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Question of the Day
The Dodgers lost for the 11th time in 16 games, a swoon that has dropped them out of a wild-card spot. They trail St. Louis by three games and Milwaukee by a half-game for the final playoff berth.
Cincinnati’s 92nd win is another high point under Baker, who took over in 2008 when the club was rebuilding with young stars Bruce, Votto and Cueto. The Reds improved each of the first two seasons, then became champions ahead of schedule by winning 91 games in 2010 to secure their first postseason appearance in 15 years.
Their inexperience showed in the playoffs, where the Reds got no-hit by Roy Halladay and swept by the Phillies in three games.
Things unraveled last year, when the front office decided to bring the team back virtually intact rather than upgrading its problem areas. Three of the five starting pitchers got hurt or sick during spring training, and several veterans had disappointing seasons, resulting in a third-place finish.
Cincinnati learned from its mistakes. The Reds traded two former first-round picks and starter Edinson Volquez to San Diego for Latos. Then they gave Votto an extra 10 years and $225 million on his contract.
The investments paid off in the first year.
“It’s special because we’ve been there, we’ve done that,” Castellini said. “We’ve also known how to get blown out in three (playoff) games. We don’t feel we’re going to let that happen again. I know we all feel that way. We’re pretty confident. We’ll see what happens.”
Baker did some of his best managing during the season. The back end of the bullpen — closer Ryan Madson, setup relievers Nick Masset and Bill Bray — got wiped out by injuries during spring training. Baker eased Chapman into the unfamiliar closer’s role, and he set a club record with 27 consecutive saves.
The gloomiest moment became a turning point.
Votto was the only consistent hitter going into July. He tore cartilage in his right knee and needed two operations. Baker was forced to juggle his lineup and batting order, trying to figure a way to make up for Votto’s productivity and stay in the race for the next six weeks.
It worked beautifully. The Reds went 32-16 without Votto, pulling into a commanding lead in the NL Central. They were closing in on clinching the division when they went to Chicago this week, then had another setback. Baker felt bad on Wednesday and was taken to a Chicago hospital for treatment of his irregular heartbeat.
He was in their thoughts when they finally won the title.
“I guess we’ve got to go out there and win one for the skipper,” rookie shortstop Zack Cozart said as the series started.
NOTES: Los Angeles hasn’t decided whether to start LHP Clayton Kershaw on Sunday or RHP Aaron Harang on short rest. Kershaw hasn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 11 because of a sore hip. He threw 20 pitches in the bullpen on Friday without problem. … Dodgers C A.J. Ellis grounded out twice, extending his slump to 0 for 28.
By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
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