By HAL McCOY
Do we need Chicken Little right now? Is the sky falling? Do we need the little boy to cry wolf?
Many Cincinnati Reds fans were overly exuberant when the team won five of its first six.
They didn’t recognize that the first three came against the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that is in a true rebuilding scheme. The only real recognizable name on the field was Ryan Howard, once a superstar and now a fading star.
THE REDS CAN say all they want about rebuilding and retooling and re-adjusting. But as long as they have Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton on the field they are not in a true wipe-the-slate-clean and start over mode.
The pitching staff, indeed, other than Homer Bailey, is indeed in audition territory. But with veterans like Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Cozart, Mesoraco and Hamilton in the lineup this is not a bona fide tear-it-down and build-it-back-up scenario.
Anyway, the Reds did take two of three from the Pittsburgh Pirates on the opening homestand, but the Pirates are in a bit of a spiral. After sweeping three games at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates have lost four of their last five.
THEN CAME THE current series against the Chicago Cubs and reality hits. The Cubs are a good team, a very good team. There isn’t an easy out in the lineup.
For 6 2/3 innings of the first game in Wrigley Field, the Reds were in control — Brandon Finnegan had a no-hitter and the Reds led, 3-0. Finnegan, though, gave up a bloop hit with two outs and nobody on in the seventh to former Reds catcher David Ross, Chicago’s back-up catcher.
When he walked the next batter, a pinch-hitter, on four pitches, manager Bryan Price took him out. He had thrown 111 pitches and the walk showed he was physically and emotionally drained.
RELIEF PITCHER Diaz eventually gave up a three-run home run on his first pitch to Addison Russell, the Cubs’ eight-hole hitter. And what an appropriate first name for a guy playing for the Cubs, a team whose home park is on Addison Street.
Then came Wednesday night, a 9-2 earthquake, 7.5 on the Richter Scale. After the Reds gave starting pitcher Alfred Simon a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, Simon was simply awful.
He didn’t make it out of the first inning for the first time in his career. He needed 49 pitches to get one out, the most pitches in one inning of his career.
HE MADE A TERRIBLE mess, aiding and abetting the enemy by walking three in a row in mid-inning. It was cold, very cold. Simon spent more time blowing on his pitching hand than he did throwing strikes. But the frigid night didn’t seem to bother Cubs starter John Lackey. He went 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs, six hits and struck out seven. He only walked two, one less than Simon gave up in two-thirds of an inning.
Simon went into the game with a 4-and-0 record in five starts and 10 relief appearances with a 1.22 earned run average for his career against the Cubs.
BUT THESE ARE the new, improved and ferocious Chicago Cubs and they took Simon apart as if he were Mr. Potato Head.
After Lackey, the Cubs bullpen gave up one hit and one walk over the last 2 1/3 innings. The Reds bullpen gave up four runs, four hits and seven walks.
During spring training, Price and pitching coach Mark Riggins put heavy emphasis on throwing strikes. No walks. Like speed, walks kill.
For the first two games against the Cubs the Reds pitching staff walked 17, seven on Monday and 10 on Wednesday. The Cubs swing at few balls out of the strike zone. They are as patient as a mild-mannered man waiting in line at the DMV.
AS THE SEASON progresses, there will be games like the Reds played against the Phillies and there will be games like they played against the Cubs.
To keep from drowning by the All-Star break, the Reds need to play games the way they played against the Phillies and keep games like they played against the Cubs at a minimum.
And, please, pitching staff. Throw quality strikes.