Welcome to Cincinnati, Derek Johnson.
Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonReds on Twitter for more content.