The last few weeks have been pretty good for Reds fans.
Wins over teams like the Cubs and the Indians have shown the team isn’t nearly as bad as what graced the field in early April. A constant offensive threat plus competency from the pitching staff has helped lead the turnaround, but what else could have caused the Reds to suddenly jump in quality?
There is a growing number of people who seem to think interim manager Jim Riggleman is the answer to the Reds’ problems, and that’s not quite right.
It’s true, the team has played much better since Riggleman took over, but not all of that is his doing. For starters, the rotation Bryan Price was working with was beset with injuries, from Homer Bailey to Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan.
When Bailey and Finnegan returned to the rotation, neither of them were effective, and both of them are now pitching out of the bullpen in Louisville. DeSclafani has been as advertised, tossing seven innings of one-run ball in his most recent start on July 9 against the Indians.
The offense was also dealing with injury problems, as Scott Schebler and Eugenio Suarez both missed time in April due to injury.
Suarez was named an all-star for his play this season, and if Schebler continues to hit the way he has been, he could earn that title down the road.
In the bullpen, the Reds had major problems. David Hernandez was hurt, as was Michael Lorenzen. The Reds simply had too many injuries to play at any level near competency at the beginning of the season, and now that the players are healthy, and more importantly, producing, the team is looking much better.
However, no amount of good players can overcome poor management, and the last week or so of games has highlighted a major flaw in Riggleman’s style: He bunts way too much.
Twice in the last few games the Reds have bunted in a situation that made absolutely no sense to. I’m not anti-bunt, by any means. As a matter of fact, bunting was my favorite way to crush 700-foot home runs in Triple Play 98, though a cheat code may have been used.
Anyway, bunting, like a code that turns any contact into a massive blast, is best used sparingly and when abused can anger people (sorry, Timmy).
Over the weekend, José Peraza stood on second base with nobody out. The Reds had Tucker Barnhart bunt, and Peraza ended up thrown out at third.
Why on earth would you have Barnhart bunt? The three hitters behind him all are all-stars this season, and at best you get runners on first and third with no out, assuming the bunt is botched by the defense. Realistically, the team ends up with a runner on third and one out, which in the past was an automatic walk to Votto.
The bunt by Scooter Gennett in Atlanta is even worse. In the 10th inning, Gennett attempted to drop down a bunt, and succeeded. With the game tied, the Braves walked Suarez to load the bases, and Winker popped out to end the inning.
Winker isn’t a bad offensive hitter by any means. His defense may not be great, but he’s no slouch at the plate. Gennett isn’t either, as it’s hard to lead the National League in hitting for as long as he has if you have trouble making contact.
Taking the bat out of Gennett’s hands could have literally cost the Reds that game. Riggleman seems to think so, saying he “lost sleep” over the decision after. It seems like he was asleep during the decision itself, because bunting with your cleanup hitter makes no sense.
The bunting fascination is a bit weird in general, since in a 2011 Washington Post article Riggleman said he wasn’t “a small-ball manager.” Bunting seems pretty small ball to me.
And it’s not just the on-field decisions that warrant consideration when looking into the Reds’ next skipper. Earlier in the season, Riggleman said the team would bench Winker and not use the four-man outfield rotation. That was on May 30. After a day off, Winker started eight out of the next 10 games and hit leadoff in four out of the next five.
Riggleman’s explanation for the decision to reverse course so abruptly made no sense.
“We just can’t have Jesse sitting that much,” Riggleman said. “He’s a talented young hitter. I won’t say that it’s going to be a rotation like it was before, but certainly I’m going to get Jesse’s bat in there. I’ve rethought it. I just don’t want him to be sitting four and five days at a time and just pinch-hitting. We want to get him in there. He’s working very hard on his defense.”
What changed in the one day between the two decisions? Winker was just as talented a hitter two days prior, though he technically was younger. The schedule was the same. How is something that involves moving four players in three spots not a rotation?
And then there are the little things. Literally. Baserunning, throwing to the proper base, errors. All of those things have cost the Reds at times this season. Just this weekend against the Cubs, Joey Votto dropped a ball and cost the Reds an out. A poor throw led to an extra run scoring for the Cubs in a one-run game.
Early last week, the team lost a 12-8 game to the White Sox thanks to four errors. Are they going to be perfect every time out? No, and it’s not reasonable to expect them to be. Even Mike Trout makes an out sometimes. However, saying the team is improving fundamentally is simply not true.
Where they are improving is offensively and in the starting rotation, which helps mask a lot of the problems mentioned above. Those improvements can’t be credited to Riggleman, however. The team certainly wasn’t as bad as the 3-18 start, nor is it as good as the 15-5 run from a few weeks ago.
It may sound hypocritical, but removing Price from the managerial role based on that start was reasonable. He had time to show what he brought to the team, and it didn’t work. Keeping Riggleman because of this hot streak is not a good idea, and I seriously hope the team keeps the pledge to conduct an actual search for a manager.
Promoting from within isn’t inherently bad, if a search determines Riggleman’s the best candidate. But hiring him based solely on the limited results so far could be disastrous. Just ask Washington Nationals fans about that, as Riggleman once walked out on the team because they wouldn’t extend his contract.
Walking out on a baseball team is fine if you’re a little brother who recently caught on to big brother’s home run scheme. It’s not so fine if you’re the manager.
Reach Garth Shanklin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 513-732-2511 ext. 112.