Five Cuts from a Father's Day edition of interleague play:
Todd Frazier isn't a little guy. The Cincinnati Reds' third baseman stands 6-foot-3. He weighs 220 pounds after breakfast. In five minor league seasons, he hit 74 home runs. This year, he has five homers in 76 at-bats. He can hit the ball a long way. He has never hit one like the one he hit Sunday at Great American Ball Park.
On Sunday in Chicago, Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman threw an unhittable pitch. It wasn't a 100 mph fastball behind the ear flap, or a slider a time zone off the plate. It was a strike. A 99 mile-an-hour pitch on the inside corner and at the knees of Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart. Stewart couldn't have hit it with God's bat.
SI.com will be live-blogging today's season openers. Check back all day long for updates on Thursday afternoon's games from Cliff Corcoran (Red Sox vs. Tigers, Marlins vs. Reds), Joe Lemire (Mets vs. Braves), Ben Reiter (Phillies vs. Pirates) , Gary Gramling (Nationals vs. Cubs) and Ted Keith (Blue Jays vs. Indians). All times Eastern.
Only two teams in all of baseball had a better record than the National League Central champion Brewers last year -- the powerhouse Phillies and Yankees -- and the second-place Cardinals won the World Series.
With first basemen Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder the 2011 NL Central boasted one of the greatest collections of talent at one position any one division has ever seen, a trio of close-proximity, in-their-prime superstars perhaps exceeded only by 1950s New York when Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider all played center field within the same city limits (though in different leagues).
This week, Cliff Corcoran will break down what to expect from each team's camp as part of SI.com's spring training preview. Teams are listed by their order of finish from 2011. Note: The Big Prospect is a player who will be in camp and has not yet debuted in the major leagues.
The Marlins, Reds, Cubs and Angels stay busy while two more pitchers arrive from Japan, and the Mets, Rays and Dodgers find out just how little a million bucks buys these days in this week's Hot Stove Roundup.
The White Sox send mixed messages, the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Reds fortify their bullpens, and the best available centerfielder (not counting Yoenis Cespedes) and two of the best platoon outfielders in the game all re-sign with their 2011 teams in this week's edition of Hot Stove Roundup.
The Cincinnati Reds can't put their put their fingers on it. One of those years, they say.
With the 2011 baseball season reaching its mid-point this week (the Dodgers and Reds will become the first teams to play 81 games Tuesday night), and the calendar flipping to July on Friday, the pennant races will gain increasing attention. Entering Tuesday's action, no team has a larger lead for a playoff spot than the Phillies' five-game advantage over the Braves in the National League East, and just nine teams were more than six games out in both their division and their league's wild card chases. That leaves 21 teams that could call themselves contenders. By now, most of the best players on those teams have made themselves known, but here's a look at some players whose impact on the pennant races those races has yet to be felt, but could well be a major factor in how this season plays out.
"How'd the Redlegs do last night?"
If only it were as easy as throwing a baseball 100 miles an hour.
The cops said Reds pitcher Mike Leake walked into a Macy's department store in downtown Cincinnati Monday and stole six T-shirts worth a total of $59.88. Since then, unnamed sources have claimed Leake wasn't stealing shirts, but exchanging them.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Reds pitcher Mike Leake was arrested on a shoplifting charge at a downtown department store Monday, accused of trying to steal six shirts with a total value of $59.88.
With so many big injuries affecting so many fantasy teams, there's no time for a big intro. That means we should just get right to the injuries:
Professional sports teams are attempting at a furious rate to lure fans away from the comfort of their couches to live games. And sweet technological upgrades to their home venues become a bigger selling point every year.
The Reds usurped the National League Central crown from the Cardinals in 2010, a year earlier than most expected the change. Now Cincinnati must fend off revenge-seeking St. Louis, pitching-enhanced Milwaukee and veteran-loaded Chicago to hold onto the division title, as forward-thinking Houston and Pittsburgh advance their rebuilding plans.
There are more oblique injuries this spring than one would expect. I don't like saying that injuries are just "part of the game," though it's clear that traumatic injuries are unpredictable. I also don't like guessing, so I went to the leading expert in this area, Mark Verstegen of Athletes Performance Institute. Mark and his team have done more to emphasize the importance of the core than anyone, so I asked him: What's the deal with all these oblique injuries?
SARASOTA, Fla. -- One of the 14 losing teams from last year will be in the postseason this year. Does that sound like a bold prediction? It's not. It's a way of life in the wild card era.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A few observations after spending time in Reds camp:
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Just 11 months removed from his August 2009 Tommy John surgery, Reds starter Edinson Volquez was back pitching in the majors. Two months after that, manager Dusty Baker named Volquez his Game 1 starter in last October's National League Division Series against the Phillies.
As if the failed Albert Pujols negotiations weren't enough to cast a pall over the Cardinals' spring training, things went from bad to worse for the Redbirds on Monday, when ace righthander Adam Wainwright left camp with an injured elbow. Wainwright was sent back to St. Louis for tests with expectations being that he'll need Tommy John surgery and thus miss the entire 2011 season. That's a devastating blow to a Cardinals team that is facing the possibility of losing Pujols to free agency at year's end and will have to contend with ascendant Reds and Brewers squads in the NL Central.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If the St. Louis Cardinals are not prepared to pay Albert Pujols more than the Phillies pay Ryan Howard -- that's $25 million per year - then they never had a shot at keeping their iconic player in St. Louis and he is as good as gone.
You shouldn't be allowed to clinch the pennant in December.
For baseball fans longing for their favorite sport after a long, cold winter, Monday's voluntary reporting date for pitchers and catchers, which marks the official start of spring training, is both a day to be celebrated and a big tease. The excitement of seeing one's favorite team together and in uniform is undermined by two weeks of drills and stretching followed by another month of meaningless games in which the starting nine typically play just five innings and pitchers are slowly stretched out, barely reaching 100 pitches by the end of March. Still, while Pitchers and Catchers might be the baseball equivalent of the Groundhog seeing its shadow, foretelling another six weeks of winter for those outside of Florida and Arizona, for discerning baseball fans, there's still plenty to see. Here then, is a quick review of what to look for in spring training this year.
The best sports fans are Bandwagon Fans. I am a Bandwagon Fan. I hop on and off the wagon like a 12-step veteran. Let the good times roll, because when they don't, I roll outta here.
Baseball's Manager of the Year awards are essentially prizes for the skipper of each league's most surprising team or the club that overcame the most adversity.
While the course of action for some contenders this offseason is simple -- the Rangers and Yankees would both benefit from signing that Cliff Lee fellow, for example -- it's less clear for many of the other elite teams in baseball.
This week, SI.com will analyze the offseason plans for the teams in each of MLB's six divisions. Teams are listed by 2010 order of finish.
PHILADELPHIA -- It may not have been a 14-punchout, two-hit shutout, but the game Tim Lincecum threw in the Giants' NLCS Game 1 win was simply brilliance of another, understated kind. If you watched what Lincecum did after yielding a home run to Jayson Werth on a sixth-inning fastball that cut the San Francisco lead to 4-3 -- with the Phillies' Comeback Machine all revved up -- you understood why. The little guy, as if taking an off-road detour, simply invented another way to shut down the game.
CINCINNATI -- It's such a staple on classic rock stations, you're surely sick of it by now. The Phillies are, too.
Cliff Corcoran breaks down each of the days' games everyday during the postseason.
PHILADELPHIA -- It probably wasn't smart for Reds' pitchers to start plunking Phillies.
Cliff Corcoran will break down each day's playoff games every day during the postseason.
PHILADELPHIA -- There was a "shock factor'' in being no-hit, especially in the postseason, Reds outfielder Jay Bruce admitted after Phillies mega-star Roy Halladay made the National League's most productive lineup throughout the regular season look like a bunch of pikers in a 4-0 victory in Game 1 of the NLDS.
The Reds are making their first postseason appearance since 1995 on the strength of their first winning season since 2000. That sudden turn-around is one of the best stories of the season, but the Phillies look ready to ruin the ending. Having won the last two National League pennants, the Phillies are heavily favored to win their third straight NL flag, and given the top three in their rotation and the way their offense is clicking right now, they have to be considered the favorites to win the World Series as well. The Reds may very well be the second-best team in the NL field, but beating the Phillies would be a sizable upset.
Dusty Baker has agreed to return to the Reds on a two-year deal, according to sources. The deal won't be announced until after the season, as the Reds and Baker don't want it to distracting them in their postseason.
This year's National League pennant races are the kind that could one day inspire songs: Dour songs, about futility and lack of meaning, sung by moping teenagers.
Before we mark the imminent anniversary of The Three Most Important Weeks in Sports History, let's examine that claim. It's a headline-desperate, search-engine-needy epithet that may or may not be true. But I challenge you to think of three weeks that were more important to sports than the 21 days from Oct. 1, 1975 to Oct. 22, 1975. Thirty-five years later, the world still feels the effects of that Wednesday-to-Wednesday-to-Wednesday-to-Wednesday whirlwind.
On Monday night, the Phillies clinched the National League East title and the best record in the NL, and on Tuesday, the Reds wrapped up the NL Central while the Rockies were eliminated from postseason contention. That leaves three teams -- the Braves, Giants and Padres -- fighting for the final two spots in the National League. Those three clubs, as well as the Reds, enter Wednesday separated by just two games in terms of overall record. At this point in the season, records alone don't tell us which of those other four 87-to-89 win teams is really the strongest and thus the biggest threat to preventing the 94-win Phillies from capturing a third straight NL pennant.
Five cuts from Tuesday's action:
"Love the team this year, have really enjoyed the regular season, and am not looking forward to being swept (in) the NLDS.''
If the Cincinnati Reds ever get around to erecting a Pete Rose statue outside Great American Ball Park -- if Major League Baseball, forever principled, ever allows it -- the Hit King will not be bronzed in that familiar crouch at the plate. He'll be seated at a folding card table with a pen in his hand.
He came into the game and the ballpark grew. Lights got brighter, noises louder. What was dead, came alive. Aroldis Chapman powered up a drowsy, half-empty Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati Wednesday night. And then he started buckling knees.
It's a bellwether day in the baseball world, the first day of September, the day when the stretch drive begins, summer begins the turn into fall, and a bunch of guys you've never heard of start showing up in box scores. Here's what to watch over the final 33 days of the regular season:
First place: Braves Contenders: Phillies (3 GB)
CINCINNATI -- What did Cincinnati do to deserve this?
Making sense of the Cincinnati Reds as a contender can be tricky business, seeing that they appear not to have received the memo that this is the Year of the Pitcher. The Reds win games by bludgeoning teams in their bandbox of a ballpark and by beating up the four tomato cans in the worst division in baseball. Pitching? Their ERA is only middle-of-the-pack acceptable: 4.07, the worst of the eight playoff spot leaders today (Cincinnati leads the NL wild card).
Focus on LeBron. Check out the Tour de France. Start looking at your fantasy football cheat sheets. You can skip the rest of the MLB season, because here's what's going to happen:
The major-league season is a few games past its midpoint, and 18 of the 30 teams are within four games of a playoff berth -- eight in the American League, 10 in the National League -- meaning 60 percent of the clubs still have realistic hope of playing October baseball.
Coming off a sweep of the A's in Oakland, the Reds look more and more like serious challengers to the Cardinals in the NL Central. While it was their pitching that got the job done in Oakland -- three quality starts, capped by Johnny Cueto's seven shutout innings on Wednesday -- they're in the race, one game behind the Cardinals, thanks to their bats. The Reds are second in the NL in runs scored and second in OBP, and they lead the league in average and slugging. There's some help from Great American Ballpark there, but the performance is real: The Reds are second in the NL in True Average, a Baseball Prospectus statistic that measures overall offensive performance, including base-stealing, and adjusts for home park.
While some of the best moves in baseball over the past calendar year were obvious, like the Braves' decision to keep phenom Jason Heyward on their Opening Day roster, others -- such as the Cubs' acquisition of Carlos Silva -- were panned at the time but have proven to be good calls. It's just further proof that it often makes sense to wait before passing judgment on moves that might have seemed questionable at the time they were made.
One of the greatest underappreciated truths of wild card era baseball is that losers turn into playoff teams every year. In the 15 years since baseball split into six divisions and allowed eight playoff entries, every postseason but one included at least one team that had a losing record the previous season. Thirty teams -- fully one-quarter of all playoff teams from 1995-2009 -- made the immediate turnaround from a losing record to the postseason. Why should this year be any different? Who will it be?
Stephen Strasburg saves Washington tonight. You might have heard.
Ken Griffey Jr. retired last week, and I am still sort of sad.
On Nov. 21, 2000, his 31st birthday, Ken Griffey Jr. was enjoying his 12th offseason as a major league center fielder. In his first dozen seasons, he had smashed 438 home runs among his 1,883 hits, won 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, finished in the top five in the MVP voting five times (winning once), led the American League in home runs four times and made the All-Star team 11 years in a row, starting in center field eight times. Elected to the All-Century team over Barry Bonds (among others), Griffey had already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame at that point. The only question was just how deeply he would penetrate the inner circle of all-time greats.
Brilliant right-hander Stephen Strasburg looks so flawless in the minors, he seems more machine than phenom.
Scott Rolen should be the best person to ask. Turns out, he's the worst:
The Washington Nationals believe they are doing everything right, short of bubble wrap and clubhouse feng shui, to keep pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg healthy. The truth is they know nothing for certain. Raising a major league pitcher involves more guesswork and fear than any club would publicly admit. The fear is that when a pitcher breaks down -- and it typically is a matter of when, not if -- the club will be blamed for being "wrong" about how it used the pitcher.
"It is a melancholy thing, geriatrics for a 40-year-old.'' -- Roger Kahn, writing about Stan Musial
There really are not that many famous stolen bases in baseball history. In honor of former big leaguer Dave Roberts, who announced on Monday that he has been diagnosed with lymphoma, I posed the following question on Twitter: What are the 10 most famous stolen bases in baseball history? I got something like 500 responses, and about 498 of those suggested the same three stolen bases. I'm sure you can figure out those three without thinking too hard. They will be the top three on the list.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been historically bad for 17 seasons and are primed to add to their legacy this year. They're at the bottom of the National League Central once again and last week, the Milwaukee Brewers outscored them 36-1 in three games in Pittsburgh, then came back four days later and blasted them 17-3 in one game in Milwaukee.
There are two lessons to be learned from Major League Baseball's suspension of injured Reds starter Edinson Volquez for use of a performance-enhancing substance:
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez has failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs and will be suspended for 50 games, SI.com has learned.
The Cincinnati Reds are selling sushi at Great American Ball Park this year, and all we can know about that is, nothing says hardball in Cincinnati quite like a smoked salmon roll. Pete Rose is rolling over in his seat at the racetrack.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- We live in a world where there just aren't many surprises. We know who will win the Academy Awards before they win. We hear about the best college football and basketball players long before they reach college. We hear rumors about the remarkable capabilities of the iPad months before the thing comes out.
This spring, SI.com's baseball writers will be filing postcards from all 30 camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A steady rain fell as the manager and the GM stood side-by-side, arms crossed, watching the home bullpen. It was a Saturday at the Reds spring training home and in front of them a quartet of young Reds hurlers were unleashing fastballs through the cold morning air. Dusty Baker turned to Walt Jocketty. "You got to like our young pitching," the manager said.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A trade that saved some money made the Cincinnati Reds' next shortstop affordable.
Free agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera is close to a deal with the Cincinnati Reds, sources confirm.
Locked out of the U.S. by a war that ended two decades ago, best seen abroad at tournaments watched by few Americans who aren't paid to take in games, Cuban ballplayers are men about whom we know nothing in an age when we know more than we'd like to about nearly everyone else. This makes them mysterious and attractive. So the surprise isn't that Aroldis Chapman signed a six-year contract worth at least $30 million this week, but that he didn't sign for more.
Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, one of the most coveted free-agents on this year's market, is expected to sign a five-year, $30 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, sources confirmed to SI.com.
The World Series works best as a concept in Cincinnati and places like it. It's a TV show. When I was in grade school, my teachers would stop instructing long division long enough to let us watch the latest Apollo launch on the black-and-white Philco. We knew we'd probably never get to visit outer space, but it was cool to see the blast-offs. That's what the World Series is like in Cincinnati in the fall of 2009. Strictly vicarious.
The talk, of course, revolves around the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have now clinched their 17th consecutive losing season, a record of beautiful futility.* But there might be something else going on in baseball. Bad teams, it seems are staying bad.
This article appears in the August 30, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Several baseball executives are calling this the "softest deadline ever'' because they anticipate many more players than ever going unclaimed on waivers and thus remaining eligible to be dealt.
The week that was saw the game's longest active playing streak end, the Reds win in a way they hadn't in over three decades and evidence that a ticket to Fenway Park is the hardest to come by in all of professional sports.
The following is the continuing evolution of an experiment that we tried a few weeks ago -- and the latest installment of a new weekly column on SI.com. It's a combination column with Boston Red Sox senior advisor and baseball writer extraordinaire Bill James. For a few years now, Bill and I have exchanged e-mails about everything from sports to politics to religion to crime to the qualities of Marlon Brando as an actor (Bill thinks he's overrated). So we have talked about bringing those e-mails to the stage. This is not a pure e-mail exchange ... it is rewritten to come out as a column. Anyway, we hope so...
Out of those guys you named for your dream team, I wonder how many will be playing for the Yankees in three years? -- Joe, New York
SARASOTA, Florida -- If not for the carpal tunnel syndrome that makes it difficult for him to pinch his fingers closely together enough to hold a pick, Bronson Arroyo, the Reds pitcher heretofore known as much for his second career as a guitarist as for anything he's done on the mound, might be missing what has been going on across the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse this spring. If he could hold that pick, perhaps he'd be buried in his own locker, playing his guitar and stuck in a world all his own. Instead, he has been able to gaze across the clubhouse to the back left corner and see his fellow starters behaving the way a great pitching staff ought to behave: talking pitching, discussing strategy, and sharing secrets. Arroyo certainly likes what he has seen from his colleagues on the mound this spring, and he likes what he's seen off it just as much.
1. The Reds may be the closest thing the NL has in 2009 to the '08 Rays. So says Jonny Gomes, the no-longer mohawked utility player who is a non-roster invite to Reds camp after spending his entire career with Tampa Bay, including a front-row seat to the Rays' improbable World Series run of a year ago.
CLICK HERE FOR: Chicago | Cincinnati | Houston | Milwaukee | Pittsburgh | St. Louis
A federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses given to baseball prospects from Latin America is looking at Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden as far back as 1994, when he was GM of the Cincinnati Reds, according to a baseball executive familiar with the investigation.
PHILADELPHIA -- By almost all accounts, Jay Bruce is the best-liked, most-grounded rookie anyone's ever seen. But Bruce, 21, is also famous for a small bit of mischief perpetrated as a youngster. Legend has it that as an 8-year-old he called long-distance to Seattle's Kingdome in search of his childhood hero, Ken Griffey Jr.
The bidding for big-ticket free agents such as first baseman Mark Teixeira and the trade market for righthander Jake Peavy will dominate the early hot stove headlines, but teams willing to explore radical moves -- such as the Rays' swap of Delmon Young to the Twins for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza a year ago -- could earn a big payoff in 2009. What kind of creative deals might we see this off-season? Baseball Prospectus offers these five proposals:
Here's my theory: Most sports fans are formed by the most cataclysmic or euphoric sporting event of their childhood. I am the sports fan that I am today because four days before my 14th birthday, with the Cleveland Browns in field-goal range, Sam Rutigliano called a play called Red Right 88, and Brian Sipe threw an interception against the Oakland Raiders. Then Brian put his hand in his face, and he stumbled off the field, and Rutigliano said, "I love you Brian," and I was wrecked forever.
PHOENIX (AP) -- The Arizona Diamondbacks have acquired slugger Adam Dunn from the Cincinnati Reds for a minor-league pitcher and two players to be named later.
As the clock ticks toward Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline, SI.com's Jon Heyman weighs in with the latest trade talk from around the majors.
In the annals of Junior Achievement, this milestone looms large, even on his considerable, Cooperstown-bound résumé. It's not every night someone hits home run No. 600, even in these pharmaceutically enhanced times.
This week Diamond Digits takes a look at the best pitcher in the majors, Baker's dozen (plus four) bases, and the Jay Bruce experience.
The week that was saw a no hitter, a never-ending contest and one of the game's legendary relievers add to his already Hall of Fame quality dossier. Those and more in this post-Memorial Day edition of Diamond Digits.
1. Bruce buzz: The buzz builds every time the Reds lose. The movement picks up steam with each Corey Patterson groundout and Ken Griffey Jr. trade rumor. For those who have their ear to baseball's figurative street, the rally cry from Cincy fans is impossible to ignore: Let Bruce loose!
CINCINNATI -- Edinson Volquez wanted to quit. When the Texas Rangers staff pulled him aside that March 2007 day in spring training and told him that he -- the former No. 1 ranked prospect in the organization, possessor of a gilded changeup, a 98-mph fastball, and all of 14 major league starts -- would find himself not just in the minors, but three levels and 1,400 miles away from Arlington in Single A Bakersfield.
Somewhere, there are cranky old guys with "Ban the DH" bumper stickers on their station wagons who still think that Bud Selig is the devil himself and that interleague play is his demonic play toy. They live for the day when the wild card dies an excruciating death and interleague goes kicking and screaming with it.
The timing was said to be the surprise in the early firing of Wayne Krivsky as Reds GM on Wednesday. But really, it shouldn't have been such a shock. Cincinnati had just won two of three games to get to 9-12, and Reds owner Bob Castellini surely knew it would be harder to justify making the move if his club got to .500, even with his favored Walt Jocketty waiting for the job since he joined the team in January.
Well, folks, the '08 campaign is underway. And with the launch of a new season, I've decided to tweak my approach to weekly baseball analysis a bit. After two years of "Five Up, Five Down," I'm slimming down to a more compact, concentrated "Three Up, Three Down" frame.
It's been many years since the phrase "five-year plan" has been heard around baseball. Fans won't buy such talk any more because they so often see losing teams become playoff teams from one year to the next. It happened four times alone last season, with half the playoff field -- the Cubs, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Indians -- coming off losing records the previous year.
Just because you're good at something doesn't mean that something isn't really, really random.