California Dreaming

Every winter when the Major League Baseball schedules are released, the first thing I always look at is when the Reds will be sent to baseball’s purgatory—California. The Reds season has often swung depending on the result of road series against San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego (not to mention Arizona and Colorado).

Take 2006 for example. The Reds left for the Golden State tied for the division lead. Ten days later, they returned home six games back, and the season was essentially over. Four years later, the Reds again departed for a nine-day trip against the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Giants clinging to a one-game lead over the Cardinals. Critics who had been waiting all year for the Reds to fall apart predicted another dismal West Cost trip. Instead, the Reds went 6-3 and never looked back en route to their first division title in 15 years.

Here we go again. After falling to the Brewers yesterday afternoon, the Reds boarded a plane for San Francisco, where they will play four games against the Giants, followed by three against the Dodgers, and four more against the Padres. Again, the Reds leave the Eastern time zone with a narrow one-game lead. And again, the season hinges on a trip to the Reds’ house of horrors.

Since the Giants and Dodgers moved to California before the 1958 season, the Reds are 515-566 all-time in the state, a .476 winning percentage. The Reds would love to reverse those numbers this season, but it will be difficult.

It’s not just that these are tough opponents, although they are. The Giants and Dodgers are tied for the division lead, and both teams boast exceptional pitching rotations. San Diego is arguably the worst team in the National League, but even so, PETCO Park is still the place where home runs go to die.

In fact, all three stadiums present challenges. AT&T Park, Dodger Stadium, and PETCO are always among the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball. Maybe that’s one reason the offense-first Reds have struggled there over the years. The Left Coast’s cavernous confines are a big adjustment from the “Great American Small Park,” where home runs have been hit in 65 consecutive games.

Another challenge is the starting time. Seven of the 11 games will start at 10 p.m. Eastern. This isn’t just hard for the fans (I’ve always hated having to stay up until the early hours of the morning to see if the Reds can pull out the victory). It will be a challenge for the players, too. How would you like to be at work at 2 in the morning? By the end of the trip, the players will be tired.

Yet another challenge is the distractions a road trip to California can provide. As Dusty Baker noted yesterday, the Reds need to look at this as a business trip, not a vacation. That can be tough with the large number of family members who often accompany players on long trips. I’ve never been to California, but I would imagine the warm weather, beautiful beaches, theme parks, and historical attractions in these three cities make it a tough place to concentrate on doing your job.

[Editor’s note: And we all know how much baseball players love historical attractions. Just check out this video extolling the California’s touristic virtues.]

The good news is that this appears to be the last really tough stretch for the Reds this season. It is their longest remaining road trip, and the last time they play consecutive series against teams expected to challenge for the playoffs. If they can escape California and get to the All-Star Break still in the division lead, there’s a good chance they will be hard to catch in the second half. And if they can’t, it will just be another season that falls apart in Pacific time.  

Should be an interesting trip. Someone get me some Red Bull.

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