Is it possible to have a gem of a game and still have lots of cracks? If so, that was the 7-24-15 game between the Rox and Reds. The Rox were reeling after two shall we say, poor performances, against the Rangers. Tomorrow they faced arguably one of the top 5 pitchers in the NL (unless he gets traded before game time of course), and so, this game meant something to them as it regards their second half fortunes (a winning 2nd half would give a lot of hope for 2016).
And so the Rox rolled out the great disappointment – Eddie Butler. Two years ago when he was throwing nasty changes at the Futures game to get a guy who may be the best player on the Red Soxs, he looked primed to become an integral part of the rotation. But then…he regressed. His K rate dropped significantly. His pitches lacked the same umph, and…he was very average. He was still on most scouts Top 100 Prospects because they knew it was in him. It just needed to be found.
Now, a lot has been made about the Rox breaking perfectly good young talented starters. As I wrote before, the prior regime featured a co-GM who was, well, undermining all that Marc Wiley, a talented pitching developer, was doing. So for two years pitchers were going up and down like yoyos in terms of learning and developing. And then, there is the Coors factor that the Rox build into all their talent now. Get a hard sinking fastball, don’t worry about Ks, get groundballs. Now, it isn’t a bad strategy for surviving at Coors. But the fact is, they only pitch here half the time. And by focusing on that new strategy a number of fans (me included) have noticed very poor development of pitchers when going from the stretch. The subject of the Rox pitching of course is a full 3-volume set called, “What Do We Do: Were Lost,” but last night one of those talented prospects stepped out to the mound.
Eddie Butler looked, for the first time since he has been in the Major Leagues like he knew he belonged, like he knew he could go out and dominate, like he could be a solid foundation of a rotation. The first three innings he breazed through a Red lineup, that despite their road record, is a very good offense with few holes (cough, Hamilton, cough) in it. But then he got a bit elevated in the 4th and started to pay for it. He gave up a lead-off double to Brandon Phillips, but got a key 1st out by getting Votto to fly to center. And then he gave up another double to Todd Frazier (this was where I think his command in the stretch hurt him). After a fly out of Jay Bruce (he got two of the three most dangerous hitters), he gave up a walk to Marlon Byrd (see again control). With two out and two on he then got hurt by a double that just alluded Blackmon in the outfield (just, maybe a better timed jump?). They got the ball in quickly to prevent De Jesus (if he is the son of the former Ivan D.J., then I had his dad’s baseball card…every year, because he wasn’t…you know, a star). The smartly walk the Reds catcher Barnhart to get to the night’s starting pitcher DeSlafani. He is a good hitting pitcher. This is the kind of guy who has killed the Rox the last few years by making them pay for the IW. Well not tonight. Butler threw three straight nasty pitches (not straight actually) and blew him away. Damage limited.
And that was it folks. Eddie Butler save for this 4th inning, he was able to handle a tough lineup. The 6th had to add to his confidence because after giving up a double to Jay Bruce (another guy who might be moved by the Reds but who is a darn good player) got through the inning. A groundout moved Bruce to 3rd and with the infield in he gave up a line drive to De Jesus that was simply snared by the tallest 2nd bagger in the modern era. I hated on DJ the first two years. Nice guy, at best a 25th man. And then I have suggested dealing him at his prime. But folks, great defense is like the importance of a great +/- in hockey. Even when his bat is dead, he can help this team on the scoreboard. And while his offense looks good thanks to fantastic numbers at Coors, I really don’t care. That play saved a run in a game that ended up being decided by such. Butler walked Barnhart again and then just destroyed the Red’s pitcher again with 3 nasty pitches. Inning over, outing over.
Butler’s line looks really good. 6 hits and 3 runs with 3 BB (two IBB) and 3Ks (2 of the Pitcher) in 88 pitches. I think he could have gone out there in the 7th but, Butler could go into the locker room and know this was a solid step forward. This Eddie Butler, still with things to learn, can be a front end pitcher for this team for a long time to come. We’ll see in his next outing.
Oh…and it has been universally decided he will never run the bases again.
Deslafani was dominate for4 innings, throwing a no-hit at the Rox. But the 5th was his bad inning. Dickerson singled (great to have the future batting champ back but…they really have to find a way to hide his defense…the opposite of DJ). He was erased on a grounder by Paulsen that should have been a double-play, but the SS dropped the ball on the exchange. This ended up being big because the fastest catcher in the West (or at least the one with the most triples), Todd Hundley lined one to the gap that Billy Hamilton was literally like .001 second away from getting (I like this kid, I want him to succeed, because that speed is awesome, but you can’t steal 1st as they say). Paulsen scored and the Rox close it to 3-1. Then Eddie Butler gets his first “hit” when on a slow bunt, with Hundley staying put, the pitcher threw to the catcher who would have thrown to 1st to get Butler but…Brandon Phillips didn’t cover 1st. This is what happens when good players play in disappointing seasons. The mental mistakes just appear because the intensity isn’t there. I think it’s a pretty universal human response (always those outside the bell curve). So now with men on 3rd and 1st Charlie Blackmon lined a beautiful shot right back up the middle (I mean right back). I love those kind of hits. Great contact, wait just a bit longer to get the pitch a little back on the plate and hammer time. Hundley scores and the Rox have a 2nd and 1st situation still with one out. And then the mighty DJ comes to bat and on an 0-1 count smashes a ball into the difficult right hand corner of the outfield fence. Butler, being cautious so he can tag up, had trouble getting his engine going. Blackmon did not. He probably heard Blackmon’s feet behind as he…fell as he went past third. Blackmon threw his brakes on but still planned on scoring following Butler who then face planted a second time and was then dead meat at the plate. Lost in this running mistake sure to be shown on highlight reels for generations, was a fantastic throw from Bruce. If that doesn’t happen Butler may still have scored. As it was a hit that should have scored 2 and had DJ at third because a simple single, one out, no runs, runner advanced to 2nd on the throw. The Rox go from tying the game 3-3 with 1 out and a man on 3rd (Tulo up who then changes his strategy at-bat to make sure he gets in DJ), to an inning that depending on Tulo getting a hit to score them. Tulo got jobbed on the firs strike (so low it nearly swept the plate), and it changed the ab, and Tulo eventually popped up. Great inning spoiled. Insert preferred cuss or comment word here.
But you know how in basketball they call a guy instant offense? The last few weeks, and really since June 1st when it seemed his knee finally was all there and his timing back, Carlos Gonzalez, CarGo, the former Little Pony, has been playing near All-Star levels, both with his bat and his glove and arm (he is a 2X GG). This is why trading him if you think you can contend in the next two years is so hard. He is not easily replaceable. He is…when healthy….one of the best players in the NL. Period. And his contract is actually cheap for his skills. They don’t have to trade him. And if they do, as his numbers rise, the cost is going to have to be a top 3 in your farm system pitching prospect and then another one in your top 10. Because if the Rox can get a little luckier with their pitching (steady stream of injuries in the minors, injuries in the bullpen – especially Zero), this team can actually be an 85-88 win team and be in the WC hunt the next two years. This is not me wearing the shades of purple again. There are a number of commentators who have said the same thing. They have a player who is plus in at least one area of his game at every position save 1B where they have managed to be about league average or a little below since losing Morneau. Just a little better pitching and health and…well, they become the Astros. And its the Rox trading for Kazmir instead of them. And as I have said before, the farm system is considered top 7 or top 5 in every ranking. They have a lot of talent with potential 2 win WAR or potential All-Star placed on their prospect status. So…the future is bright if the can stay healthy down there. And if you think it is bright in 16 and 17, you hold CarGo. Because the fact is one more pitching prospect who may or may not pan out (cough, Pomeranz, cough) has to be pretty good to replace what the Rox get from #5.
And I say this because the swing he has is the most beautiful currently in baseball, at least from the left side (the elegant side). And when barreled up the first pitch in the 6th the game went to 3-3 and a fan in the second deck had a souvenir. I hate styling at the plate but his bat drop and simple watching of his shot is okay by me. Especially when he hits it that hard. Remember the ball in Milwaukee in the 3rd game? Yeah, that is what he can be…when healthy and his timing finally locked in. The fact is that for all the 9th inning heroics by Blackmon, CarGo won the game, because he hit another one long and deep to the bullpen in the 8th. Two runs on two swings and two great bat drops.
In other news Hawkins gave up his first run in 13 innings, not a bad outing, just one of those outings. I think we may see him back in the 9th inning role soon. After CarGo’s shot Arenado line one just off the scoreboard that if the fence were lower might have been gone. He hustled all the way to 3rd. And then the Rox did something right on the bases. Paulsen came to bat. His job, get the run home. Down 2 strikes in the count he hit a deep fly to right. Arenado timed it up and busted his backside down the line which was great because Bruce threw an absolute dead on throw that if Arenado was any later tagging is out. And yes, I thought it looked so much like the famous Holliday tag play as well.
Axford blew another save though to his credit, Joey Votto is on fire, he swung at and his a good pitch, and the ball just…carried. I thought Barnes might be able to catch it but…it went over. Tie game, another blown save for Axford.
And so the 9th. You know. After a quick out by Daniel Descalso (who I really do not understand is here when Cristhan Adaames is doing everything you want for the 25th man), featured Blackmon putting down a 1 strike bunt after failed for a homer on the first pitch and seeing Frazier move back just enough. A good, not great bunt, hard drive, safe at first. This is why you don’t trade him. He is in his prime and improving, he is cheap, he plays everyday, his defense is…okay, and he does this stuff. The Rox don’t steal – be it a strategy or just they don’t). But on a missed hit-and-run by DJ stole second (an overturned call thankfully). Then on a groundout by DJ set him at third. Tulo at bat. And in that situation the pitcher, Mattheaus, was focused on getting Tulo, so he tries to throw a nasty pitch…that went about 2 feet short. Blackmon reads it perfectly, charges home and just beats the tag.
A run essentially manufactured by one person. Not CarGo, but a really great inning.
So here is my question…is it still a walk-off if, you know, no one hits it?