It is time for Cincinnati Reds fans to take their simmer-down pills, make sure their blood pressure prescriptions are filled and their aspirin bottles are full.
The sky over Great American Ball Park is not falling and Major League Baseball is not about to fold the franchise because of ineptitude.
Reds nation was agog when the team began the season, 5-0, including a three-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the top contenders in the National League Central. There was chatter about the team going 162-0 on talk radio (they were kidding, right?) and talk of the team going wire-to-wire the way the 1990 team did.
Suddenly, the team hit a snag that fans believe turned into a major rip. The Reds lost 11 of their next 17, including two of three over the weekend in St. Louis.
That dropped them to 11-11 and in third place, a game out of first place heading to Milwaukee for a three-game series. Oh, woe and misery.
Stop and think about it. Guess what the Reds’ record was after 22 games last year. Would be you believe they were 11-11 and they were FOUR games out of first place?
And everybody knows what happened last year. The Reds won their first division championship since 1995, had their first winning season in nearly a decade, winning the division by five games.
Are fans that spoiled already? Have the expectations reached the clouds?
April, the first month of the season, hasn’t expired yet. There are five months and a week remaining in the season, but some fans are reacting as if they need a fire hose bath.
Manager Dusty Baker takes the heaviest hits. His lineups and batting orders are out of whack. He mishandles his pitchers. He needs to play Chris Heisey more and Jay Bruce less. Why does he keep running Edinson Volquez out there?
In my 39 years of covering the Reds, Baker has been the most prepared and hardest-working manager I have seen — better than Sparky Anderson, better than Lou Piniella. All of them.
His preparation is unbelievable. He studies every statistic, every possible matchup and makes out his lineup accordingly. He sits at his desk for hours before games making tiny notes on scraps of paper, notes so tiny nobody but he can decipher them.
Fans are down on Jay Bruce and his sluggish start, forgetting that he was the most productive hitter on the team the second half of last season and hit two of the biggest home runs of the year late in the season, including a division-clinching walk-off home run.
And despite his feeble start, he remains one of the best defensive right fielders in the game.
Fans want Chris Heisey in the lineup every day, replacing either Bruce in right or Jonny Gomes in left field. Heisey has hit well, but twice this year he struck out to end games with the tying or winning runs on base. And he is 3-for-18 in games he started this year.
While Gomes has a low batting average, he leads the league in walks and leads the team with six homers, a viable part of the batting order.
While Volquez gave up runs in the first inning in his first four starts, the Reds were 3-1 in those starts. Just three seasons ago Volquez was 17-6 and made the All-Star team. And he is still boucing back from Tommy John surgery.
Another major consideration is the fact the Reds have seven players on the disabled list (four pitchers), tied for the most in the majors this season. And none of those seven (Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Jose Arredondo, Fred Lewis, Jared Burton, Juan Francisco, Scott Rolen) have come off the DL.
“I’d rather have all this happen now, get it all over with, than to have it happen later in the season,” said Baker. “We WILL get healthy and we WILL get going.
The recent gloom and doom comes from the fact the Reds lost two of three in St. Louis, but all three games were tight and the Reds easily could have won all three with a timely hit here and a timely pitch there. It just didn’t happen — this time. It will.
It is way, way, way too early to become stricken with grief over early-season problems when 140 games remain. This is basically the same team, with a minor tinker here and tweak there, that won the division last year. And it is poised to do the same this year, recent history notwithstanding. Any team with Joey Votto batting third and Brandon Phillips batting second is armed and dangerous.