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Father and Son Enjoy Hollywood JCC Softball Season

What is this, Hollywood?

How did any of this JCC Softball League season even happen?

Let’s rewind to about 18 months ago, when I determined I would move back to Cincinnati from Bellingham, Washington, where I lived from age 24-33. On the phone one day with my dad, Johnny Berg, I said, “If I come back there, we’re playing one season together in that JCC League.” He said, “Ah, we’ll see.”

Back around sign-up time, we still weren’t sure we’d play. A few days before the deadline, we talked on the phone about the league, and I thought, “This is our only chance. We have to do this.” So I told him I’d play. Johnny, age 63, reluctantly agreed to come along for the ride.

And what a ride it was.

When the “New players workout” arrived, JB was still laying by the pool and tearing up golf courses in Scottsdale. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up–I didn’t even know what position I’d play.

Then, the draft. Or as it will go down in history once I sit down and interview Adam Cronstein about it, The Draft. I get a phone call from Adam. I had no idea who he was. He told me I’d be on his team. I called my dad to ask about Cronstein, and he said, “Adam’s a really good ballplayer but his teams haven’t done much.” (“His teams were like the Cubs,” Ben Rodriguez would later state.)

The season gets off to a rocky start

We show up for Opening Day to face Jeff Weisbrot’s team. In the top of the first inning, their big third baseman, Evan Cohen, belts a 3-run home run to left center. Five brutal innings later, Team Cronstein walks off the field a 22-10 loser.

I call my dad to give him the news. You can imagine his response.

Game Two: Waxed 11-1 at the hands of Jason Faust. If it weren’t for leadoff hitter Mike Askin’s deep HR to left in the final inning, it’s a shutout. (Mike Gray pitched that game for us. He would get his payback later in the year.)

I call my dad to give him the news. His response: “I don’t wanna play for this f*ckin’ team.”

Discovering some power

Meanwhile, in my world, I switched to my old slow pitch softball stance for that second game, to no avail (0 for 2 with a strikeout). “The Stance” is anything but traditional: I stand with the toes of both feet pointed at the pitcher and wave the bat like Gary Sheffield before striding forward. After the game, Gary Askin told me, “Hey Justin: Just hit the ball, will ya?”

The following Saturday night, on the eve of Game 3, I stood out on our deck, late at night, in a “hazed” state. I was at a crossroads: Stick with “The Stance” or go traditional and just try to hit line drives up the middle.

I started swinging a whiffle bat with “The Stance,” but with a more relaxed (naturally, at that juncture) stride and stroke. It felt good. It felt comfortable. It felt right.

I’m rolling with it, I said.

The next morning we took the field with a host of subs to battle Roger Rosenthal’s squad. In the bottom of the first, I came to the plate. After Steve Epstein tossed three balls and a get-me-over strike, he made a fatal mistake: He threw me a pitch directly in my “cream zone,” middle-away and just above the knees. So, as I had the night before, I sent a calm cut at the softball. I connected nicely, but wasn’t sure what that meant, not having played in this league before. The ball sailed over the right centerfielder’s head; I rounded the bases for a 3-run home run.

Two at-bats later, deja vu. “The Stance” is here to stay.

Team Cronstein won that game, aided by 5 big RBI by veteran catcher Gary Askin, who caught every inning of that game and EVERY INNING OF EVERY GAME the entire season. For any human being, that’s impressive. At his age, that’s incredible. Gary was our field general, he rarely threw the ball away, and we all know he got way under the opposing players’ skin. He was a huge part of the team’s success.

It wasn’t until Game 6 that I finally stepped onto the field alongside my dad. I had heard all about his career as a sure-handed infielder and a very difficult out at the plate, but I had yet to see him play. He had never seen “The Stance.” We won the game that day. It was a very special experience for both of us.

Around that point in the season, I looked around at the league and realized, “You know what? I think we have the best team.” With Team Cronstein, I saw a sharp pitcher, a sound defense and a batting order with no holes.

The Team went on to finish 2nd in the first half, a remarkable feat considering those first two run-rule losses.

Another “Almost” Trophy

After splitting the first four games of  the second half, The Team caught fire, running the table in the final four games of the regular season. Unfortunately, despite finishing with the best overall record in the league, Team Cronstein finished second in both halves, meaning the players missed out on a trophy…

“We’ll just have to win the whole damn thing to get our trophy,” Adam said after the final regular season game.

The Tournament (Single Elimination)

Sparked by 11-hole hitter Mark Bloom’s moonshot triple to left in the bottom of the 5th, Team Cronstein staged a dramatic come from behind win against Team Rosenthal in Round One, avoiding the dreaded 8 vs 1 upset. The victory was bittersweet, as first round draft pick Jeff Finkelstein blew out his hamstring midway through that ballgame, relegating his status to unknown for the rest of the tournament.

After surviving that scare, The Team played loose and free in Round 2, dispatching Team Weisser, 9-2, setting up the matchup everybody wanted to see: Cronstein versus Guttman. 1-seed versus 2-seed. A rubber match for all the marbles.

The Championship Game

On a windy, overcast Wednesday evening at Triple Creek, the teams took the field to battle for the 70th JCC Softball League championship trophy. Opposing captain Brandon Guttman was not able to make it to the game, so he selected the powerful Matt Steinberg as his sub.

Team Guttman scratched across two horseshit runs in the top of the first inning, both scoring on wild pitches, one reaching base on a jam-shot chopper. The Team started slow at the plate as I ended our half of the frame with a weak popout to right center.

In the top of the 3rd, Ken “Hack Wilson” Groh made a mistake to Steinberg, leaving the ball over the plate and elevated. Steinberg lifted a high drive to left center, and it carried over the fence for a 2-run homer.

The Team now found itself in a 4-0 hole against a pitcher (Mike Gray) who hadn’t allowed a run since the first round of the tournament.

Cue Gene Hackman’s character Coach Norman Dale in the movie Hoosiers: “Maybe they were right about us! Maybe we don’t belong up here!”

But The Team is The Team. A Team with a batting order completely filled with threats from leadoff to the final spot. A Team that played extremely well defensively throughout the season. A Resilient Team.

In the bottom of the 4th, Captain of the Year Adam Cronstein led off with a laser up the middle, then advanced to second on an outfielder muff. “Hack” Groh followed up with an identical laser up the middle to get The Team on the board as Cronstein sped home.

That brought me to the plate. Before the at-bat, I asked Jeff Weisbrot for some advice. I had been popping the ball up of late. I just wanted to hit a line drive. I contemplated scrapping “The Stance” for the traditional approach. When I walked up to the plate, something told me to stick with “The Stance,” but to revert back to the “calm stride and stroke” program.

Gray started me off with a big juicy cleavage ball, belt-high and on the outer portion of the plate, so I took a Zen-like poke at it and drove a high fly ball to dead center field. As I rounded first, I saw the outfielders running out of real estate… and then the ball dropped on the other side of the fence.

The Team pulls to within 4-3. We’ve got ourselves a ballgame. Three straight drill-jobs off of Mike Gray.

But Gray would settle down. As his team was tacking on two more 2-spots, one coming on Steinberg’s second tater of the game, he allowed a single run over the next couple of innings. When The Team came to bat in the last of the seventh, trailing 8-4, things looked bleak for one side and like aces for the other.

Who’s Writing This Screenplay?

Wouldn’t ya know it…The Team would send the “bottom of the order” to the plate in that final frame. Or so Team Guttman thought. You see, there’s no “bottom of the order” on The Team. There’s just The Order. You get through the first four hitters, then you’re dealing with the three best veterans in the League…you get through them, you’re dealing with the RBI Rabbi and his Four Horsemen.

Yitzi Creeger, “The RBI Rabbi,” put a real nice swing on one to lead off the inning but unfortunately hit the ball directly to Steinberg in left center for the first out. Ben Rodriguez (yes, he is a Jew) then sent a ground ball to second baseman Matt Hiudt…oh no, will it be two outs and nobody on? Of course not. This is Hollywood. Hiudt yipped the throw over the first baseman’s head.

Was that the break The Team needed?

Well, after Brent Canseco (Carroll) moistened all the panties in the stands with an absolutely stroked double to deep, deep left center and Mark Bloom followed with a lashed base knock to left, the momentum laid solely with The Team and the tightness emanated in Gray and the rest of Team Guttman.

Mike Askin “The Quiet Assassin” stepped to the plate as the lineup turned over. He’d had a rough night at the dish up to that point. But this is The Team. Askin promptly laid into a high fastball and drove a rocket into left field for a double, setting the stage for Captain of the Century Cronstein, who now miraculously represented the Tournament-winning run.

High drama on Field 2 at Triple Creek Park.

Cronstein wasted no time Stan Musial’ing a frozen rope to left center to tie the game. The captain raced around to 3rd on the play, placing the winning run 90 feet away.

After Team Guttman elected to intentionally walk “Hack” Groh and me to load the bases, the stage was set for who else, Jeff “Marty Finkhowser” Finkelstein. After an internal debate, Fink decided to bat left-handed.

At this point, Team Guttman is shell shocked. An 8-4 lead had evaporated, and now the bases were loaded with one man out.

Fink wastes no time and sends a high fly ball down the right field line. What should the right fielder do? Let it drop? But what if it lands in fair territory? Gray yelled for his defender to let it drop, seeing the ball tail into foul territory. But the fielder made the catch. Cronstein tagged up from 3rd and zipped home to clinch the title.

In that video, you can see my grandma, Ruth Berg, delighted and in disbelief at the same time. She was there representing her late husband, the great Bob Berg, who used to come to all the games before he passed away unexpectedly two years ago. Grandpa Bobby knew the game inside and out, and he would yell out things like “Move in! This guy can’t hit” and “All he does is bunt!” He was so well respected that after he passed, one of the umpires joined my dad’s team for a ceremonial pre-game shot of Maker’s Mark whiskey. That umpire, a fella named Lee, was (naturally) behind the plate for the championship game.

Did Bob Berg have a hand in his son and grandson’s triumph? Well, the wind was blowing out that night. And The Team somehow managed to rally from four runs down in the final inning to clinch the title.

All in all, it was a special rookie season for me in the JCC Softball League alongside my father. Even with my insane imagination, I don’t believe I could’ve written a better screenplay than the one my dad, myself and all of Team Cronstein just lived.

Top row, left to right: Jeff Finkelstein, Gary Askin, Mike Askin, Danny Cronstein's hair, Adam Cronstein, Yitzi Creeger, Brent Carroll, Mark Bloom. Bottom row, left to right: Justin "Jux" Berg, Johnny Berg, Ken Groh, Ben Rodriguez. Not pictured: Scott "Shorty" Adams

Top row, left to right: Jeff Finkelstein, Gary Askin, Mike Askin, Danny Cronstein’s hair, Adam Cronstein, Yitzi Creeger, Brent Carroll, Mark Bloom. Bottom row, left to right: Justin “Jux” Berg, Johnny Berg, Ken Groh, Ben Rodriguez. Not pictured: Scott “Shorty” Adams

(Editor’s note: The player not pictured in the team photo is a good fella named Scott Adams. His nickname is “Shorty,” for reasons unknown to most. He batted last in the order, but he contributed, just like the rest of the fellas. He laid down numerous important sac bunts and had an extremely key sacrifice fly in Round One of the tournament right after the aforementioned Bloom triple. In the field, well, I’ll leave that to his sarcastic/hilarious son Jay, who had two of the great all-time quotes:

1) After Shorty fielded a ground ball at second, had plenty of time, but errantly threw the softball to first (way up the first base line, Rodriguez had nary a chance of coming near it, let alone catching it)—Shorty comes off the field at the end of the inning to the tune of, “Jeez man, what was that throw?” from Jay.

2) After that same ballgame, as Shorty and Jay were leaving the dugout, I said, “Way to hit the ball today, Shorty” and he said “Thanks” and then Jay turned and said, “And that golden glove.”

Well-placed, Jay, well-placed.)

(Editor’s note #2: Brent “Canseco” Carroll never ever played baseball before! In fact, in his entire life, he had only played two games of softball before this season! And he crushed the ball and was really solid in the field at multiple positions! How is that possible? Because this is Hollywood, that’s how.)

(Editor’s note #3: Before the championship game, my dad came over to me and asked, “Is it good luck or bad luck if a bird poops on you?” He pointed to a stain on his right shoulder. “It’s definitely good luck,” I replied.)

 

2014 Bengals Preview: Here We F**kin’ Go Again

giovanni bernard bengals

Are you sure you want to strap in for another Cincinnati Bengals season? You do? Seriously? Wow. Your dedication is enviable. Not by me, of course, but by some.

If you know me well, you know that I gave up on my Bengal fandom about six years ago (right around the end of the Chad Johnson/Ochocinco ridiculousness and the Carson Palmer pussness). After paying a steep price many, many excruciating Sundays with this team, I had reached my breaking point. For my sanity, there was no other recourse than to jump off the train.

Now, if you don’t know me personally, or haven’t read me much, you can tie your horse to a couple of things with regard to this season preview:

1) I’m completely objective. Since I’m no longer a live-and-die-and-die-and-die-some-more Bengals fan, you can rest assured that I am no homer. I call it as I see it.

2) I do not judge you for continuing to show up Sunday after Sunday with your alcohol and your face paint and your Jason Buck #99 jersey to watch the Cincinnati Bengals. Just because I’d rather watch six straight episodes of the TV show “Roseanne” translated into Japanese than sit through an entire Bengals football game doesn’t mean I’m gonna perch atop my high horse and rag on your parade.  

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get to this 2014-15 professional football season.

The Missing Ingredient

We’ll start with something simple that will ramp up your confidence. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill out of LSU.

Despite reaching the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, the Bengal offense had a major issue: Short yardage situations were more difficult to convert than a Muslim to Judaism.

You know exactly what I’m talking about: Andy Dalton zips a pass over the middle to Marvin Jones on 2nd and 10 for a gain of 9. Shit, you automatically say, he didn’t get that first down? Damn it.

You were skittish because you damn well knew it would be pulling teeth to get that one yard.

We’d probably see the straight hand-off up the exact center of the obvious-ass middle to Benjarvus Green-Ellis—-you know, really catch the opposing defensive coordinator off guard. Or perhaps we’d see former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden elect to send Dalton back for a pass. Oftentimes, after the play concluded, you’d slam your fist down on a table and spew twelve expletives…or you’d be so numb to the failure that you had no reaction at all other than to sigh, take another swig of your Mich Ultra and wait impatiently through four minutes of very terrible commercials until the game came back on.

Enter Jeremy Hill. He’s 6 foot 2, he’s 236 pounds. He has nary a notion of sidestepping contact. When the football is in his hands, he wants to split your sternum in half.

If this dude can consistently move the chains on those short yardage downs, and, perhaps more importantly, gain significant yards on those 1st-and-10 handoffs up the middle, your Cincinnati Bengals will benefit in a few ways:

1) Keeping drives alive builds momentum and allows your workhorse defense extra rest; it also gives you field position advantage
2) It will open up the “play action pass” (when the quarterback fakes the hand-off, draws the defense in, and then throws the ball over top to a streaking wide receiver)
3) More touchdowns, fewer field goals

Bottom line: Your Bengals gained the 10th-most yards in the NFL last season while scoring 27 points per game. You’ve got bosses all over the joint with the likes of A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu (my favorite Bengal, for the record), Giovanni Bernard and the rest of the crew.

But trying to roll with Benjarvus Green-Ellis as your short yardage back…yeah, uh, that ain’t scarin’ nobody. Remove Green-Ellis (they did) and insert a gigantic bowling ball that runs a 4.6 40-yard-dash—–now you’re talkin’.

The Defense

Carlos DUN-lap

Carlos DUN-lap

Even a non-Bengal fan such as myself knows that Cincinnati’s defense has been a f**king brick wall the past few seasons. In 2013, the Bengals allowed the 3rd fewest yards in all of football. How’d they manage to be that stingy? A stout “Front 7″.

You show me a good football defense, and I’ll point to a disruptive defensive line. One of the many, many, MANY frustrating things about Bengals football for years had been a soft, geriatric-slow pass rush. If I had a nickel for every Bengals game I’ve watched when the opposing quarterback never had a single daggum finger laid on him, I could buy South Dakota. (And I would buy South Dakota. Then I’d change the name to Reverse Dunkota.)

But fortunately, the days of those invisible defensive lines are in the past. Now, Cincinnati’s Front 4 is stacked, even with the departure of Michael Johnson. You’ve got runstoppers (Domato Peko, Geno Atkins), you’ve got guys who make QB’s brown their jockstraps (Margus Hunt and Wallace “Don’t Call Me Willis” Gilberry); you’ve even got athletic freaks like ‘Los Dunlap who can drop back into coverage and eff with opposing offensive coordinators’ heads.

On your linebacking core, you’ve got Vontaze Burfict patrolling the field like a crazyperson. The guy’s in on every tackle like his name was Lawrence Taylor. Rey Maualuga is deceptively decent (how ’bout THAT compliment?) in the middle. It’ll be a rotation of fellas you may not have heard of for the final linebacker slot. On paper, your linebackers aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop, but within Cincinnati’s scheme and when combined with that swashbuckling defensive line, you’ll get the required production.

**The Elephant in the Room** Although Mike Zimmer is no longer the Bengals’ defensive coordinator, his fingerprints remain all over this swarming defense. I don’t see why there would be any drop off in beastdom this season on that side of the ball.

The Burning Question: Is Andy Dalton Good Enough?

Cincinnati recently announced a 6-year, $115 million contract extension with QB Andy Dalton which drew considerable uproar on the Internet. (Iron Sheik continued with his Cheetos/genitals fascination, of course.) Did Dalton deserve that type of cash? It’s debatable. On one hand, the guy’s quarterbacked three straight playoff teams. On the other, he’s come up small in all three playoff games. The dude is polarizing, there’s no doubt about that. His numbers are big, but his reactions to pressure in the pocket are not instilling confidence in anybody.

Here’s what I’m thinking: Maybe Dalton doesn’t have to be as good as you think he has to be. You see, if Cincinnati can improve upon its ground game (18th in rushing yards per game in 2013), game results won’t hang solely on the shoulders of Cheeto–I mean “The Red Rifle.” And I don’t follow the team as closely as you likely do, but from what I’ve heard, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson intends to run the ball more this season…and it’ll have a good chance of success with the tandem of Gio Bernard and J-Hill.

So the answer to that burning question really doesn’t have anything to do with Andy Dalton. Run the football more consistently and explosively, move the chains, rest your defense and score more 6-pointers than 3-pointers.

If Cincinnati can establish that formula, in combination with its stable of menacing weapons in the passing game, I don’t see why this football team won’t win most of its football games.

Prediction Time

12-4 record in the regular season. Advance to AFC Championship game, but drop a heartbreaker to either Tom Brady or some other douchebag quarterback that you’ll hate until the end of time.

Enjoy your Sundays!

 

 

 

 

#Reds: I Tried To Be Positive. I Really, Really Tried!

crazysportskidRant time. It’s gotta happen. All season, from the first post until the recent post from Boca Raton, FL, I’ve believed 2014 was The Year for the Cincinnati Reds.

But not anymore. Not after what just fuckin’ happened in Colorado.

I’ll get my apology for all the foul language out of the way right now because this post will be packed to the brim. I’m sorry in advance.

Okay. Lemme ask you this. No wait, lemme ask The Baseball Gods this: What the daggum hell did everyone associated with the Reds do to deserve THIS?

This season has been absolute, pure, complete and fuckin’ total horse shit. Check this list of players who’ve suffered significant injuries:

Pitchers:

Mat Latos (elbow, knee)
Aroldis Chapman (smashed in face with line drive)
Jonathan Broxton (recovering from surgery)
Tony Cingrani (dead shoulder)
Homer Bailey (elbow…if it’s Tommy John I will punch 18 car windows out)
Sean Marshall (the usual weak ass bullshit)

Hitters:

Joey Votto (who cares anymore)
Brandon Phillips (thumb surgery)
Jay Bruce (knee surgery)
Devin Mesoraco (hamstring)
Skip Schumacher (separated shoulder)

And now, All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier is out with a tweaked back.

So, basically, out of your Top 16 players (8 positions players, 5-man starting rotation and 3 late-inning relievers), fuckin’ only FIVE out of those 16 have been “healthy.” And out of those five, all three position players (Frazier, Billy Hamilton and Zack Cozart) have missed games with injuries.

Are you shitting directly into my mouth with this? Has a team ever basically had every motherfuckin’ significant player get hurt in the same horseshit season before? Somebody look that up. That’s your cue, ESPN1530’s Lance McAlister. Get me the figures on that, will ya buddy?

Okay, so that takes care of the rash of god damn injuries. Now on to the birdshit-in-your-hair stat of the year: Out of the Reds’ 62 losses, 29 of them have been by ONE FUCKING RUN. Guess how many walk-off wins this team has all season? FOUR. That’s it.

Of course, when half your lineup is out ALL OF THE TIME, you’re gonna have trouble scoring runs, especially late in games (when you’re down by ONE RUN). But still, man: Give me a fuggin’ break, will ya? Give us all a break! Twenty-nine games, man. You were ONE RUN short in 29 games. God. I actually started to go through all of the one-run losses the other day, gathering all sorts of stats in a spreadsheet, to see if there was any statistical explanation…and then I stopped doing that because:

1) It was more frustrating than a 2-monthlong sinus infection.
2) Who the fuck cares?

Which brings us to about 45 minutes ago. The 29th one-run loss of this ridiculously ridiculous season of baseball here in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds took a 9-5 lead into the 9th inning at Coors Field in Denver. Bryan Price brought his hammer in: Aroldis Chapman (1.88 ERA, 17.4 K/9 innings). 5-6-7 were due up in the Rockies’ batting order. What does Chapman do? Why, he walks the first fuckin’ four batters he faces, naturally. Why wouldn’t he do that, right?

So Price yanks Chapman and replaces “The Cuban Missile” with regular normal everyman right-handed right-hander-man J.J. Hoover and his 1-8 record. Cool. That’s fun. It’s 9-6 and the bases are loaded. Oh, and there are no outs. Go get ‘em, J.J.!

So Hoover gives up a sacrifice fly and then gets the second out on a line drive (luckily) right at right-fielder Jay Bruce. Okay. We breathe a little bit easier. Two outs, Reds still up 9-7, Rockies have runners on first and second. Hmm, we think: Who’s up next? …

Oh fuck. Oh no. It’s FORMER RED Drew Stubbs. The same Drew Stubbs fans ran out of town two years ago (because he struck out 8900 times every season). Lemme guess, Baseball Gods (Assholes), lemme fuckin’ guess! This scrub is gonna end it right here! Wouldn’t that be sooooo satisfying for you, Gods (Assholes)?

(Cut to: Me frantically calling Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas to get a $6 million dollar bet down on Stubbs hitting a walk-off 3-run H.R.)

Hoover starts Stubbs off with (duh) a breaking ball away. Stubbs lays off. So Hoover and Mesoraco brilliantly think, “This guy cannot hit a curveball. We’ll just get one over for a strike and then throw some shitty ones in the dirt, he’ll whiff idiotically, and then we’ll win the game!” So Hoover spins one right down the epicenter of the fucking strike zone, Stubbs squares it up with a bunch of backspin and it’s (obviously) outta here. Walk-off home run, DREW STUBBS.

Reds lose 10 to 9. Oh, the humanity.

I tried to stay positive. I really, really, REALLY did. You know I did. Well, tonight, I’m anything but positive. I’m done.

I’m done.

Now the Reds have to play ANOTHER game tonight and then go to ST. LOUIS for three. And I ain’t watchin’ a single pitch of any of ‘em.

Good night and good riddance.

 

What Has Happened To Sam LeCure in 2014?

Sam LeCure

Sam LeCure


Rubber-armed reliever Sam LeCure has not been the same for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014 as he’d been the past few years out of the bullpen. The difference in 2014? He’s hittable.

When LeCure entered a recent ballgame for the Reds, I was shocked to see one of the numbers Fox Sports Ohio flashed on the screen. Major league hitters have a .286 batting average against “The Oil Man.” For the first time as a reliever, Sam has allowed more hits (48) than innings pitched (42) in ’14.

LeCure also hasn’t been striking out as many hitters. After posting Strikeout Percentages (Strikeouts divided by Total Number of Batters Faced) of 23.8, 25.7 and 26.3 the past three seasons, that rate has dipped all the way down to 19.5 this season.

What’s the deal?

I believe two factors have contributed to LeCure’s derailment as an effective set-up man:

1) Drop in Velocity

LeCure never threw very hard to begin with, but there had always been enough of a difference between his fastball and offspeed pitches to keep hitters off-balanced.

In 2011, LeCure’s average fastball touched just above 90 MPH. In 2012 and ’13, he was right around 89.5. But so far in 2014, that number has dipped down around 87.5, per Pitch f/x. The changeup has always been around 81 MPH — this season it’s right around 80. A 7 MPH difference between fastball and changeup, especially when the fastball is nowhere near overpowering, ain’t foolin’ anybody.

2) Hitters Have Figured LeCure Out

Sam has always been able to jump ahead in the count by spinning a first-pitch curveball in there for a strike. From there, he can throw his back door 2-seamer on the inner half to lefties or the outer half to righties, go with the straight change-up, or some combination of those two, to get to two strikes and eventually retire the batter.

And that was his strategy. It worked pretty well, too, as batters had averages of .202, .216 and .221 against Sammy the past three seasons.

But not this year. I first noticed the adjustment when LeCure faced none other than Milwaukee’s Jonathan fuggin’ Lucroy a couple months back. Sam tried to get ahead with that looping curveball, but Lucroy knew all about it, and he rifled a base hit to left. Since then, I’ve seen enough guys do that to force Sam to now revert back to his fastball to begin at-bats…the same fastball that’s two miles-per-hour slower than usual.

Translation: Remove the element of surprise and a couple of ticks on the radar gun, and Sam LeCure has average stuff.

Sam’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) proves just that. It currently sits at 0.0, which means that he’s not even a hair more valuable than a replacement player.

LeCure hasn’t been awful. His ERA is still under 4.00. I’m not sure if he might be injured, or if his velocity being down has anything to do with his usage rate being less in 2014 (you’d think it would be the opposite). Either way, when the 6th and 7th innings roll around during this do-or-die stretch run, and Bryan Price is forced to go to his bullpen, he’ll have to think twice about going to LeCure.

Hit Like Todd Frazier: 3 Ways To Avoid Slumps

Todd Frazier talking hitting mechanics with Berg'sA big thank you to RedlegNation.com for publishing my post about why Todd Frazier has been slump-free in 2014.

What you’ll find out:

1) What Todd told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon back in Spring Training about focusing on “consistency” and why that word has been the theme of his 2014 season

2) How Todd is using the entire field more in ’14 – and what adjustments he made over the offseason to his batting stance, load and swing path

3) What it means that Todd is “keeping his hands inside the baseball” more often this season

Click here to read the article.

#LetsGoReds

 

#Reds Take 3 Out of 4 Over #Marlins: Bergs Get Job Done in Miami.

Todd Frazier talking hitting mechanics with Berg's

With the Reds’ playoff chances seemingly slipping away on the heels of an unwatchable 2-10 post-All-Star break funk, I knew it was imperative to fly down to Boca Raton, team up with my cousin/brother Scott Berg, his wife Navah and their son Noah, and get some W’s for the Redlegs at Marlins Park.

We met @FlavaFraz21, Todd Frazier, before the yard. Class act/Great guy, no doubt about that.

We met Todd Frazier before the yard. Class act/Great guy, no doubt about that.

On Thursday night, the Reds trailed 1-0 in the 8th inning–not a big surprise considering the uncanny levels of shwagness we’ve seen from Cincy’s offense in the past two weeks. But then two errors and a walk set up a bases loaded, no out scoring chance. I looked over at a fellow Reds fan and we both said that with the way the team’s been hitting lately, we’d be over-the-moon thrilled with one run out of that situation.

After Ramon Santiago whiffed, Todd Frazier flied out to right and Marlin manchild Giancarlo Stanton gunned Zack Cozart at the plate, it appeared as if the Reds wouldn’t even get that one run.

But thanks to a new rule which says the catcher cannot block the plate without the ball, a replay review overturned the call, which changed the scoring to a sacrifice fly for big Todd Frazier and a run scored for Cozart. The next batter to the plate for the Reds was Ryan Ludwick, and he promptly took advantage of the opportunity provided by the finally-smiling-on-the-Reds baseball gods with a go-ahead 2-run blow to center. Reds lead 3-1. I look up to the heavens, arms aloft, displaying my appreciation to those fickle baseball gods.

The 46 Marlins fans at the game were obviously none too pleased with that call; either was manager Mike Redmond. He promptly got tossed and then offered an expletive-packed post game rant after Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman slammed the door in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Ludwick came through with another big 2-run knock on Friday night en route to a 5-2 win behind Florida native Mat Latos. The Reds then dropped a tough one Saturday, 2-1, although they battled it to the end (and Scott got his first glimpse at Jumbo Diaz’s hard, nasty filth). And then today (Sunday), the Berg crew showed up at Marlins Park decked out in Reds gear to bookend the series, as two-year-old and newly potty-trained Noah Berg went “pee pee potty” nine times (with no accidents at the park or in the car) and sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame…and of course, the Reds cracked 15 hits (including another Ludwick blow, this time an RBI double to deep right-center) and took the series finale 7-3.

With the 3 outta 4 down here in Miami, the Reds have climbed back to within five games of the NL Central lead as the Brewers dropped 2 of 3 in St. Louis. Cincy has shaken off some excruciating L’s and scrapped its way to a 4-3 start to this 20-game stretch against teams with losing records. We’re going to need at least an 8-5 finish to this portion of the schedule, and then the squad will be in position to earn its way into the postseason by knocking off the teams ahead of ‘em in the division: Two series each versus Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh loom in the final month of the season.

Bottom line: The Bergs got the job done and the Reds ain’t dead yet! #LetsGoReds

We Believe! 3 Reasons the #Reds Are Still in Good Shape to Play in October

Yeah, yeah, I get it: You’re extremely frustrated with this Cincinnati Reds ballclub right now. They can’t hit. Jay Bruce REALLY can’t hit. They aren’t pitching as well as they did before the All-Star break. Even that #1-ranked defense has had some breakdowns. You’ve been saying things like “I can’t watch this team” and “Mmmff, what a lineup,” and you’ve been taking out your frustration by yelling expletives at the umpires and venting to your friends.

You’re thinking and saying, “It’s over.”

Well guess what? It AIN’T over. I’ve got three reasons why:

1) See video below

The New York Metropolitans somehow found a way to split a 4-game series in Milwaukee this weekend, which means the Reds only lost 1/2 game in the standings as they dropped two of three to the Washington Nationals at Great American Ballpark.

“Six games back” sounds like a lot at this time of the season, especially when there are two teams (St. Louis and Pittsburgh) also in front of you. But in reality, six games ain’t that much. Figure it like this. If the Reds were to win 8 out of 10 while Milwaukee plays even baseball, all of a sudden you’re only three games out. Plus, you’ve still got a bunch more games against the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates.

With the way the Reds have been hitting, I realize the deficit seems insurmountable…but it’s baseball. Anything can happen.

2) Mathematics

Right now, the Reds sit with a record of 52-52. I’d estimate that 89 wins actually may be enough to squeeze into a wildcard spot because the teams in contention for that are no more than 12 games over .500 right now, and an 89-73 record puts you at 16 games over. So that means the Reds have to go 37-21 the rest of the way.

37 and 21.

Here’s how the Reds can do that:

A) Make hay in the next 20 games

Based on team records, the schedule gets easier for the next 20, when the Reds host Arizona (45-60) for 3, go to Miami (51-53) for 4, go to Cleveland (52-53) for 2, host Cleveland for 2, host Miami for 3, host Boston (48-57) for 2, and then go out to Colorado (43-60) for 4. Gotta somehow scratch your way to at least 13-7 in this stretch.

B) Pack their lunch for the final 28 regular season games

Down the stretch the Reds play Pittsburgh 6 times, St. Louis 7 times and Milwaukee 6 times. Mixed in there also is a 3-game set at home against the Mets and 3-game set with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. They’ll have their chances. Just gotta pack that lunch and take it to ‘em.

3) Jimmy V and Yogi

Facing terminal cancer in its final stages, former North Carolina State head coach Jim Valvano somehow mustered up the courage and energy to deliver that spine-chilling iconic speech at the ESPY Awards back in 1993. The message: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

It’s a great speech to listen to any time you feel like you’re up against it, whether in your personal life, health-wise or what have you.

I know you’re ready to give up on this Reds team. You may even be like my dad’s long time friend Barry Snyder, who gives up on ‘em when they lose on Opening f***ing Day.

But like Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And right now, heading into this 3-game set with the Diamondbacks, it ain’t over. No, far from it. As bad as it’s been (and I know, it’s been REALLLLLY bad), Cincinnati is only six games out with 58 to play.

For Cincinnati fans, the typical response to a miserable stretch like the Reds are in right now is to give up, to write it off, to stop believing. Well I’m here to say, “Screw that. What good does that do? Why don’t we get behind our team when the going gets tough for once? Believe in the Reds. Believe in Bryan Price. Hell, even believe in Jay Bruce, who, bless his soul, is doing the best he can to handle this vortex of a slump. Even believe in Chris Heisey! Sure, Phillips and Votto won’t be back for a while, but we’ve got some lesser teams coming up on the schedule, and then when they come back, they’ll be able to help down the stretch and into the postseason………….

Yes, I know, you think I’m getting extremely carried away here. And maybe I am. But I’m choosing to take a page out of my brother Andy Swaney’s book and believe…and continue to believe until the final, season-ending out is made.

58 games to go. 37 wins. Let’s do this!