Sports Today: Bengals give up the ghost

Published: Monday, December 11, 2017 @ 9:59 AM

Marvin at a loss for words

Today the sports world still turns in Southwest Ohio whether we want it to or not. 

As far as weekends go, this one could have gone better. 

I predicted the Bengals would lose to the Bears, though I did not think Cincinnati would look quite that bad

RELATED: 5 things to know from Chicago’s 33-7 win in Cincinnati

Marvin Lewis’ team obviously faced an uphill climb with so many defensive starters hurt, especially since this is a team with no leadership on offense. 

For not the first time this season, A.J. Green had to spend part of his Sunday afternoon explaining to reporters why he let the team down

That’s always problematic from your best player, but it’s worse with this team since the coach and the quarterback don’t provide the type of leadership typically expected from men who have been doing this as long as Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton. 

Lewis opened his postgame press conference by saying he didn’t know what happened. That was obvious. 

Andy Dalton said… who cares? He never says anything of substance before or after games, and he rarely if ever does anything during games to make his team better. 

Those two things may not be connected, but it’s his choice not to say anything or show any personality in interviews so I’m free to hold it against him when his team fails. 

Andy on A.J. struugles: It happens to everybody

We long ago reached the point where people decided just to take whatever they want from every Dalton performance — talk about his lack of support if you like him, nitpick his mistakes if you don’t, it’s all the same — but the conclusion I have reached with him is that at the end of the day, he has proven he can’t carry a team. 

As mentioned, the defense was behind the eight ball because of personnel. As such, that unit was gutted by a bad offense. 

If you get outscored in that situation, OK, stuff like that happens in the NFL. 

Seven points against a so-so defense with a veteran quarterback and a still-pretty-good cast of skill players (even without Joe Mixon) is not acceptable. 

And maybe Green wouldn’t have so much focus on him if he had a quarterback who held him accountable for his mistakes. 

And then maybe Green wouldn’t be so prone to clunkers, either. 

I said before this is not a lost season for the Bengals, and I still feel that way. 

We knew the offensive line would be bad. 

The defense, when healthy, has been better, and youngsters have a lot to do with that. 

Even without Tyler Eifert, the offense has proven to have lots of weapons, some of them young. 

The cupboard is far from bare. 

If they could block anyone, there’s more than enough skill talent around Dalton to get back to the playoffs and lose. 

This is now guaranteed to be a disappointing season. 

There’s definitely enough skill on this Bengals roster to win nine games. Instead, it looks like they’ll lose at least that many. 

I am not one who roots for tanking or against a team to get a coach fired, but that is where this is all headed anyway. 

At least things will get interesting once that change happens… 

Meanwhile, the Ravens and Steelers played a classic on Sunday night. 

That inevitably left me wondering what it must be like to follow a team that has enough respect to overcome adversity on a regular basis and not be hit with an overriding feeling of dread whenever anything bad happens. 

Lewis has moved the Bengals beyond any reason for concern the horrors of the 1990s will return, but under him the franchise is now squarely in a situation in which every setback is viewed as another reason to doubt they will ever deserve to be talked about with the great teams in the league. 

That’s not as bad as how he found it, but after this many years, it ain’t good… 

The Browns lost, too, and it was quite a work of art. 

They had the Packers on the ropes before a special teams gaffe opened the door to the game-tying touchdown. 

Cleveland got the ball to start overtime only to have DeShone Kizer throw an utterly baffling interception to set up Green Bay’s winning touchdown. 

I’m still bullish on Kizer’s potential, but calling that a rookie mistake seems too kind. 

I would think an 11-year-old would know not to simply throw the ball up for grabs in that situation… 

Also this weekend the Dayton Flyers absorbed a pretty bad loss to Penn. 

That is not a shot at the Quakers. 

They’re 8-4 with a KenPom rating just eight spots behind Dayton’s, but this is a game Anthony Grant’s team should win nine times out of 10. 

Playing at home, the Flyers should have had some sense of urgency given the troubles they’ve already faced, but the coach indicated that was not the case

What happened Saturday isn’t going to ruin the program or anything, but it’s a big setback if they want to have a solid year. I’m going to call 20 wins and a finish in the top half of the Atlantic 10 a solid year. Maybe that would be a good year given all the graduation losses, but we can argue about that later. 

Given this team’s athleticism, defense has bene a surprising problem for the Flyers so far. 

Penn, like Auburn, lit them up from the perimeter, thwarting comeback attempts. 

Less surprising was Grant’s statement that the offense struggled because of a lack of transition opportunities. That much could have been expected before the season started (that they would be better scoring in the open floor than the half-court). 

On the bright side, there is a lot of potential here. There are a lot of different parts for Grant to try to put together, and he’s probably not going to get the same performance out of some of those guys every night because so many of them are inexperienced. 

This one stings, but it’s also believable it will help them be better in the long run — whenever that happens to be… 

On the bright side, Wright State beat Kent State on Saturday at the Nutter Center

The Raiders haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of college basketball teams, but they are two games over .500 at this point despite opening the season with some personnel problems. 

Second-year WSU coach Scott Nagy said he saw his team do all the things it has to in order to be successful this season. 

“Obviously, we’d like to be better on offense, and we’ll get there. I’m less concerned about that and more concerned about staying at this level that we were defensively — and the hustle plays. We saw kids on the floor making plays. I’m really pleased with the guys.” 

The Raiders play at Toledo on Saturday… 

Ohio State football hit the practice field again Friday to begin preparing for USC. 

If the Buckeyes who met with the media were still torn up about Alabama’s being picked over them for the playoff, they did a good job of hiding it

Everyone I heard asked about the lower back/spinal cord injury former Buckeye/current Steeler Ryan Shazier suffered last Monday night also had pretty much the same answer: They felt bad, but it doesn’t really affect them because they understand the risks of the game

It’s been interesting watching the disconnect between players and media on this… 

The Reds didn’t make any news over the weekend, but they were at least tangentially involved in its biggest story in baseball: The Yankees won the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes. 

That’s bad news if you’re a Small Market Defeatist who believes the decks are stacked against teams like the Reds (to be clear, they are, but not to the point Cincinnati can’t regularly compete with smart management), but it’s better than the alternative. 

The reigning National League MVP could have ended up in St. Louis, but he vetoed a trade to the Cardinals. 

(I guess Alan Trammell and Jack Morris being picked for the Hall of Fame could qualify as a bigger story, but I don’t think so.) 

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Cincinnati Reds: Peraza more comfortable, confident at shortstop

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 8:24 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 8:24 PM

            Reds shortstop Jose Peraza throws to first base for an out against the Cardinals on Thursday, April 12, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds shortstop Jose Peraza throws to first base for an out against the Cardinals on Thursday, April 12, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

One of the Reds’ many problems while losing 18 of their first 22 games was defense, especially around second base.

Jose Peraza, back at shortstop as the heir to 2017 All-Star Zack Cozart after losing his second base position to Scooter Gennett last season, had committed just one error in his first 21 games, but he seemed uncomfortable. Grounders that fans were used to see being caught instead were leaking through to the outfield.

»RELATED: Garrett untouchable in bullpen

»RELATED: Reds hope win get them going

»MCCOY: What’s it like inside Reds clubhouse?

Recently, though, Peraza has shown signs that the more he plays, the more comfortable and confident he feels.

“I think he’s playing great,” Gennett said before Tuesday’s game against Atlanta. “He’s been playing that position with more confidence. After switching back and forth, I’m really impressed with how quickly he’s picked it back up again.”

Going into this season, Peraza had started 82 major league games at second back and 77 at shortstop.

Peraza, who turns only 24 on April 30, also was becoming more productive offensively. Going into Tuesday’s game, he had hit .292 since starting the season 0-for-12, pushing his overall average up to .247.

Interim manager Jim Riggleman credits Peraza’s defensive improvement to working with infield coach Freddie Benavides.

“He’s playing good,” Riggleman said of Peraza, acquired from the Dodgers as part of the December 2015 three-team trade in which third baseman Todd Frazier was sent to the White Sox. “He’s an extremely hard worker. I know Freddie’s had to tone him back a little bit. It’s a long season, but I think he’s played fine.”

Riggleman believes shortstops are at a disadvantage because they usually are compared to those who played at the highest level, such as Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel. In Cincinnati, shortstops follow in the footsteps of Roy McMillan and Leo Cardenas and Dave Concepcion and Barry Larkin.

“There’s such excellence that to call anybody average is an insult,” Riggleman said. “If you’re an average major league shortstop, you’re pretty good. He’s really swinging the bat and running the bases. He’s a baseball player.”

Deeper bench

Cincinnati’s five-man bench allowed Riggleman to make a move that proved decisive in Monday’s 10-4 win over the Braves.

With the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth inning of a tie game, he sent right-handed-hitting Phil Gosselin up to bat against left-hander Sam Freeman. Braves’ manager Brian Snitker replaced Freeman with right-hander Peter Moylan, prompting Riggleman to take down Gosselin and send up left-hander Jesse Winker, who delivered a tie-breaking, run-scoring single.

“The sixth inning is a little earlier than I’d like to do it, but with five players on the bench, it’s easier than with four,” Riggleman said. “With four players, it’s really tough, especially if one of them is a catcher. That makes it tough to maneuver for the rest of the game.”

New tools

Tucker Barnhart didn’t have anybody particular in mind as he banged a black Rawlings catcher’s mitt with a bat on the floor in front of his Great American Ball Park home clubhouse cubicle.

The Reds catcher simply was going through the process of breaking in a couple of new gloves. The process is lengthy.

“This one I started on in January and all through spring training,” he said, holding up a third black glove. “I’m hoping it’ll last me close to two years. Rawlings has pretty good leather.”

That means the new gloves might not see the field until 2019.

Barnhart uses a leather conditioner to help with the breaking in process, which also includes him flexing the glove with his hands.

“It’s getting there,” he said.

Bare hand

Sal Romano’s right hand was sore on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after he speared Ozzie Albies’ sharp one-hopper with his bare hand and threw him out at first.

Romano’s approach is not recommended.

“We literally talk about it in spring training,” Riggleman said. “The thing is, with the way shifts are, if you let it go, there’s probably going to be a middle infielder there, but its competition. It’s instinct. What you don’t want to have happen is he doesn’t get all of it and it dribbles off into no-man’s land.”

Trading Kevins: Before Tuesday’s game, the Reds reinstated right-hander Kevin Schackelford from the 10-day disabled list and designated right-hander Kevin Quackenbush for assignment, leaving the 40-man roster at 39. Schackelford was sidelined since March 29 with a right forearm strain. Quackenbush was 0-1 with an 11.00 earned-run average in 10 games.

Next up

Left-hander Brandon Finnegan (0-2) is scheduled to make his third start since coming off the disabled list in Wednesday’s 6:40 p.m. game against Atlanta. Finnegan is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two career games, both of them starts, against the Braves.

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Gennett’s walk-off homer lifts Reds to second straight win over Braves

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 11:14 PM

            Scooter Gennett hit a pair of home runs Tuesday night to lift the Reds past the Braves. GETTY IMAGES
Scooter Gennett hit a pair of home runs Tuesday night to lift the Reds past the Braves. GETTY IMAGES

Second baseman Scooter Gennett picked the perfect time to locate his power stroke.

Gennett’s second home run of the game – and the season – helped the Reds overcome a bullpen meltdown and pull out a 9-7, 12-inning win over the Atlanta Braves before a crowd of 14,139 pizza-appreciating fans at Great American Ball Park.

The recently reliable Reds bullpen faltered mightily in Tuesday’s game against the Braves, but Joey Votto walked to lead off the 12th andset up Gennett’s first career walkoff home run, adding to a night of firsts for him. Earlier, he contributed what he said was his first major league suicide squeeze.

“Not many guys have a game where they have a suicide squeeze and two home runs,” interim manager Jim Riggleman observed.

»RELATED: Garrett untouchable in bullpen

»RELATED: Reds hope win get them going

»MCCOY: What’s it like inside Reds clubhouse?

Left-hander Amir Garrett and right-hander Raisel Iglesias teamed up to blow a ninth-inning, four-run lead, but Jared Hughes (1-2) pitched 2 2-3 innings of scoreless relief to get his first win as a Red.

The Braves’ rally started with first baseman Freddie Freeman’s second homer of the game. Center fielder Ender Inciarte capped the comeback with a two-run infield single on a blistering one-hopper that Gennett couldn’t shorthop, handing Iglesias his first blown save in four opportunities this season.

“It’s the least I could do after messing that one play up,” Gennett said. “That’s a situation where I’m trying to get one up and out over the plate. For a second, I thought it wasn’t going to go out. I thought (right fielder Nick) Markakis was going to climb the wall.”

The game was the fifth of the young season in which Atlanta overcame a deficit in the eighth inning or later.

“You had a bad feeling once Atlanta came back,” Riggleman said. “I give our guys tremendous credit. This is a game of heartbreak sometimes, and it looked like it was going to be one of those nights for us.”

The bullpen had compiled a combined 2.81 earned-run average over the previous 10 games before Tuesday’s collapse.

The Braves comeback cost Tyler Mahle his second win of the season. Mahle, in his fifth start of the season and ninth of his career, turned in six no-hit innings against the team that went into the game leading the National League in scoring.

Mahle, who’s pitched two minor league no-hitters, was pretty sure he wasn’t going add one in the majors on Tuesday.

“It felt about the same, but I had more pitches,” he said. “I could’ve gone seven, but I don’t think I could’ve gone nine.”

That doesn’t mean wasn’t thinking about it.

“It’s always in the back of your mind a little bit,” he said.

The 23-year-old, whose previous single-game career high in strikeouts was seven, had 11 through six innings before Freeman launched a no-doubt home run deep into the right-field seats on Mahle’s 90thpitch to lead off the seventh inning. Markakis doubled and catcher Kurt Suzuki homered into the left field seats to knock Mahle out of the game.

Eleven strikeouts gets ticket holders free pizzas at local LaRosa’s.

Coupled with their 10-4 win on Monday, the Reds have back-to-back victories for the first time since beating Pittsburgh last Sept. 16-17, a span of 34 games, and allowed them to avoid posting the single-worst 23-game start in franchise history. They are 5-18, matching the 1931 and 1934 teams’ records through 23 games.

Tuesday’s followup was better for the Reds than the last time they logged a 10-4 win. That was on April 16 – also a Monday – in Milwaukee, which they followed with two 2-0 losses. Mahle started the second shutout loss.

Catcher Devin Mesoraco was scratched from manager Jim Riggleman’s original starting lineup after developing a stiff neck. Tucker Barnhart stepped in and delivered an RBI single in the seventh.

Mahle helped get Cincinnati’s scoring started in the three-run second inning. He came up with the bases loaded and one out and hit a chopper up the first base line that Freeman fielded cleanly, but Suzuki had to jump to catch Freeman’s thrown and he came down with his feet off the plate for a throwing error.

After a lengthy delay, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker put his hands to his ears, indicating he wanted a replay review, but crew chief Fieldin Culbreth denied the request, most likely because Snitker took too much time.

Billy Hamilton followed with one-hopper back to pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who dropped the ball and threw too late to get Hamilton at first while Barnhart crossed the plate. Jesse Winker’s sacrifice fly gave the Reds a 3-0 lead.

Votto and Gennett teamed up for their first home runs of the season with two outs in the fifth inning. Votto’s reached the first row of seats in left-center field, while Gennett’s line-hugger caromed off the right-field foul pole.

Gennett, who had five hits in his last 31 at bats, and rookie third baseman Alex Blandino each finished with two hits, and Gennett drove in Philip Ervin with a deft suicide squeeze in the seventh.

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Sports Today: Reds get some managerial magic for at least one night

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 9:50 AM

CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 23: Scott Schebler #43 of the Cincinnati Reds singles to drive in a run in the eighth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park on April 23, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 10-4. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 23: Scott Schebler #43 of the Cincinnati Reds singles to drive in a run in the eighth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park on April 23, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 10-4. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Chalk one up for Jim Riggleman. 

The interim manager of the Cincinnati Reds moved Scott Schebler up to the leadoff spot, and the offense promptly exploded for 10 runs in a victory over the Braves

Schebler was a big part of it, going 2 fo 5 with three RBIs and three runs scored. 

He hit the first Reds home run in a week and made Riggleman look pretty smart. 

Not that I get the impression that was what the skipper was really going for: 

“We’re 3-and-whatever we are,” Riggleman said before the game. “We’ve got to try anything.”

Sometimes managerial magic is interchangeable with luck, and I think we can all agree “anything” is better than the first three weeks of the season for the Reds. 

Riggleman also sounds committed to batting Billy Hamilton ninth until he starts to look like a real major-league hitter, so I guess we can rule out the second coming of Dusty Baker here (old-school baseball man who insists on speed at the top of the lineup regardless of on-base percentage). 

It is amazing how quickly this became a put-up-or-ship-out season for Hamilton, who apparently could have been traded in December and now may have a lot less value after a bad spring and worse start to the regular season. 

Sal Romano pitched six good innings, striking out five and allowing only one earned run, to get his first win of the season. 

More good news: Eugenio Suarez should be back in a Reds uniform soon. The third baseman is scheduled to play in Triple-A for Louisville tonight on a rehab assignment for his fractured thumb. 

It’s probably too late to salvage a .500 record this season, but the Reds offense should look a heck of a lot better with Suarez and Schebler back in the lineup. 

At least management should still get a chance to sort out which of the guys in the majors deserve to be in Cincinnati long term and who can be moved out to make room for youngsters moving up in the improved farm system. 

There was some bad news, though. 

Hunter Greene was knocked around as the Dayton Dragons lost their third straight game. 

The Reds’ most-recent first-round pick took his first loss of the season after failing to get out of the first inning. 

He allowed seven runs, including a grand slam, and recorded only two outs. 

Greene walked three and gave up four hits. 

For what it’s worth, three of the runs charged to Greene scored with Austin Orewiler on the mound in relief. 

I mention that because Greene showed a knack for getting out of trouble in his first two starts. 

If you’re keeping score, he’s gone from great to average to pretty bad in three times out for Dayton. 

PREVIOUSLY: Greene battles elements in second start

Bumps in the road were always to be expected, of course, especially for such a young fella. 

It will be interesting to see how he bounces back and how quickly he can develop a game plan for hitters who are willing to wait for his fastball and can lay off his breaking stuff. 

The Dragons are the definition of streaky so far, having lost three in a row to start the season, won nine and now lost three more in a row… 

Dayton Flyers basketball made news Monday, too, as one player announced he is joining up and another announced where he is going next. 

Frank Policelli, a 6-foot-8 forward from Long Island, will be eligible to help Anthony Grant’s team this fall after verbally committed Monday

He is a three-star top 300 recruit in the 2018 class who played AAU ball with current Flyer Obadiah Toppin. 

» RELATED: Transfer from Vanderbilt joining Dayton women’s program

Meanwhile, Xeyrius Williams revealed he plans to continue his college basketball career at Akron

The former Wayne High School star was a starter two seasons ago but opted to transfer after an injury-plagued junior season. 

At 6-9 with the ability to shoot the three, he could be a force in the MAC -- but not until 2019-20. 

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Former Flyers forward Williams picks new school

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 5:02 PM

Dayton’s Xeyrius Williams reacts after making the go-ahead 3-pointer against Rhode Island with 10 seconds left on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. David Jablonski/Staff
Staff Writer
Dayton’s Xeyrius Williams reacts after making the go-ahead 3-pointer against Rhode Island with 10 seconds left on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. David Jablonski/Staff(Staff Writer)

Former Dayton Flyers forward Xeyrius Williams will play his final season of college basketball at the University of Akron.

The Wayne High School graduate Williams announced his decision Monday. He will have to sit out the 2018-19 season and will finish his career with the Zips in the 2019-20 season. In posts to Twitter and Instagram, Williams thanked the Dayton fans who watched him play the last three seasons.

» RELATED: Transfer from Vanderbilt joining Dayton women’s program

“You guys have been there through the ups and downs,” Williams wrote. “I also want to thank all the people, managers, coaches and especially my teammates/brothers who I had the opportunity to play alongside. You guys have all influenced my life in a positive way, and I’ll always cherish the brotherhood and the memories we made as a team.”

Williams also visited Kent State, according to his Instagram account.

Williams announced March 13 he was leaving Dayton. He was one of five underclassmen to leave the program. He appeared in 18 games last season, averaging 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds as the Flyers finished 14-17. He had a breakout year as a sophomore, averaging 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.

» RELATED: Josh Cunningham named Dayton’s MVP

The season did not go as planned. Williams started the season in the starting lineup and played 34-plus minutes in each of the first four games, averaging 11.3 points. Then he missed the next five games with a back injury.

Akron was 14-18 last season, the first for head coach John Groce. That ended a streak of 12 straight 20-win seasons. Trotwood-Madison grad Torrey Patton played for Akron last season as a freshman but announced he was transferring earlier this month.

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