Sports seasons are often compared to roller coasters. Overcome a few injuries, make a big trade, endure a controversy or two, or finish in first place after starting out in last, and a sportswriter or two will surely invoke the tired cliché. It will be followed by a quote from the manager or star player saying, “This year has been full of ups and downs, wins and losses, peaks and valleys.” The same analogy is sometimes used to describe a particularly topsy-turvy game. Get an early lead, then fall behind, then come back to win. You have earned a roller coaster victory. Do it in the Super Bowl, and they’ll actually send you to Disney.
It’s not really surprising that the roller coaster comparison is so overused. After all, every team has its ups and downs. That’s especially true in baseball, with its six-month, 162-game season. You’re going to win some. You’re going to lose some. Somebody is going to have Tommy John surgery. Because baseball isn’t limited by a clock and only one team is allowed to score at a time, it’s a game conducive to comebacks. Roller coasters abound.
So no, I’m not generally a big fan of comparing sports to amusement park rides. Even so, the last few days have been a serious roller coaster ride for Reds fans.
The weekend sweep of the Cardinals was absolutely the highest point of the season. You couldn’t have scripted it any better. The Reds beat their most hated rival three days in a row, in front of sellout crowds, with each game decided in the late innings, to regain control of first place in the division. Aroldis Chapman pitched in all three games and dazzled fans with his dominance, recording eight strikeouts in three innings. And making the victories even sweeter, the winning hits on Saturday and Sunday came from former Cardinals Ryan Ludwick and Scott Rolen. Add in the morale-boosting chorus of the World Choir Games, and Reds fans were skipping through the streets.
Then yesterday, the bombshell dropped that Joey Votto needs knee surgery and will miss a month. And suddenly, our peak became a valley. Can the Reds win without their MVP? How will the team respond to playing without the face of the franchise? Are we doomed? These are all reasonable questions (except maybe the last one).
Another question that some people might ask is why team doctors didn’t check out Votto’s knee sooner. The injury occurred a couple of weeks ago, but Votto didn’t ask for an MRI until now. Athletes, even understated and thoughtful ones like Joey, are usually too proud to admit when they’re hurt. You can’t rely on them to make their own medical decisions. If this problem had been caught sooner, might he have missed less time?
You could make a strong argument that Votto is more important to his team than any other player in baseball, given how much the rest of the Reds’ offense has sputtered. Obviously, Dusty Baker will have to reshuffle his lineup without him; last night, rookie Todd Frazier took Votto’s place as the number three hitter. If you’re looking for a silver lining to Votto being out, Dusty won’t be able to put Frazier on the bench anymore. On a less bright note, this exacerbates the team’s need to add a left-handed bat before the trade deadline.
The list of possible additions is less than inspiring. In a post for Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci mentions Coco Crisp, Juan Pierre, and Ryan Sweeney. Given that the Reds’ farm system is fairly depleted after the franchise jettisoned several top prospects in trades this past offseason, they might even be hard pressed to acquire one of those guys.
But Verducci offers some hope, too. The Reds have been one of the healthiest teams in baseball this year and are one of only two teams to use just five starting pitchers. That consistency on the mound should help the team withstand some uncertainty in its lineup. Plus, the schedule for the next month is light. Even without Votto, Cincinnati should be able to tread water against the Astros and Padres.
Still, it would probably be best for Joey to heal up as quickly as possible, just in case.