Cincinnati Reds at the 2014 All Star Break

Cincinnati Reds Logo courtesy of MLB.comHeading into the All Star break, the Reds were hot – winning seven of their last ten. Despite not having Joey Votto or Brandon Phillips (and even Skip Schumaker), the Reds managed to gain some ground on Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Jay Bruce hit three homeruns during that stretch and was primed for one of his team-carrying hot streaks.

Then the break came and the Reds broke.

Since regular season baseball resumed, the Reds have dropped four straight. And it’s been ugly, ugly, ugly. Dropped pop-ups, flubbed grounders, base running blunders and an inability to hit with RISP have put serious doubts into whether the Reds should be buyers or sellers in the second half.

Oh, and Jay Bruce is 0 – 11 with 5 Ks since the break.

But the fact remains, this team is only three and a half games out of first place. They’re still over .500 and the starting pitching remains above average – if not superb. The bullpen has improved, though both Broxton and Chapman have been touched up a little as of late. And for the amount of money being spent on those guys (see my previous rant on that for more details), well, they’d better improve. Only JJ Hoover can’t seem to get it together (see below for my thoughts on him).

They’re not getting Phillips or Votto back anytime soon, but if they can snap out of this little funk before leaving the land of brats and cheese wheels, I think the Reds should still be buyers. Cautious buyers, but buyers nonetheless.

Please don’t give up top-end prospects to land a mediocre rental player. Trade a guy you’re probably not going to re-sign that’s proven to be successful.

This mostly consists of pitching as the Reds can’t afford to lose any position player that can even hit at least .240. Now this is a very limiting strategy, I’ll admit, but this Reds team is probably not worth mortgaging the future.

Alfredo Simon, as much as I love what he’s done this year, might be a flash-in-the-pan as a starter. His arm might not be used to this many innings. Deal him while he has value. If you truly believe in Homer Bailey (money talks), and you trust Mike Leake and pray to God that Cingrani seasons well, you still have a solid staff. And in the playoffs, you’ll only need Cueto, Latos and Bailey.

However, if the Reds get swept out of Milwaukee or lose three or four games over the next seven, I’d start selling.

Should be easy, right? Who wouldn’t want the likes of Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Zack Cozart, Ramon Santiago, Brayan Pena, Donald Lutz or Skip Schumaker? Teams are probably salivating to take on the contracts of Brandon Phillips or Joey Votto. GASP – did I just say to unload Joey? Yes. Yes I did.

Of course, none of this will happen. The Reds will continue to get diminishing returns on BP and JV, and no contender is looking to part with prospects for the rest of the gang.

All we can do is hope these guys continue to play as a cohesive unit and that somehow, someway, someone picks up the slack.

If only the Todfather had a daughter. And it was the day of her wedding. Every day. And he had to grant all us Reds fans our wishes: more bombs (of the three- or four-run variety), the healing touch on Votto and Phillips and a post-season berth. Surely the Home Run Derby runner-up has the clout.

Final Thoughts on JJ Hoover

JJ Hoover Meme

Seriously, though, Hoover’s stats are horrific. He’s given up 8 homeruns in 34 appearances (41 IP) and 25 earned runs for a 5.49 ERA, all leading to a 1 – 7 record. He might have good stuff and may eventually become a quality reliever, but right now? He’s killing the Reds. Get on the phone, call Louisville and tell them they have a project on the way.

JJ Hoover statistics

—Ryan Varney

2014 Reds First Quarter Review

2014 Reds Bullpen
2014 Reds Bullpen

Somebody needs to get fired…and it’s not Bryan Price. Whoever decided to drop $22.5 million dollars on the Reds bullpen this year come get your pink slip.

You. Failed.

Every time I see Price picking up the phone to the pen, I think “Who you gonna call? Winbusters?”

Reds upper management paid a combined $22.5 million to a group of “pitchers” to produce the following:

  • 5.77 ERA (worst in baseball)
  • .274 Batting Average Against
  • 4 Blown Saves
  • 3 Saves
  • 90 Innings Pitched (fewest in NL)

The only saving grace for the Reds bullpen is the fact they’ve worked the fewest innings in the National League so far this year. Can you imagine how much damage they could do in 120 IP? Well, give them time. You won’t have to imagine.

I’d also like to point out the number of blown saves versus saves. Surely, leaving the starters in could produce the same results? Reds starters are already pitching more innings than any other staff, so what’s a few more? BTW – Reds starters are only making $12 million more than the Reds bullpen collectively. Go ahead and put that in your back pocket for a bargaining chip next off season, guys.

Except you Homer Bailey. We’d like your $105 million back.

Better idea: just move him to the bullpen. He’ll fit right in.

Too bad the Reds can’t hit off their own bullpen. Currently, only Brandon Phillips is hitting higher than all National Leaguers batting against the Reds. He’s at a whopping .276. Everyone else is vying for the Mendoza Line. They could really use the lift of batting against their own pen.

$22.5 million. Could’ve added a bat to the lineup. Maybe pick up some extra runs to cover the ones the relievers are giving away.

Looks like I picked the wrong year to buy season tickets.

—Ryan Varney

Homer Serves Them Up At An Alarming Pace

Homer Bailey bobblehead

David Dewitt Bailey. His nickname, and the name you know him by is “Homer” – not a bad nickname for a baseball player. Except Homer Bailey is a pitcher and unfortunately for the Cincinnati Reds, a team that just shelled out $105 million for his services, Homer is serving them up at a rate of 1 every other inning in 2014.

It’s early, and that number will no doubt get better as the season progresses, but it’s alarming nonetheless. Besides the long balls, Bailey’s ERA this season at 8.16 is almost double his career average of 4.32. His WHIP is nearly a point higher, too.
Homer Bailey career statistics
Further, the Reds gave Bailey SEVEN years to reach the potential they felt he had in him – which they thought they saw realized in the pair of no-hitters he tossed in one calendar year. Hence the deal for a cool $105 mil over six years. That’s an average of $17.5 million per year. In other words, that’s ace money.

While I do think Homer Bailey has shown improvement over his first seven seasons, he’s no ace. People will quibble over the definition of what an ace is, but everyone agrees, an ace is the team’s best option when they need a win – someone you can bank on virtually every appearance. You can’t bank on Bailey. Like most of the Reds staff, he’s just too inconsistent and his career stats bear this out.

Too often the trend in baseball has shown that players receiving huge contracts have rather suspect performances the ensuing season. And with the Reds anemic offense, they really need Bailey to rise above the norm. Based on the early returns, he is not.

But it’s not all doom and gloom Reds fans. The team was smart enough to back load the contract with Bailey getting $9 million this year, $10 million in 2015, $18 million in 2016, $19 million in 2017, $21 million in 2018 and $23 million in 2019. Plus they set a buyout price at $5 million. So if Bailey doesn’t get back to his 2013 numbers, they can get out of the deal without taking too big a hit.

I certainly hope Bailey gets back into form in short order. He’s got dynamic stuff and he’s fun to watch. Plus, the Reds have enough guys in the bullpen willing to give up bombs – good thing Uncle Walt spent so much on such quality middle relievers (it’s enough to make you think he’s still on the Cardinals payroll – but that’s a post for another day).

I digress.

As does Homer.

—Ryan Varney

Proposed NFL Ban On N-Word

proposed NFL ban on n-wordThe NFL has plans to crack down on players using N-bombs. The big debate is whether or not they can successfully implement and enforce such an idea. A secondary debate then ensued over whether this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to the Washington Redskins (R-word) franchise.

What troubles me is that this even needs to be addressed. Why is the N-word still being used?

Obviously I hear it being dropped in rap songs – though of the “-a” or “-ah” variety as opposed to the original “-er” version – (“-a” or “-ah” being considered okay), and occasionally from the mouths of white, self-proclaimed “old-school” types (decidedly not okay). The former usage is apparently a term of endearment while the latter screams “Racist.”

It all depends on who uses it and how. Context, they say, is everything.

So here we have a word that those advocating human rights and racial equality worked hard to eradicate from the English vocabulary. The N-word stood as a representation of all backward and racist thinking and its elimination from use is a way to show progress in our thinking about racial equality.

Maybe that’s why such in-house usage of the N-word feels like two steps forward, one step back. Isn’t it going against what past elders have championed? Why resurrect something so hateful?

Is it really an attempt to change the connotation of the word? Or is it merely an attempt to rub it in the face of those on the outside? We can use it, but you can’t. I hope it’s not the latter because that really feels like driving a stake through the heart of progress through self-segregation.

Based on this line of thinking, let’s take a look at another cringe-worthy word: faggot (at least it makes me feel as uncomfortable as the N-word).

Straight white rapper Eminem slings this epithet in several of his songs and he has been labeled a homophobe because of it. Why? Because the term has a negative connotation and denigrates an entire group of people.

Now I don’t follow a lot of gay culture, but I am friends with a fair number of gay people. I can say that I’ve never heard any of them refer to another using this term. However, by N-word logic, it would be fine if they did.

But would it further the progress of our acceptance of gays and gay rights? Unlikely.

Now, about the R-word.

If the connotation of the term “redskins” is as negative and ugly as the N-word or faggot, then the Washington NFL franchise needs to change its name. In fact, I would argue that the use of redskins is even more egregious than the use of the N-word.

I don’t know anyone, including Native Americans, who drop R-bombs. Other than to reference the Washington football franchise or potatoes, this term has long since disappeared from our lexicon. There are no attempts to bring it back into vogue or to use it as a racial slur. Let’s move on.

Besides, the Washington Redskins could stand a makeover. That franchise provides the only negative connotation to the R-word these days.

I think it was comedian Chris Rock who observed that having a team called the Washington Redskins was like having a team called the New York N-words. Obviously, that would never happen.

And yet, use of the N-word persists: who can use it, who can’t use it, and if you do use it in the NFL, will it draw a 15 yard penalty? (What’s the equivalent of a 15 yard penalty in life, BTW?)

In the end, those who still insist on using the N-word bring to mind a group of mentally-disabled people sitting around calling each other retards.

Endearing, isn’t it?

—Ryan Varney

Who Needs to Win More, Brady or Manning?

Manning versus Brady
Image courtesy of Seekonk Speedway

The 2014 AFC Championship pits Peyton Manning against Tom Brady…again. The debate swirls this week as to which quarterback needs to win this game more, Manning or Brady. Here are two quotes, one from each side of the debate.

Manning Needs It

“I believe that the football community as a whole will continue to keep Peyton Manning one tier below the best of the best if he doesn’t win another Super Bowl.” – Lyle Graversen on Fansided.

Brady Needs It

“Sunday, Tom Brady has a chance to not only end the never-ending-debate of Manning vs. Brady, but he takes one more step to restoring his legacy as one of the great post season players in NFL history.” – Dylan Smith on ChowderandChampions.com

Verdict

Regarding Manning, I’m not sure the football community views him one tier below the best of the best. The guy set the record for TDs in a season, saw it broken and then set it again – and this time with the total yards record tacked on. He’s won multiple MVPs, but gets dinged because he has one lonely Super Bowl ring. Ridiculous. That a QB’s greatness is determined by a singular game is absurd (more on this notion later). Manning is one of the all-time greats.

Regarding Brady, he has two MVPs and three Super Bowl rings. He broke Manning’s TD record (only to cede it this year). He also has more playoff wins, though he’s “struggled” as of late. He is just as great in the regular season as in the post season. Again, he gets a boost because of his SB rings. Even if he doesn’t win this weekend, he is still one of the all-time greats.

If New England wins and then goes on to win the Super Bowl, well, now we’ll have an interesting debate: who is the greatest QB of all time, Brady or Montana?

If Denver wins out, no one will be asking, “Who is the greatest of all time, Montana or Manning?”

Why Super Bowl Rings Are Over-rated (in terms of legacy and ratings)

Football is a team sport. Um, duh, you might be thinking. Why is it that the number of Super Bowl rings plays such a minimal role when arguing for the greatest running back, tight end or wide receiver? How about linebacker, cornerback or tackle?

While quarterback play is increasingly important in today’s NFL, he’s still just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to winning a championship.

The Patriots won Super Bowls with Brady because they had a better than good defense (not great) and a productive running attack. They lost Super Bowls when the run game was weak and the D and offensive lines were overmatched. Brady wins when Brady gets protection, which only happens when the team is strong. Manning operates the same way.

Joe Flacco proved that Super Bowl rings means big money, but ask any Baltimore fan, “Is he worth the money?” No, Hon, not a chance. The football community will never regard Flacco as one of the all-time greats, even if he wins another Super Bowl. The salary demands we do, but the play is just too inconsistent.

Manning and Brady have consistently been amazing, leading their teams to scads of regular season wins, post season successes and some Super Bowl victories. It’s the combination of these that cement their legacies.

I will concede that if everything is equal, then you can use the number of rings to tip the scales.

So Who’s the Best – Manning or Brady?

Regular season wins, post season wins, MVPs, passing records, Super Bowls…they’re all for the birds. Manning is the best. He never went to Michigan.

—Ryan Varney

Christmas Gifts for Patriots Fans

Christmas gifts for Patriots fans

Need a last minute Christmas gift for the Patriots fan in your life? Why not spread the cheer this holiday season with the smash CD “A Very Tom Brady Christmas”! Your Pats fan will love the merry tunes and joyful lyrics, celebrating our boys in red, white and blue. Check out some song and lyric samples below –

Here Comes Belichick

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
Brady and Ridley and Gronkowski
are making all the plays.
Gillette is ringing, fans are singing;
All is merry and bright.
Don your jerseys and say your prayers,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
He’s got a book that is filled with plays
to beat those Jets again.
Hear those Brady passes sizzling by,
What a beautiful sight.
Stand and cheer, guzzle down that beer,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Playoff Time is Here

Playoff time is here,
happiness and cheer,
fun for all that Pat fans
call their favorite time of year.

Snowflakes in the air,
drunkards everywhere,
Brady finds an open man
with seconds left to spare.

The kick is in the air;
Gostkowski knows it’s fair;
Confetti falls, we’ve won it all
with such dramatic flair.

Playoff time is here;
the Superbowl is near;
oh that we could always see
us win it every year,
us win it every year.

O Little Town of Foxborough

O little town of Foxborough,
Gillette’s lights shining bright;
Above the D, past cornerbacks
The TD pass sails by;
Then in the end zone shineth
Gronkowski’s famous spike.
The hopes and dreams of all Pats fans
Come true for us tonight.

Brady Baby

Brady baby, give the handoff to Vereen,
been an awful good back,
Brady baby, so hand it off for six tonight.

Brady baby, Amendola wants in, Ridley and Gronk, too.
So spread out the cheer,
Brady baby, and let it all fly tonight.

The Christmas Song

Opponents roasting on an open fire
Brady nipping at your D
Forty yard bombs being slung by our hero
All the fans wearing ol’ number twelve.
Everybody knows a touchdown
with an extra point
Help to make the season bright
Pat fans with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Ninky’s on his way
He’s coming with such speed
and power on his sack sleigh
And every quarterback is gonna drop
As five-o comes ‘round the edge
And makes another stop.

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To Pat fans, one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said
many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

Enjoy other holiday Patriot favorites too –

Joy to Gillette
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Another Ring
I Saw Mommy Kissing Brady Claus
Ridley the Rock Hands Fumbler
Buffalo Got Run Over by the Patriots
Chandler the Sackman

—Ryan Varney

This CD is not actually available for purchase.

Patriots Versus Bengals Week 5 Recap

Patriots versus Bengals week 5 recap
Brady’s jersey sums up the Patriots vs. Bengals in week 5

The New England Patriots took on the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday and one word can utterly and completely describe the entire affair: bad. The weather was bad, the Patriots offense was bad, the Bengals offense was bad, special teams were bad, even the Ben Gals cheerleading outfits were bad.

Okay, so the defenses were both good, with the Bengals D being just slightly better.

But mostly, everything was bad. Punts were dropped, quarterbacks were routinely sacked, fumbles cropped up at potentially pivotal moments, passes were erratic and errant and adjustments were not made.

The Patriots offense took two or three steps back after a very promising turn in Atlanta last week. The young receivers looked like they were making progress, the O line was opening holes for the running back tandem, and Brady threw the ball like Brady should.

This week, the receivers looked like they’d never run a route before, the running backs couldn’t hit the second level and Tom Brady failed to adjust his throws to accommodate the poor route running. At some point the quarterback, no matter where he thinks the receiver should be, has to actually make a pass that the receiver can catch. It’s called adjusting to the game on the field.

To be fair, the offensive line was, well, offensive. Allowing four sacks and multiple hurries, they were the anti-Denver O line.

Reason to Believe

But, there is hope for New England. Last week, the D was dealt a huge (in every sense) loss with the season-ending injury to Vince Wilfork, and there was concern about stopping the run. Despite allowing nearly 200 rushing yards to former Pat Benjarvis Green-Ellis, Giovanni Bernard and Andy Dalton, the Pat’s D only gave up one monster run of 28 yards to the sneaky fast rookie Bernard. And they almost pulled out four consecutive stops inside their own three yard line even after being on the field most of the day.

I would also be very surprised if the offense played this poorly again. Next week, the Saints head to Foxboro and Rob Ryan has always given Brady fits, but the Pats are at home, so I don’t see a repeat of yesterday’s Tom-foolery. Miami could stymie them, but by then, Gronk should be back to provide some much needed punch.

This game was a trap game. Don’t get me wrong, the Bengals are (or at least can be) a very, very good football team. But sandwiched between a trip to Atlanta and the high flying Saints, it was pretty clear that the coaching staff did not have a good game plan for neutralizing a potent Bengal’s D line.

Plus, Brady was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in 52 games. This will not be taken lightly by a competitor of Brady’s nature. This will definitely throw some fuel on the fire heading into the Saints matchup next week.

I’ve only seen Brady play live twice, and the first time I saw him at his best – beating the Browns in Cleveland 42 – 15 in 2004 – and now I’ve seen him at his worst.

Patriots versus Bengals week 5 recap
My view of the opening kickoff

Ultimately, yesterday’s game will be a forgettable footnote on the 2013 season.

Next week, let’s hope we’re singing, “When the Saints Go Marching [Home]”…with a loss. And let’s hope we see the start of a new touchdown streak by #12.

—Ryan Varney