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One Reason Not to Panic

By Reed Domer-Shank
Founder of the J O U R N E Y M E N blog

Not many people love to watch baseball.

The casual sports fan thinks the game is too slow. And, while even most baseball fans love to go to games, the majority find it hard to focus before the playoffs arrive.

I, however, am one of a relatively small contingent that is certifiably die-hard. I try to watch every inning of every game. If I can’t, I hit the DVR later that night. And if I know I won’t even be able to swing that, I’ll engross myself in the live online Gamecast on my phone, drawing the ire of dinner guests/movie patrons/wives everywhere.

It’s a curse, for the most part, and a past-time that anyone but a baseball purist would rank right next to “waiting for grass to grow”.

But for me, it’s a no-brainer.

I love the pace of the game. The pitcher plodding around on the mound anxiously. The hitter stepping out of the batter’s box to adjust every fold of his uniform. The commentators going on for minutes at a time on topics that have nothing to do with the game they’re watching. To me, it’s all part of the show. It’s what sets the game apart.

Lately, however, my love affair with hardball has felt best.

Ten games into this young season, the Cincinnati Reds have started down a dangerously depressing path. Despite boasting a lineup that finished second last season in runs scored, Cincy’s offense has looked downright emaciated.

Before Sunday’s mini offensive explosion (four runs in one inning, three in another), the Reds were scoring less than Paraguay’s National futbol club (10 runs over six games). The drought’s been so bad, I actually spent forty-five minutes on the treadmill the other day thinking of things I’d RATHER do than watch the Reds continue to blow. Sadly, that list included “rub sand into my blisters”, “witness a Charles Barkley toilet session”, and “watch fat people take off bathing suits.”

For one of the only times EVER, watching baseball had ceased to be fun.

Thankfully though, if we can allow ourselves to push through all the strikeouts and injuries and bullpen implosions, I’m here to tell you that it won’t always be this way. There is, in fact, hope.

If it seems like the Reds are having a tough time in April, if it feels like wins are hard to come by, well, that’s because April is supposed to be tough for this team. See, between creating a Dusty Baker voodoo puppet and cursing the Orioles for bequeathing us Fat-Alfredo-Simon, I spent some time analyzing the Reds’ schedule. For many fans, a bad April equals a bad outlook for a season. Well, my hope was that that didn’t necessarily have to be true. And frankly, I wanted something to latch onto.

My method was simple. Take the consensus top three teams in the National League Central (the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers), and compare just how easy/difficult their schedules appear, by month. To do this, I had to decide what exactly made a month “easy” or “difficult”. So I took every team in baseball, looked at preseason prognostications/power rankings, took stock (to a degree) of their performance through a week and a half, and labeled each as either quality or subpar.

My quality teams included the Angels, Rangers, Tigers, Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays in the American League, and the Giants, Dodgers, D-Backs, Reds, Cards, Brewers, Nationals, Phillies, Marlins and Braves in the National League.

17 legitimate clubs in all, which is just over half of baseball. I think that’s pretty fair.

Each time a quality team showed up on the schedule, I gave the Reds (or Cards/Brewers, respectively) a -1. Each time a subpar team showed up, a +1. And finally, I simply added up each month. A simplistic analysis, to be sure, but compelling nonetheless.

Here are the results...


APRIL -10 -4 -1
MAY -1 -7 -4
JUNE +9 +15 +10
JULY -2 -1 -11
AUGUST +2 -7 +10
SEPTEMBER +2 +2 -6
OCTOBER -3 -3 +3
TOTAL -3 -5 +1

A few things stand out here:

First, Milwaukee has an automatic advantage in this three-team race (in addition, obviously, to their rampant and unchecked steroid abuse). With a favorable schedule(+1 overall), the Brewers have an opportunity to win their second division title in as many years. It remains to be seen if, without Prince Fielder, they’ll have the firepower to capitalize.

Second, while Dusty Baker’s squad should make some serious hay in June(+9), the other NL Central contenders will be busy doing the same (+15 and +10, respectively). The caveat here is that six of the Reds’ “plus” games in June are against in-state rival Cleveland, a team that has historically given them trouble. Still, in order to keep pace, June has to be huge for Cincinnati.

Third, and most relevant to Reds fans today is that April(-10) is a straight up GAUNTLET for Cincinnati. Five series’ out of seven are against quality opponents, including two against the World Champion Cardinals and one against the devastating starting rotation in San Francisco. If the Reds can somehow weather that storm, the rest of the journey will seem docile in comparison.

For me, these numbers are just one piece of a complicated puzzle. That is, no amount of schedule-padding will help the Reds if they can’t get healthy, or if they can’t hit better than .230. Your opponents, no matter how Houston-like they may be, will only afford you so many opportunities to succeed. At some point, teams need to separate themselves on their own merit. The Reds have yet to do that this season, but the road surely looks smoother ahead.

For that reason, I guess I’ll keep watching.

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