By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — If one wants to discern what spot a team occupies without checking the standings, a usually accurate measurement is to check that team’s record in one-run games.
One run, of course, is the slimmest of margins, so much can happen one way or another to determine who wins and who loses.
And, yes, luck sometimes plays a part. Nevertheless, over the distance the good teams win the majority of their one-run games and the bad teams lose them.
Enter, stage right, the Cincinnati Reds. Before they took the field Wednesday night to face the Chicago Cubs, the Reds owned the worst one-run record in the majors — 6 wins, 13 losses. And it is no better in two-run decisions — 3 wins, 6 losses.
Meanwhile, across the diamond, the first place Cubs, a team that is 10-and-2 in May, is 7-and-4 in one-run games.
As night fell over Great American Ball Park Wednesday, the Reds were 8 1/2 games behind the Cubs and another major reason is that the Reds have been helpless against their National League Central brethren. They are 3-and-12 against NLC teams while the Cubs are 9-and-4.
What does all this mean to rookie Reds manager David Bell, a guy who realizes he and his team have to figure out how to win close games if they wish to compete?
“You always wonder how to look at that (one-run games),” said Bell. “You look at it as a positive in that we’re playing really good games. Our pitching has been outstanding and our defense has been good. We’ve played good games but it is a motivation to find ways to get better (to win those games).
“You have to win those games,” he said. “You can look at our record and say, ‘That’s the difference.’ So it’s good, but it has to be motivational, continue to try to find ways to get better.”
ALONG THOSE LINES, Bell continues to see a pile of hits behind the closed door that is Joey Votto these days.
Whether Bell bases his optimism on Votto’s past history or on a wing and a prayer, he continues to talk up his staggering star.
Votto is hitting .207, an ugly number, but only seven points below the team’s .214 batting average. And Votto probably should be yelling, “May Day, May Day,” because he is hitting .130 in May with a .259 on-base average. For the season he has struck out 39 times and walked only 21 times in 164 plate appearances.
This is not your older brother’s Joey Votto. This is a 35-year-old facsimile of what he once was, a player whose home run production has disappeared over the last two years.
What Bell and Votto supporters cling to is 2016. During that season Votto batted .213 with two homers and 20 RBI in April and May. Then the final four months he batted .378 with 20 home runs and 67 RBI.
Can he do that again? It was three years ago and time marches on, especially in mid-30s baseball bodies.
Bell, though, consistently says he sees positive signs from Votto in the batter’s box and Votto says he feels comfortable and that his swing is there.
“The problems he has had is never from a lack of work,” said Bell. “For anybody at this level work is not the issue. Sometimes you wonder if it is too much.
“In Joey’s case he has such a good understanding of what he needs to do, so the work load and the work ethic is as fine-tuned as one can get it.”
Bell would like to see the focus removed from individual slumps, and the Reds are Team Slump, and concentrate on things that lead to victories.
“When we get to where we really need to be we will eliminate the focus on individual results and really put our energy towards winning,” he said. “When you realize what it takes to win games, it really takes a lot of pressure off. That’s easier said than done. Each of our guys want to win and they know by hitting they will contribute. But that also puts extra pressure on themselves. Once you zero in on what it takes to win, it makes it all more enjoyable.”
PITCHER ALEX WOOD (remember him wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform but unseen yet in a Reds uniform?) is scheduled to begin a throwing program next week, if he survives the weekend.
This will be the third time since spring training he began throwing, only to have his back act up and shut him down.
“There is a pretty good chance he will begin a throwing program next week, but that’s not 100 per cent,” said Bell. “We’ll see how he does between now and Monday.”
Bell is offering no prediction as to when Wood might actually pitch a game for the Reds, but if all goes well with his throwing program, it probably will take until after the All-Star break to get up to speed to pitch in a game that means something.