Thursday, September 30, 2010

While waiting to see if Dusty Baker returns to manage the Reds after this season....

What if the Reds miss being the second seed in the NL Playoffs by one game? How important would they then think last night's game against the Astros was? The line up the Reds ran out to the field Tuesday night would have looked right at home in Louisville. Why did it Baker start the likes of Juan Francisco, Yonder Alonso, Corky Miller and others? Baker said, historically, few teams start their regulars the night after clinching. Really?

Look, I'm all for celebrating and blowing off steam. The MLB season is a long, long process. But the name of the game has always been two fold: make the playoffs, secure home field advantage. Why? Because for awhile now, the only way you can avoid the Phillies is to finish right behind them. With four games to play, the Giants now have a two game lead on the Reds for that second seed. They won last night, playing all of their regulars and moving pitcher Tim Lincecum up a day to start. The Reds were took pooped from partying the night before to start anyone of significance.

Their reward may be getting Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in the first three games of the Division Playoffs.

Bengals placekicker, Mike Nugent, found out today he's been named the AFC special teams player of the month. Nice deal. And Nugent has been a nice find. He's been consistently good on field goals and extra points. And his kickoffs have found the end zone, more often than not. What has to be refreshing to head coach, Marvin Lewis, is to have a kicker who is reliable inside the parameters of range and emotion. Shayne Graham had a booming leg. But too often, when the situation called for a 'big kick', Graham withered.

The worm can turn on a kicker in a matter of moments. Graham has certainly found that out, as he's not unemployed. But so far, so good for Nugent, who grew up rooting for the Bengals.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eventually the Reds will clinch and this piece of drama will be over. Might happen tonight. As we speak today, the magic number remains at one.

But beyond that are some real question. And the answers don’t appear to be a clear as the questions are today. Here is a fact that this team can’t get away from. In 16 road games against teams still contending for playoff spots, the Reds have two wins. Two. That’s it. And while it’s great to beat up on the weak teams, you’re supposed to do that after all, those teams are going home in a week. The teams still standing have the Reds number. They’re 2-5 against the Phillies this season, including an oh-for in four games out in the city of Brotherly Love this summer.

Against the Giants, it’s a little better, 3-4. Against the Braves, 3-3, 0-2 in Georgia. The Reds 3-4 against San Diego. Those aren’t numbers that give you a whole lot of confidence heading into the playoffs. They’re 10-13 so far in Septmeber with a disturbing 95 runs allowed so far this month.

In a lot of ways, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. The Reds have played with a short roster most of the season. Players who’ve been hurt have been simply held out of games, rather than sent to the disabled list. When you only have 22 or 23 going up against the other guy’s 25, games become difficult to manage. And the Reds don’t have an ‘ace’, that top of the rotation guy who can take the ball and match up against the other team’s best. If they get the Giants in round one, who matches with Cain or Lincecum? If they get the Phillies, who matches up with any of that teams top three.

But funny things happen when you get to the post season. Players who seem pedestrian during the summer can grab the spotlight. Reggie Jackson may have been crowned Mister October in New York. But in the 1978 World Series against the Dodgers, it was Brian Doyle filling in for the injured Willie Randolph who hit .478 and led the Yankees to the championship.

In a short series, pitching most often carries the day. He with the better arms tends to have the better body of work. But sometimes, not quite so often, it’s the team with the best fielding and situational hitting, the team with the extra guy or two who can add a dynamic to the game that wins the game. If you want a reason to believe that a team like the Reds, a team that’s struggled most of this year against the better clubs, has a puncher’s chance, that’s it.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Nothing wrong with Bengals quarterback, Carson Palmer. That's the diagnosis from head coach Marvin Lewis on the day after Palmer struggled again. Lewis got testy in his weekly news conference when the questions about his quarterback and his struggling offense continued. Lewis as much as said if the line of questioning continued, he would say little more this season and would instruct his player to say less.

If you watched any of the three games so far this season, you could make a strong case for this being wrong: Palmer's protection from his offensive line isn't so hot. It's no secret, this is a line that run blocks a lot better than it pass protects. Maybe it's given Palmer reason to have 'happy feet'. Maybe it's just a case of the Bengals passing attack, so dependant on timing routes, not having having enough time to allow pass routes to develop. But there is something wrong with the way it's going about it's air attack. That Carolina defense isn't bad. But it's hardly one of the elite 'D's' in the NFL.

Like a lot of us in the Tri-State, we're tracking the Cardinals against the Pirates tonight in St. Louis. Part of me wants this thing to be over with, sooner the better. But on the other hand, better the Reds simply win Tuesday at GABP and let their fans share in the celebration. The last thing anyone wants is for the race to drag on deep into the week. Clinching sooner, rather than later, will allow Dusty Baker to set his playoff pitching rotation and let some of the ailing starters heal. Brandon Phillips, Orlando Cabrera, Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen all have nagging ailments that could use a day or two of rest. It can't be much more than that. The Reds need to keep winning and secure that second seed, guaranteeing them home field advantage in round one.

I never believe in "moral victories". You either win or you lose and deal with the aftermath. But UC playing Oklahoma close at Paul Brown Stadium Saturday night should set the Bearcats up for a decent run in the Big East conference. UC should handle Miami easily, when the MAC school comes to Nippert Stadium two Saturdays from now. The Big East looks like it's down this year. West Virginia appears to be the only team in that conference playing well. This certaily won't the kind of season that UC football has given us the past two years. There probably won't be a BCS bowl bid. But a strong run through the conference will set things up nicely for Butch Jones next season. Make no mistake about it, Jones didn't inherit a championship team. Mark Dantonio did the heavy lifting for the last two seasons, under Brian Kelly's leadership. But the recruiting for this current year of 2010 left a lot to be desired and a lot of holes on the UC offense. Jones is a good coach, if not the pied piper that his predecessor was.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Like Loverboy rhapsodized all those years ago...Everybody's working for the weekend.....

I don't think the University of Cincinnati has the horses (or the riders) to beat Oklahoma. But I don't think this game Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium will be the blowout that a lot of national pundits are predicting. UC is having a hard time blocking people and it's secondary was shredded by North Carolina State last week. But the Bearcats will get a little 'juice' from the hometown crowd and OU doesn't travel all that well. But I don't see a lot of scenarios where teh Bearcats come out with a "W".....

I'm embarrassed by what the Ohio University mascot did on the field at Ohio Stadium last Saturday. While a lot of the country found it amusing, I found the 19 year old inside of that costume, Brandon Hanning, to be nothing short of an idiot. He claims that he took the job as team mascot, over a year ago, just for the opportunity to tackle the OSU mascot, Brutus. In a number of other areas of life, that would be tantamount to stalking with serious implications. What's worse is that the Ohio University athletic department allowed a non-student (Hanning has since transferred to nearby Hocking College) to continue in the role of playing the team mascot. In a number of other businesses, that would be cause for dismissal of someone, in this case whomever was charged with assembling cheerleaders and mascots. I'm still waiting to see something like that from a guy I admire a lot, school president Dr. Roderick McDavis....

I fielded a lot of phone calls after the Bengals beat the Ravens last Sunday on 1530 ESPN and the Bengals radio network from fans who are convinced the real problem with the Bengals offense is Carson Palmer. Callers insisted that either Palmer was over rated, or his elbow is still bothering him or that he was running scared from his knee injury five years ago and those were the reasons why the Bengals offense has been non-existant so far this season. Here's some breaking news: the problem isn't Palmer. It's his line. It can't pass block. Further, the Ravens defense will make a lot of good quarterbacks look bad this season. So will the Steelers defense.

Palmer isn't an elite quarterback right now. He's a top 10 quarterback, but not among the top three or four. He could still get there. But the problem with the Bengals offense isn't its quarterback. You'd want Jordan Palmer playing instead? Arnold Palmer might be better than that.

Good wishes to Mark Dantonio, who like me, just found out how mortal we all are. Dantonio's heart attack after his Spartans beat Notre Dame last Saturday night resulted in doctors placing a stent in one of his veins. Dantonio will heal and be back coaching soon. Trust me, it gets better. But watching him pull a play out of Brian Kelly's book to beat Kelly's Irish had to be particulary gratifying for Dantonio. Kelly won at UC, largely, on Dantonio's recruiting. Kelly's first BCS bowl team, the 2008 squad, was heavily populated with Dantonio recruits.

Imagine how UC fans had to feel watching that MSU-Notre Dame game, with both of their former head coaches competing against each other on national television. No disrespect to Butch Jones, who may someday be in Kelly and Dantonio's league, but the sight of those two slugging it out in East Lansing with UC sitting at a very shaky 1-2 had to be tough for Bearcats fans.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Far be it from me to raise a red flag, but is anyone else noticing that the Reds have this tendency to score runs in bunches, two big innings or so, and then go into a shell? We saw it again Wednesday night, when they scored five times in two innings and then had to scramble for a 7-5 win over the Diamondbacks.

You can say it's the sign of a good team that can do damage early and hold the status quo. And I suppose I'd be comfortable with that, if they weren't preparing to play some of the best teams in the National League in a few weeks. But it seems as though opposing pitchers are doing well making adjustments to Reds hitters as they pitch through the batting order for a second time. It appears the Reds hitters aren't doing much adjusting.

I could be wrong. I often am wrong. But I could be right.

This is a much different team, and less lethal, without Scott Rolen healthy and in the line up. We saw it again Thursday afternoon when the Diamondbacks Rodrigo Lopez shut down a batting order that had Jonny Gomes hitting clean up and Brandon Phillips also out of the line up. The goal for Dusty Baker is two fold: he has to get his team healthy for the playoffs, while trying to earn the best record in the National League. No small trick. And earning the best record in the NL, which assures home field advantage in the playoffs, will be a big deal for the Reds. When the top of a team's pitching rotation doesn't feature stud starters, and the Reds don't have those, you want as many home games as you can get, to insure final at bats. Don't get me wrong, Bronson Arroyo, Travis Wood and Johnny Cueto have pieced together very solid seasons. But the Reds don't have a Roy Halladay, Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, who will be very difficult to handle with multiple home starts.

Why do I feel the Bengals will get a heaping dose of TJ Houshmandzadeh Sunday? He's the third wide receiver in the Ravens offensive system. But you and I both know Baltimore head coach, John Harbaugh is cooking up ways for Houshmandzadeh to 'burn' his former team.

What concerns me even more, is the Ravens running attack. It never got off the dime against the Jets on Monday night. But with its three headed attack of Laron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, you know that will be the way the Ravens will first try to attack the Bengals defense.

There's good news on the other side of that equation. Last season, the Bengals rushed for 142 yards against the Ravens in Baltimore and 146 when the two teams met later in the year in Cincinnati. This could also be a big day for Cedric Benson.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Random thoughts for a Wednesday

The Bengals say they need to change their attitude this week. Huh? You've got seven months to prepare for an NFL opener and you're already talking about 'changing your attitude'? Really?

I think last Sunday was just the case of a good team having a bad day. Period.

But Cedric Benson will have to rush for more than just 2.9 yards per carry for this team to have any chance of having a good season.

I think Ochocinco is in line for a very big year. Last Sunday was just a 'taste'.

The Reds appear to be running out of steam. Or at least, some of their better players need a few days off. But when you still have a "Magic Number" of 12, that's almost impossible. Good to see Rolen getting a night off tonight.

Lot of UC fans are getting a little anxious over the Bearcats 1-1 start (particularly with the way the team looked in the second half of the Fresno State loss and the first half of the Indiana State win.). But the facts are this: the team lost its best impact player from last year, it's number one wide receiver this year and the defense has switched back to a 4-3. Mix in a new coaching staff and anyone who thought this would be a seamless transition from Brian Kelly to Butch Jones isn't paying attention....

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