By HAL McCOY
The 2018 baseball season is over for the Cincinnati Reds and some fans insist their season ended shortly after the All-Star break when their starting pitchers thought five innings was a complete game. And the bats, so potent in the first half when grand slam home runs were sprayed here, there and everywhere, went deathly silent.
Some of the fans are excited that management hints that payroll will be increased for 2019 and that will compute into instant contention.
Is that necessarily so? No, it isn’t. It depends on how intelligently that money is spent. And even if it is, that doesn’t mean automatic success.
Consider all this.
The Milwaukee Brewers won the National League Central by winning their last eight games and 20 of their last 27. They own the league’s best record, clinching home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.
Did they spend, spend, spend? No, they didn’t. The Brewers’ payroll is $91 million, only 23rd of the 30 teams. It is lower than the last place Reds, whose payroll was $102 million, 21st on the list, two notches above Milwaukee.
The Brewers did it with some intelligent signings and trade. In the off-season they acquired Christian Yelich, the likely NL MVP, and Lorenzo Cain. At the trade deadline they acquired Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop.
In Milwaukee’s case, it wasn’t money spent, it was money well-spent and noteworthy trades.
And how about this? The Oakland Athletics made the playoffs with the lowest payroll in baseball, just $62 ½ million. The Atlanta Braves won the National League East with the third lowest payroll in the game, $83 million.
Does huge payrolls guarantee anything? Not even a wild card spot. The San Francisco Giants led baseball with a $221 million payroll and their players are home playing with the kids, fishing and golfing.
The Washington Nationals had baseball’s fourth highest payroll at $180 million and are on the outside looking in, despite two of baseball’s best pitchers in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, plus one of the game’s best players in Bryce Harper.
The New York Mets had the fifth highest payroll at $173 million with three former Reds, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco, and are wondering what hit them.
So fat bank accounts are not the endgame in baseball. It is all about smart draft picks, wise trades and well-done free agent signings.
With a tie-breaking single by Lorenzo Cain and three hits by Christian Yelich, the Brewers beat the Chicago Cubs, 3-1, in a one-game playoff to determine the National League Central champion.
Chicago’s loss forced them into Tuesday’s wild card game against the Colorado Rockies in Wrigley Field after the Rockies lost a one-game playoff to the Los Angeles Dodgers to determine the National League West champion.
The Rockies and Cubs put on a game for the ages, a wild, wild, wild card game at Wrigley Field Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
It finally ended at 1:05 a.m. after 13 innings, a 2-1 Colorado victory with the Rockies scoring the winning run with three straight two-out singles.
Trevor Story singled, Geraldo Parra singled and Tony Wolters singled home the run. Wolters, who entered the game in the 12th as part of a double switch, singled to center off Kyle Hendricks on a 0-and-2, the third straight change-up Hendricks threw. Wolters was 1 for 17 this year when hitting change-ups.
Colorado’s Scott Oberg struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth with Albert Almora Jr. ending it by striking out on the game’s 364th pitch. So the Cubs are finished and Colorado moves on to play Milwaukee in a best of five National League Division Series.
Chicago’s Jon Lester and Colorado’s Kyle Freeland put on a pitching clinic while they were on the mound.
Lester uncharacteristically walked leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon to open the game and paid when he scored on Nolan Arenado’s sacrifice fly.
From there, Lester was untouchable — six innings, one run, four hits, just the one walk and nine strikeouts.
Freeland, though, was even better — 6 2/3 innings, no runs, four hits (all singles), one walk six strikeouts.
The Cubs tied it in the eighth when Javier Baez doubled home a run with two outs on a 0-and-2 slider from Adam Ottavino. It was the third straight slider Ottavino threw to Baez, who had more hits on breaking pitches than any other hitter in the National League.
And it stayed 1-1 as both bullpens wiggled out of a few jams with some big strikeout pitches and some top-notch defensive plays, especially by Colorado shortstop Trevor Story and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, plus big plays from Cubs center fielder Albert Almora (catch against the vines) and left fielder Kris Bryant (throwing out Ian Desmond, who tagged at first base and tried to take second on a fly ball to Bryant.
The Cubs had the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth against Rockies closer Wade Davis, one pitch away from a walk-off win. But Davis struck out Jason Heyward.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon used up all his available position players by the 11th inning when he used catcher Victor Caratini to pinch-hit. He also used starting pitchers Cole Hamels and Kyle Hendricks in relief.