Weirdness continues in the world of Phil.
But the offices of Phil Watch on the North Side experienced a collective server meltdown after the last "Soriano is back and it's because of Rudy Jaramillo" column.
We're only partially back online and are now without two experienced employees after they walked out in a hissy fit after Phil wanted to give Ted Lilly three years and $39 million after his one-hitter against the Sox and Konerko three years and $36 million two weeks before.
They just couldn't take it anymore. Plus, I don't pay them.
So we're going back to an old favorite of Phil's. The Reds are in town starting Thursday for a four-game set and the Reds are led by a man that Phil loves to give hummers on command.
It's our first 'Sloppy BJ for Dusty' column of the year.
Let's get started (It's a long one):
CINCINNATI -- One did not have his contract renewed by the Cubs at the end of the 2006 season. The other was fired by the Cardinals after the '07 season.
Neifi Perez and Dennis Green?
Green was fired after the '06 season, Phil. Pfft!
Together, Dusty Baker and Walt Jocketty...
...have positioned the unlikely Cincinnati Reds to succeed at the expense of their former teams. They come to Chicago for a four-game series nine games over .500 and in first place in the National League Central.
And the Reds have played the second-easiest schedule in all of baseball, ahead of only the Cubs (doin' a bang-up job there, Cubbies).
Let's see how the Reds got to nine games over .500, shall we?
Well...to start...they've played 45 games at home and 33 on the road.
Their interleague schedule consisted of 15 games against the likes of the Mariners, A's, Indians and Royals.
They've faced the Pirates ten times already and Houston six times.
Add that up. That's 31 games comprising of 40% of their schedule against six of the seven worst teams in baseball by their record. Jocketty is petitioning the MLB for a three-game series against the Orioles for the All-Star break. It's only fair.
They damn well better be nine games over with that schedule if they're even a decent team, which the Reds are but aren't anything shiny and pretty by any measure...yet.
Baker was vilified by the media and fans in his last season with the Cubs.
And I never knew why. His name is Dusty, not Messiah.
BTW, read Joe Sheehan's awesome column on Dusty from last week over at SI.com.
Jocketty, the architect of the World Series winner in 2006, was more a victim of front office politics in St. Louis. But better to have feelings hurt than reputations.
Here's where Phil couples Jocketty and Baker together in order to bolster a stupid argument. Kinda like when "artists" go to a show of a real artist and talk about the similarity in their styles to the real stuff on the wall. Keep people in the same sentence and maybe something from the real guy will rub off on the crappy one.
Both Baker and Jocketty have as much class as stature. They aren't the stone-throwing kind. But you know they're enjoying success with a team that has had nine consecutive losing seasons, and would like it even more if they're ahead of their former teams at season's end.
"You always want to win,'' Jocketty said Wednesday. "But there's maybe a little extra incentive.''
With a payroll of $76 million, the Reds are a blend of veterans such as Scott Rolen, Orlando Cabrera and Francisco Cordero and talented young players, including Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto. They have had five winning streaks of four-plus games in the first three months of the season, establishing themselves as legitimate contenders.
THAT establishes them as legitimate?
Let's look at those five winning streaks of four-plus games in relation to the competition:
#1 - April 25-30: Savaged the last game of a three-game set against the Padres, swept an abysmal Houston team at the time (now simply bad) and took one from the Cardinals, losing the next two.
#2 - May 8-12: Took the last two against the Cubs at home and then swept the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
#3 - May 15-18: Took the last two against the Cards and swept a two-game set in Milwaukee.
#4 - May 26-29: Took three of four at home against the Pirates and swept a two-game set against Houston
#5 - June 21-26: Swept a three-game series at Oakland and took two in Cleveland.
Do you feel a decided lack of goodness involved in those streaks as much as I do? Me thinks so.
Hey, good teams kick the crap out of bad teams. White Sox fans recently saw a ton of that. And the Reds are pretty decent. But...c'mon. How 'about they do it against some legitimate competition before we declare them legitimate contenders. Only 32 of their 78 games this year have been against teams with winning records (14-18).
So...45 at home, 33 on the road, cake-walk for interleague, only 41% of their schedule against teams over .500. The scales should be a-tippin' very soon. We'll know more starting today when the Reds start their first extended road trip with four against the Cubs and three each against the Mets and Phillies.
And it's not like they're recently hot. The Reds are 10-10 in their last 20 and 15-15 in their last 30. Which is what they are - a .500 team, 5-7 games over with a little luck.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips recently said it's time for the Reds to raise the stakes. He says the mission is no longer to compete, it's to win. That says a lot about where the franchise has come since finishing in the bottom half of the Central in six of the last seven years.
Well shit! If Phillips says it! The Reds will be in the World Series this year because Brandon Phillips says their mission is to win now. Done. Over. Why play the games?
Less than halfway through the season and the Reds have ritualistically washed themselves of their recent past according to Phil.
Baker has gone to the playoffs four times as a manager, getting to the 2002 World Series with the Giants behind Barry Bonds and just missing with the 2003 Cubs.
And he has a 503-531 record with one playoff appearance since weaving his managerial magic in '02. The job he did writing Barry Bonds into the lineup that year was the stuff of Gandalf, Harry Potter and the Smoking Baby all rolled into one.
He's still the 26th man,...
Excuse me while I go ralph (our next dog's name, BTW...maybe Floyd...yeah...Floyd)
...wearing his trademark sweatbands and looking like he's ready to pick up a bat and pinch hit, but he accepts his limitations.
"I don't care who you are,'' Baker said. "You can be Pat Riley or Phil Jackson. You can't win without quality players, quality people."
So...using that logic, managers don't matter. No "26th man" exists. Good players = good teams. "We landed on the moon!"
Baker worked for ESPN in 2007 before signing a three-year contract to manage the Reds. He didn't have the horses to compete until halfway through '09, when Jocketty made an unlikely trade.
With the Reds 9 1/2 games behind the Cardinals and in their customary fifth place — ahead of the Pirates and behind everyone else — Jocketty shocked baseball by trading at the deadline for third baseman Scott Rolen, who had helped the Cardinals go to the World Series in 2004 and '06.
And he was integral, going 0-12 in the 2004 NLDS and 0-15 in the World Series (great NLCS, though). And he was positively bat-tastic in the two series leading up to the 2006 World Series, hitting .182 and OPSing around .525 in his 32 at-bats (great World Series, though).
In the end, he had a .215/.309/.393 = .701 OPS line for the Cards in '04 and '06 post-seasons combined in 107 at-bats. Meh. Helped? Okay, sure. Some big hits here and there, I guess. Not exactly Tito Landrum-esque.
(...a bunch of stuff about Rolen being a good guy, gamer, crap like that)
...Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes says Rolen provides a textbook example of how to play – avoiding mental mistakes, hustling and never arguing with umpires. He's hitting .300, but Baker says Rolen's commitment to fielding has been just as important.
And he's having his worst fielding year in his career, currently sitting just below league-average according to UZR/150. He's been pretty great this year offensively, but we'll see. Rolen hasn't been offensively relevant since 2006, he's 35 years old and essentially has had a great two months. So did Troy Glaus.
Along with shortstop Cabrera, the seven-time Gold Glove winner has transformed the Reds into one of the best fielding teams in the majors. They've allowed only 11 unearned runs, the lowest total in the majors.
Oh, Moses smell the roses. Cabrera's been bad this year in the field. Good for the Reds. They haven't booted many meaningful balls, but how about calculating all the balls that position players didn't get to because of their sloth, bad angles and general badness at fielding. As a team, the Reds are a below average fielding group relative to the rest of the league.
"Our fielding has made our pitchers better," Jocketty said.
With rookie Mike Leake going straight from Arizona State to the big leagues, the Reds have had solid starting pitching. They lack a true ace, but that could change at the All-Star break.
Leake in his last four starts: 6.85 ERA with a .954 OPS against. He made it around the league and they now have a book on him. Arroyo is Arroyo. Harang and Bailey have ERAs over five. Cueto's been good against shitty teams, Leake has been shaky recently and everybody else has been meh to bad. So yes, solid. Absolutely. Solid as a rock.
Edinson Volquez, a 17-game winner in 2008, is finishing both his rehabilitation from elbow ligament surgery in August 2009 and a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
He's your savior? He hasn't pitched in over a year!
Rookie Travis Wood makes his big-league debut against the Cubs on Thursday and $30 million Cuban free agent Aroldis Chapman may soon be on his way from Triple-A Louisville as a reliever (he threw nine pitches clocked at 100 mph Tuesday).
Wood is just a guy and Chapman was booted from starting because those 100 mph pitches never seem to find the same zip code as the strike zone. He's walked 41 in 70 innings with 11 wild pitches so far this year.
But Baker calls Volquez the "big bullet'' he has yet to play. He compares Volquez's recovery to one by the Braves' Tim Hudson, who is pitching better post-surgery than he did before it.
It's 19 innings against live competition. He's back!
Jocketty is open to dealing for an impact arm but will probably only add bench parts in July, due to both limited resources – first-round draft pick Yasmani Grandal, a switch-hitting catcher from the University of Miami will be an expensive signing – and the lack of urgency.
What are you talking about? They just signed Gary Matthews, Jr.! Relief is ON. THE. WAY!
Is there enough talent here to hold off Albert Pujols and the Cardinals?
Don't underestimate the motivation of the Reds' players, or the men who put the team together.
What did Dusty do to compile this team? And Jocketty didn't do much either. Tons more than Dusty but badness for nine consecutive years led to a shitload of very high draft picks which became major league baseball players, like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, two guys NOT MENTIONED in this entire piece.
BTW, Dusty has led off Orlando Cabrera 40 times this year. Orlando Cabrera has a .285 OBP.
He's no Neifi Perez but who is?