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Homer Bailey suggests the baseball world is overlooking the Cincinnati Reds, champions of the National League Central. Is he right?
Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter on Friday, which meant that people were paying attention to Homer Bailey for the first time in his career. Well, not you. You've been paying attention to him since he was a prospect because you watch too much baseball. But outside of Ohio, Bailey doesn't have much of a profile. He took the opportunity to sound off a little:
"No one’s even paid attention," Bailey said. "... You don’t hear about that on ESPN. We keep hearing about (the Reds in the 70s). Nobody’s talking about this team, this rotation, the things we’ve done, the amount of quality starts, the innings.
His contention is the 2012 Cincinnati Reds are overlooked. The esteemed Jonah Keri suggests that Bailey is "making up false narratives", which is certainly possible. I might amend that to "suggesting impossible-to-prove narratives", but that's just nitpicking. The narrative might be false, or it might be impossible to prove.
But we can guess! That's almost as good as knowing. And anecdotes are kind of like data if you're in a bind. So let's go through the potential playoff teams and see if there are any who seem more overlooked.
The Yankees will never be overlooked. They're like an annual presidential election, with ESPN and Fox acting like a CNN feed piped directly into your brain.
The Orioles and A's are the surprise darlings of the American League, and they've combined for 74 walk-off wins in the last two months. Neither of them has been overlooked.
The Rangers have won two straight pennants, they signed the most notable international free agent since Dice-K, and they started the season hotter than any team in baseball. They're doing okay.
The Nationals were at the center of the Straspocalypse, which centered around their playoff hopes and chances. They also have Bryce Harper, who is something of a marquee player now. No one's overlooked the Nationals.
The Dodgers made a trade or two. They got some publicity for that.
The Angels went on one of the all-time spending sprees in the offseason, and they also have Mike Trout. I'd watch a Lifetime movie about Mike Trout's high-school years, and you would too. They aren't the overlooked team.
The Giants have the leader in the NL MVP race, and they also lost one of their best players to a drug scandal. They're also quickly becoming one of those teams with an annoyingly boisterous crowd wherever they play. It isn't them.
Really, there are four contenders for the most-overlooked title: White Sox, Braves, Cardinals, and Reds. The White Sox are the most surprising of the four, but they're also the one that isn't going to the playoffs. The Braves and Cardinals have a claim, except the former team is hosting the Chipper Jones retirement tour, and the latter is the defending World Champions.
My unscientific guess: Bailey's kinda sorta onto something. And that original quote put the blame on ESPN and the national attention span, but he subtly took a swipe at the Cincinnati fans right after that:
"We come (to Pittsburgh) last night and there’s (34,000) people. We go back home and there’s only 20,000.
The Reds have drawn 2.3 million this year, which is the 10th-best mark in franchise history. It's over 130,000 more than last year and nearly as many fans as they drew in Great American Ball Park's first season. They've drawn more than the Nationals, Orioles, White Sox, A's, and Rays. So maybe we have to rejigger those most-overlooked results.
But the mark is also just 10th best in the National League this season. Great American Ball Park drew below the league average -- people can't get enough of pitchers bunting, folks -- so Bailey's perception isn't that far off. The odds are that if he's at a park other than GABP, there will be more fans than what the Reds should expect. I'll humor him, then, and pretend the Reds should be drawing better. Why aren't they?
I suspect the real answer has something to do with Ohio and the demographics of the greater Cincinnati area. That is, an answer that I'm wholly unqualified to find. But if had to come up with a baseball-related theory, Bailey helps me out one last time:
Nobody’s talking about this team, this rotation, the things we’ve done, the amount of quality starts, the innings. Four guys over 200. Five guys making every start.
The Reds are just the ninth team to have five pitchers make more than 30 starts in baseball history -- while that sounds more impressive before you remember the four-man rotation was the paradigm for a majority of baseball's history, it's still impressive. And it's also boring. Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake quietly and efficiently eating innings isn't sexy. Mat Latos's rebound from his slow start was more expected than stunning. Johnny Cueto is always overlooked, so it's not a surprise that it's happening again.
More boring than quality start after quality start: A really good bullpen. Aroldis Chapman gets a lot of press, but no one will ever buy a ticket to see a bullpen. Well, except for the Nasty Boys. Maybe the Reds' bullpen just needs a nickname -- Sam LeCure and Logan Ondrusek could be "The Line Change."
The only attention magnet the Reds have other than Chapman is Joey Votto, and he was injured for a chunk of the season. The Reds are, in other words, a complete and functional team. They're not necessarily more than the sum of their parts; they're just a sum with a ton of parts. There's a lot to like about the Reds.
And they're still drawing well enough. They're not drawing as well as maybe Bailey would like, but they're not a forgotten team. Will they be the most overlooked team to make the playoffs this season? Maybe. But they're still pretty looked.