The Cincinnati Reds' Collapse: What In The Hell Happened?

By Dr. Jeff A. Glenn / @jagadelic
Is it possible to have too much early success? Can it be that jumping out to too big a lead can actually be a detriment? I've heard of long distance runners who stated that they had such a big lead it was hard to push themselves with no one challenging them and they ended up not breaking a record or even getting passed at the finish line. Intensity is a funny thing; without someone pushing you, you can lose it quite easily.

Eight pitches into the Cincinnati Reds' opening playoff game in San Francisco, 19-game winner and ace Johnny Cueto was lost due to a strained oblique muscle in his back. What should have been a disaster turned into a triumph. They rallied behind LeCure and Latos and pulled out a surprising 5-2 victory. Then they won a laugher of a Game Two by the score of 9-0. Suddenly, they're up 2-0 and heading back to Cincinnati for three games. It was almost too easy.

Often, in these situations, the team that is down 0-2 and flying across the country will just mail it in and concede that they're all done. The Reds should have known that the Giants weren't going to do that. They won the World Series two years ago and know a little bit about fighting through adversity.

I have to put the Game Three loss squarely on the shoulders of the players. I got a sick feeling in my stomach right away when I saw Brandon Phillips make a Little League base running blunder in the first that turned a potential big inning into just one run. That mistake loomed large as runs proved hard to come by for either team. The Reds left men on base and played with a detachment that was as cool as the champagne chilling in the locker room. The Giants took full advantage and ended up winning in the 10th inning on a Scott Rolen error. No problem, we'll get them in Game Four, right?

Not so fast. Cueto's hurt, remember? Suddenly, we have no one to pitch Game Four. The Reds had to deactivate Cueto and put in fifth starter Mike Leake, who was not even selected to be on the playoff roster.

I have to put the Game Four loss squarely on the shoulders of Dusty Baker. I like Dusty and hope he comes back. But he flat got out-managed. The Giants led 3-2 in the third inning, and it was clear that neither starting pitcher was sharp. Bochy, managing as if his children were kidnapped and only a win would bring them back, lifted Barry Zito and inserted Tim Lincecum, who doused the fire. Dusty, on the other hand, managed as if it was a Thursday afternoon in June and he didn't want to burn his bullpen because a ten-day road trip was coming up. He left Leake in there until the fifth when he got touched up for two more runs. The Giants turned that 5-2 lead into an 8-3 victory.

Another problem I've noticed with this team is the lack of a vocal leader. Joey Votto has repeatedly been questioned about taking more of a team captain role, but says it's really not his style. He's the quiet type who works hard, goes about his business and leads by example. Okay. I can't argue with that. But Dusty has the same demeanor. I believe that every championship team has that alpha dog who gets in people's faces and reminds them that when you have a team by the throat - you squeeze as hard as you can.

Now we're at Game Five. The tables have turned. The Giants have all the mo. Reds fans put up a good front, but the underlying worry that their boys hit the iceberg in Game Three and Great American Ballpark was about to sink into the Ohio River was palpable. Sure enough, Buster Posey hit a grand slam that puts the Giants up 6-0. Give the Reds credit for fighting back, but they came up two runs short. Pitcher Matt Latos was clearly upset over a couple of ball-strike calls and was not in a good frame of mind when facing Posey. Did Votto go over to buy some time and calm him down? Did Dusty remove him for Arroyo in a move that would have mirrored Bochy's Lincecum strategy? No. There was just no sense of urgency. The lack of panic that served them so well in the regular season proved to be their downfall in these playoffs.

It's a tried and true cliche. You can never let up on the accelerator. Don't ever play a playoff game as if you need one win out of three. You won't get it.

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