Catching up

It was probably hard for you to tell, considering the quiet of the early offseason, but I was off all of last week on “staycation.” Hence, that’s why there were no blog entries, stories or tweets from me.

There was some Reds news that trickled out.

*Steve Smith was let go as third base coach on Monday. I can’t say this was a shock considering how many runners got thrown out at home this season. Late in the season, Smith had approached reporters to defend himself about the number of runners thrown out that were actually on his ledger. That was a sign that even he knew things didn’t look good. The rest of the coaching staff remains.

*Raisel Iglesias made his debut in the Arizona Fall League with a scoreless inning last Monday. On Thursday, Iglesias pitched again and worked another scoreless inning.

*My colleagues at MLB.com have written some really good stories from the World Series this past week. Alyson Footer provided my favorite one thus far with her piece on the fans with kayaks floating outside AT&T Park in McCovey Cove. Be sure to check that out.

*Finally, the news Sunday that promising Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident is just awful. Taveras was 22 and his girlfriend was only 18. On her blog, MLB.com Cardinals beat reporter Jenifer Langosch provided some personal memories about Taveras.

Wild Card World Series

Raise your hand if you predicted a Royals-Giants World Series…

The notion of adding the second Wild Card two years ago was to provide added reward to the teams that won their divisions. This year, two Wild Card entries are in the World Series for the first time under the new postseason format and it’s the first time two Wild Card teams will duel in the Fall Classic since the Angels and Giants in 2002.

Phil Rogers of MLB.com has more on the Wild Card winners reaching the World Series.

Also — neither the Royals (89 wins), nor Giants (88 wins) were 90 game winners in the regular season.

And — the Giants were the SECOND NL Wild Card team. So it is possible for it to be done.

Although they ended the 2013 regular season on a five-game losing streak, if the Reds could have found a way past Pittsburgh last season, perhaps they too could have went on a roll like the Royals or Giants. One never knows.

While every team, including the Reds, should aspire to win their division, this should emphasize how doable it is to reach the playoffs — and beyond — if a team can put together a run.

The World Series begins on Tuesday at Kansas City. For my prediction, I like the Giants in six games.

Winker is AFL player of week

The Reds No. 2 prospect, OF Jesse Winker, is off to a nice start in the Arizona Fall League. On Tuesday, Winker was named the AFL Player of the Week.

In the first week of play for the Surprise Saguaros, Winker leads the AFL with seven RBIs, a .909 slugging percentage and 1.472 OPS and was fourth with a .563 on-base percentage. He was 5-for-11 (.455) with two doubles, one home run and scored four runs in three games.

The 21-year-old Winker, who was with Double-A Pensacola, hadn’t played any games since July 17 because of a right wrist tendon injury sustained in a car accident.

Here is a full story on Winker from MLB.com.

Road food

On Monday upon the postponement of ALDS Game 3 in Kansas City, Orioles manager Buck Showalter seemed to know the pulse of the media gathered at his press conference.

“I think, if anything, it’s great for the restaurant business in Kansas City, that’s about it, I don’t know,” Showalter said. “I know you all ‑‑ room service is expensive at that hotel, boy.”

Sure enough, several of my colleagues were later tweeting pictures of their dinner. Most of them were from Joe’s Kansas City — formerly known as Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ. I was pretty envious.

While I really like Kansas City BBQ, I had never experienced Joe’s until the AL Wild Card Game a couple of weeks ago. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan kindly offered to take orders and bring it to the press box. I had ribs and turkey and it was marvelous.

In KC, I’ve long been a fan of Jackstack and I’ve sampled Gates and Arthur Bryant’s. But Joe’s will be on the top of my list to visit next season when the Reds are there to play the Royals.

Tastes in food are about as subjective as it gets. What I like, others may hate. But I do get to eat on the road a lot and experience different restaurants we often don’t have in Cincinnati.

So here is an incomplete list of some of the places I try not to miss when traveling. They usually skew towards the casual place and unhealthy and you’ll probably notice that I REALLY like pizza.

Running helps counter the caloric overload.

Chicago – Giordano’s Pizza
Pittsburgh – Primanti Bros.
St. Louis – Pi pizza (which has opened a location in Cincinnati this week)
Milwaukee – Smoke Shack BBQ

Los Angeles – In-n-Out Burger
Phoenix – Culinary Dropout, Federal Pizza, Pizzeria Bianco
San Francisco – Zero Zero

Minneapolis – Brit’s Pub, Manny’s Steakhouse
New York – too many to count but get an Italian hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s. It’s pretty decadent.

And I may as well mention …

Cincinnati — local favorites for me in no particular order are: The Eagle, Bakersfield, Taste of Belgium, Montgomery Inn, Dewey’s Pizza, Brooklyn Pizza and Pasta, Terry’s Turf Club, Zip’s, Arthur’s, Incline Public House, Via Vite, Tom and Chee, Moerlein Lager House.

Monday odds and ends

Good Monday afternoon…I have a few links and stories for you to keep you plugged in to the Reds and other items.

*Reds bench coach Jay Bell did not land the D-backs manager job to replace Kirk Gibson. A’s bench coach Chip Hale has been formally named. Bell and Hale were among nine candidates interviewed by Arizona. While I’m sure Bell is disappointed, but this is good news for the Reds. Bell was impressive behind the scenes as manager Bryan Price’s bench coach — he seemed very organized, easy to relate with, good with the media and a guy who knows the game very well. I would not be shocked to see his name linked to future managerial openings down the road.

*MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo covered Nick Howard’s first start in the Arizona Fall League. Howard, Cincinnati’s first round Draft pick this year, could have been in the big leagues already as a reliever. But the club likes him as a starting pitcher and are developing him that way for now. If he doesn’t make it as a starter, he can always become a reliever.

*Turning Howard into a starter seems to continue a trend that the Reds have been executing in recent years. Tony Cingrani, Michael Lorenzen and even Cuban free agent Raciel Iglesias were also relievers that the organization has ID’s as potential starting pitchers. Lorenzen had a strong first year in the Minors starting while the jury is still out on Cingrani because of injuries and pitch selection. I would not be shocked to see him in the bullpen next season, especially if the current starting five remains intact come Spring Training.

*I haven’t watched every postseason at-bat and pitch but I’ve seen enough to know it’s been an incredible playoffs to this point. I’ve watched the late innings of every game in the ALDS and NLDS and both have been incredible. Kolten Wong’s homer for a Cardinals win probably saved St. Louis’ season and most certainly — Trevor Rosenthal after a poor showing in the top of the ninth. The Cardinals very well could have been headed to San Francisco trailing by a 2-0 margin. I really wonder if we’re destined for a redux of the 1985 I-70 World Series between the Cardinals and Royals.

*I wondered why Wong’s jersey was off so quickly after he touched home plate. I soon learned why — it was literally ripped off of his back.

*Wong was just one of four homegrown Cardinals to homer in Game 2. Oscar Taveras, Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams also went deep. Homegrown players seem to always come up big in recent years for St. Louis. There have been David Freese in 2011, Michael Wacha last season, Adam Wainwright going back to 2006-present and Carpenter this year as well. The Reds have a lot of homegrown players that helped them get to the postseason in 2010, 2012 and 2013 — like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, etc. Devin Mesoraco has already taken the next step with a breakout season in 2014. The next wave is likely a year or more away from joining the current crew — guys like Jesse Winker, Robert Stephenson, Lorenzen and perhaps Howard.

**Correction: Wainwright was drafted by the Braves originally. Sorry for the mistake.

Nice AFL day for Winker

From my colleague Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com:

Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker had his season at Double-A Pensacola cut short because of a right wrist tendon injury after he had really nice start at Class A Bakersfield. In his first Arizona Fall League Game for Surprise on Wednesday, Winker was 2-for-3 with a solo home run, a double, two walks and two RBIs.

Winker is ranked as the Reds organization’s No. 2 prospect by MLBPipeline.

Click here for today’s box score:

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/y2010/index.jsp?gid=2014_10_08_surwin_perwin_1&mode=preview

Winter ball for Lutz

When Reds OF/1B Donald Lutz was near the final day of the regular season, he was preparing himself for a quick trip home to Germany to see family and friends. After about a week, he planned to head straight from there to Mexico to play winter ball again for Obregon until around Christmas.

“I need at-bats,” Lutz said.

Indeed he does. This will be a pivotal off-season for Lutz, who will be out of Minor League options when he arrives at Spring Training 2015.

One of the mysteries of the 2014 season, especially near the end, was why more at-bats didn’t come Lutz’s way to get a better idea of what he could do. While he’s been prone to strikeouts, he’s demonstrated some nice left-handed power when he gets a hold of one. He’s also shown, in the Minors at least, that he can often hit well when playing more regularly.

Over three stints with the Reds in the big leagues this season, Lutz got into only 28 games and had 54 plate appearances. He batted .176/.222/.255 with 19 strikeouts. He got only five starts at first base and five in the outfield.

In 23 games at Double-A Pensacola, Lutz batted .360/.412/.685 with six home runs and 16 RBIs.

In 52 games at Triple-A Louisville, Lutz batted .236/.307/.395 with six homers and 33 RBIs. His best month there was in July when he batted .303 (10-for-33).

Last winter, Lutz played for Obregon to get at-bats to make up for lost time after he suffered a broken finger at Pensacola following his first big league stint with the Reds.

Lutz will be 26 in February, which is generally old for a prospect. But he’s only really been playing baseball since he was 16. It will be interesting to see if the Reds think he has a future with them or not next spring.

Reds chef to be on ‘Chopped’

Four executive chefs from Delaware North-Sportservice that work for teams at Major League ballparks will be competing on the Food Network series, “Chopped.”

Reds executive chef James Major

Reds executive chef James Major

The episode titled,“Big Hitters,” will air Wednesday, October 8th at 8 p.m. ET on Food Network.

Here is more from the press release received on Monday:

“Hosted by Ted Allen, each round includes a basket of ingredients that have a connection to baseball. In the first basket, the competing chefs find some typical game-day eats, including Italian sausage. Then in the second round, the chefs are pleased to see a beautiful flank steak. In the dessert round, the judges (Scott Conant, Marc Murphy and Amanda Freitag) hope that the desserts are delicious, down to the last blueberry.The four chefs must use their professional training and culinary creativity to impress the judges and avoid the dreaded chopping block.”

Competitors include:

Josh Distenfeld – Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles
Jessica Helms- Busch Stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals
James Major – Great American Ball Park for the Cincinnati Reds
Cristobal Vazquez – Globe Life Park for the Texas Rangers

Nice work Royals, Orioles

A couple of times before the Reds season ended, including once by Marty Brennaman, I was asked which teams I predicted would reach the World Series.

I replied — Angels vs. Nationals

Well — one team is out and the other is on the verge of being out. It’s amazing how the playoffs have been turned upside down by the underdogs.

On the American League side, it’s awesome that no matter who wins the ALCS between the Royals and Orioles, there is going to be a World Series participant that hasn’t been there since the 1980s. Kansas City’s previous appearance was 1985 while Baltimore’s was in 1983. Considering the Yankees and Red Sox seemed to have a deathgrip on the AL pennant for the past two decades, it’s a refreshing change.

It also shows that having high payrolls don’t mean you can’t be competitive. Heading into the season, the Orioles were 14th in payroll while the Royals were 18th.

Having witnessed the Royals Wild Card Game win over the A’s, it might have been the most exciting/thrilling game I’ve ever covered in 14 seasons. Kauffman Stadium was definitely the loudest outdoor baseball park I’ve ever experienced. What’s amazing about the Royals was when they were down 7-3 in the sixth — all the cheers had turned to boos for manager Ned Yost, who called for a bazillion bunts and made a very questionable pitching change that backfired. Then they came back — twice — and the place was even more electric. Just an awesome night of a baseball that got the postseason off to a great start.

The Royals seem to have “it” right now — the talent, the excitement, momentum and perhaps that overused term of destiny on their side. The Orioles certainly have a strong roster and I would definitely give Buck Showalter the edge over Yost. We saw rather recently how that club beat up the Reds and even without Davis and Machado, it’s a very strong lineup.

*As for something on the Reds, I plan to take a closer look soon at Johnny Cueto, who could be baseball’s best relative bargain next season as he is a year away from free agency after the 2015 season. His club option for 2015 is $10 million, which the Reds would be nuts not to exercise. Now the questions the club faces: Do they try to give him an extension this winter? Should they trade him and his bargain contract this winter to help retool the offense? Do nothing now and trade him during the season if they fall out of contention? Or let him pitch all of next season — especially if they’re contending — and roll the dice that if they can’t re-sign him as a free agent, they would at least get the Draft pick compensation?

And when the Reds are done answering the Cueto question — they can ask three more to themselves about Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon. Tough tasks indeed. While everyone — including me — is saying that it would be tough to keep all of them — especially Cueto and Latos — I’ll never fully count the Reds ownership out in taking the really big plunge. They’ve shown a willingness to spend and be creative with the contract structuring.

*One non-baseball note: Kudos to the Patriots for their classy act in last night’s game vs. the Bengals. New England cheerleaders wore Devon Still’s No. 75 jersey and the team played a tribute to his daughter, four-year Leah, who has been fighting cancer. Patriots owner Robert Kraft also donated $25,000. It’s just a really neat thing to see how the community inside and outside of Cincinnati has rallied for Still and his daughter.

Bell up for D-backs job

According to my colleague Steve Gilbert of MLB.com, the D-backs have confirmed they have eight candidates seeking to be their next manager.

Reds bench coach Jay Bell is on that list. From Steve:

– Bell, who played in the big leagues for 18 seasons, is currently the bench coach for the Reds after serving as the Pirates’ hitting coach last season. He played for the D-backs from 1998-2002 and also served as bench coach in Arizona under Bob Melvin from 2005-06 before taking a few years off to spend more time with his family. –

Bell was the right-hand man for first-year manager Bryan Price. If he were to move on and up, it would be interesting on how this affects Price and the coaching staff.

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