CINCINNATI (AP) – Manager Dusty Baker has trouble even thinking about next year.
“I don’t know, man,” he said, after the Cincinnati Reds’ season ended with a collapse. “I’m kinda numb in this situation.”
Pretty much summed up the season. A team that had been able to overcome so many setbacks couldn’t get that one last comeback to make it something really special.
A 6-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Thursday knocked the NL Central champions out of the playoffs far earlier than expected. The Reds won 97 games and their second division title in three years, but couldn’t get that elusive home playoff victory to move on.
Make it 17 years now since the Reds have won a postseason game at home.
“It was disheartening to have my club go through this,” the 63-year-old manager said.
The Reds went through a lot, and handled all of it well until the final three home games in the playoffs. They became the first NL team to win the first two in a best-of-five division series and fail to move on.
The biggest question involves Sacramento native Baker, who was hospitalized in September for an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. He rejoined the team for the final regular season series in St. Louis, feeling good and upbeat.
His two-year contract ends after this season. Owner Bob Castellini is fond of Baker and talked last February about giving him an extension. Baker feels he’s healthy enough to keep managing.
The Reds have won 269 games under Baker in the last three seasons, their best such stretch in 30 years. Their two division titles in three years is the best such run since Sparky Anderson managed the Big Red Machine to World Series championships in 1975-76.
The question is whether the front office is ready to make a commitment to Baker after the Reds lost in the opening round of the playoffs again.
“I’m not sure where my career is going here in Cincinnati,” Baker said. “We’re going to talk about that in the next couple of days. But I’m not through managing yet. I have more to do.”
General manager Walt Jocketty has a few important player decisions to make as well, starting with the closer.
The Reds were prepared to have hard-throwing Aroldis Chapman move back into the rotation until closer Ryan Madson blew out his elbow in spring training. Chapman was eased into the closer’s spot and was one of baseball’s best, converting 38 of 43 save opportunities and a club-record 27 straight.
Do they simply entrust the job to Chapman? Or do they try to make him a starter again? Madson has a mutual option for 2013 at $11 million – too pricey for someone coming off major elbow surgery – with a $2.5 million buyout.
Third baseman Scott Rolen had another injury-filled season in his final year under contract, slowed by a bad back and a chronic shoulder problem. Rolen turns 38 next April and has to decide whether he wants to keep playing. Todd Frazier could take over at third.
Then there’s left fielder Ryan Ludwick, who helped carry the team in the second half after Joey Votto hurt his left knee. Ludwick batted .313 in his last 80 games of the season with 18 homers. He led the Reds with three homers in their playoff series. Ludwick has a mutual option for next season at $5 million with a $500,000 buyout.
Votto is the Reds’ best hitter, acknowledged by the 10-year, $225 million extension he got before opening day. The Reds went 36-12 when he was out in the second half of the season with torn knee cartilage.
The leg wasn’t at full strength when he returned, affecting his power. Votto didn’t hit a homer after June 24. He had seven singles during the playoffs. The Reds expect their 2010 National League MVP to be back to normal next season.
The rotation returns intact, including 19-game winner Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, who pitched the 15th no-hitter in franchise history. Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos give the Reds one of the best foursomes in the majors.
The Reds will be considered a favorite to win the division again next year and beyond.
“I envisioned sustained success, and I think that’s what people may tend to overlook – ownership’s commitment to being better not just for a year but for years,” right fielder Jay Bruce said. “I think these days, the way that contracts and free agencies have gotten, you have to do it the right way or it’s tough to sustain success over a period of time.
“I think that the Reds’ ownership has done that, and I’m happy to be part of it.”
The pitching staff was the club’s strength in 2012. The bullpen led the majors with a 2.65 earned run average and 56 saves. For the first time in franchise history, none of the five starters missed a game because of injury – until the playoffs.
Only eight pitches into the opener in San Francisco, Cueto strained a muscle in his right side and was done. The Reds had to juggle their rotation and won the first two games, but missed Cueto when they had a chance to wrap it up back home.
That left it up to an offense that had depended upon the big inning all season. It ended with Rolen striking out with two runners aboard.
“We hadn’t lost three games in a row at home all year,” Ludwick said. “This team lived and died all year with the big hit.”
And came up one short.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)