Here's a bold statement: Bryan Price should be manager of the year in the National League.
Okay, you got me. I'm not sure I want to step quite that far out onto this particular limb. After all, Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke has staked a claim to that award; he has somehow kept an overachieving Milwaukee squad at the top of the Central division all season long. San Francisco's Bruce Bochy has done an outstanding job with a Giants team that has been near the top of the NL West all season since April. A case could even be made for Nationals skipper Matt Williams, among others.
I'm here to tell you, though, Price has probably done a better job managing the Cincinnati Reds than you think.
First things first: I'm not a fully-paid member of the Bryan Price Fan Club. Admittedly, I was pretty excited when he was hired during the last off-season, for reasons that I laid out in print over at ESPN. Price came to the manager's seat with a reputation for having an open mind. There was reason to hope that he wouldn't always manage “by the book,” an affliction from which Dusty Baker suffered until the bitter end.
Many cheered when Price was quoted, during spring training, as saying that he wasn't going to use strictly-enforced roles in his bullpen. He said he wouldn't hesitate to use Aroldis Chapman for more than one inning as often as he could.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that. Price has been just as rigid with his relievers’ roles as his predecessor had been, and he has used Aroldis in the “traditional” manner of the closer—rather than using him in more high-leverage situations before the ninth inning. Often, his lineups have been curious, and he has made some completely baffling decisions, such as the idea to let Jay Bruce play first base for the first time since, I don’t know, Little League? And he only uses Devin Mesoraco with certain pitchers, despite the need for Mes’ bat in the lineup as often as possible.
Wait, where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, I was trying to tell you why Price has been better than you think. Well, despite everything I noted above, you have to admit that Price has, somehow, kept this club in contention despite quite a bit of adversity.
Look at all the roadblocks that have been thrown in Cincinnati’s way this season. No fewer than six—count ‘em, SIX—former All-Stars on this roster have been on the disabled list in 2014. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Jonathan Broxton, Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco. That doesn’t count long-term injuries to Mat Latos and Sean Marshall. Less-important contributors, such as Tony Cingrani, Skip Schumaker, and Logan Ondrusek have also missed time.
And it’s not like these have been small injuries that caused little disruption to the lineup. Votto, BP, and Aroldis have been out for extended stretches; Votto and Phillips, in fact, are still on the disabled list, and we can only speculate when they’ll return to the lineup. Latos didn’t make his first start until the middle of June. Marshall, who was among the best relievers in baseball from 2010-2012, hasn’t been healthy all season.
Because of the injuries, Price has been forced to give crucial roles to the likes of Kris Negron, Ramon Santiago, Jack Hannahan, and Schumaker. Yet somehow, the Reds manager has cobbled together a team that is only 5 games out of first place after Monday night’s loss to Cleveland. More interestingly, despite losing nine of their first ten games after the All-Star break, and scoring only 40 runs in 16 games through the weekend, Cincinnati still had a 31% chance of making the playoffs prior to last night’s loss, according to ESPN.
Are you kidding me?
Somehow, some way, the Reds remain at .500 and within spitting distance of the leaders in the National League Central. Now, we can’t deny the fact that every team in the Central (and in the entire NL) is flawed, and thus no one has been able to grab the reins and run away with the division. Still, the Reds are starting Negron, Schumaker, and Hannahan on a regular basis in August. Does that sound like a team that is playoff-bound?
No, and I would be hard pressed to bet on Cincinnati making the playoffs. I’m just amazed that they are still in the conversation, given the way this season has played out. I don’t know what type of voodoo Price is using in the clubhouse, but it’s working. Kinda.
Yeah, the Reds lost on Monday, putting together an “unacceptable” performance, in Price’s words. Still, it could be much, much worse. You have to give Bryan Price some of the credit for the fact that the Reds are still in the mix.
Chad Dotson is a contributing writer to our Reds Blog. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN's SweetSpot blog.
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