It pains me to say it, but ever since the Reds went on that miserable losing tear after the trade deadline, apathy has been my main emotion toward this team. Yes, there are storylines. Michael Lorenzen getting starts in center is cool. Aristides Aquino hitting moonshot after moonshot was electrifying. And Sonny Gray continuing to dazzle has kept me invested at least every fifth day. But mostly, eh.
That said, this weekend, for the first time in over a month, I’m actively looking forward to watching Reds baseball. And it has everything to do with one Eugenio “BamGeno” Suarez.
In case you haven’t heard yet, Geno pulled into a tie for first place in dingers in the whole dang LEAGUE when he hit two home runs off of the Diamondbacks Sunday afternoon. The man he shares the top spot with? Pete Alonso, Mets rookie first baseman extraordinaire.
Now with Christian Yelich and Mike Trout both done for the season, Geno and Alonso are really the only two contestants left chasing the home run title. And they’re going to showdown this weekend, face-to-face, mano-y-mano.
It’s tempting to write that this Geno-Alonso matchup is reminiscent of the 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa home run race, but even they didn’t face off this late in the season. The last time the first and second-place home run hitters played each other this late in the season was 2009 when Albert Pujols’ Cardinals played Prince Fielders’ Brewers. Pujols came into the series leading the race 47 to 45, and the only change by the season’s death was a Fielder home run in game 162 to fall short by a dinger.
So maybe that race a little bit more drama, but still. The last time a matchup of this caliber occurred, Trevor Hoffman, Craig Counsell, and Mark DeRosa were on the field and not in the Hall of Fame, manager’s perch, or tiny studio in Secaucus!
More likely than not, Geno and Alonso will enter this weekend within a home run of each other. If one pulls ahead by a more significant margin, then it only ups the stakes for the other to play catch-up when the leader is there before his eyes. And while the Mets have other things to focus on, namely the Wild Card race, rooting for Geno to take the home run crown is about all we Reds fans have left.
When Doug emailed a month ago, asking, “What statistical chases are you watching the rest of the season?” I didn’t answer because frankly I wasn’t interested in any of them. To my own discredit, I didn’t have faith that Geno could hit 50 home runs much less lead the league. I figured he would about where he is now, safely behind Trout, Yelich, and of course, Alonso.
That’s the beauty of Eugenio Suarez: Everything about him is understated. I know we all want him to get more recognition, but it’s almost endearing how he just sneaks up upon you. Remember, this is the man who the Reds got in return for the already-cashed lottery ticket that was Alfredo Simon. This is the man who has ever-so quietly slipped the mantle of “franchise cornerstone” from Joey Votto and worn it without instance. This is the man who might just lead the league in dingers.
Oh and another point: Assuming Suarez does emerge victorious, it’ll be the first time a Red has led Major League Baseball in home runs since George Foster hit 52 in the 1977. It’ll also be the eighth time a Red has led both leagues in home runs since way back to baseball’s inception, though two of those times were before 1900. In addition to Foster and minus those two 19th century chaps, Suarez would join Johnny Bench, Ted Kluszewski, Fred Odwell, and Sam Crawford as the six to have done it. That’s two Hall of Famers, two Reds Hall of Famers, and Fred Odwell for the record.
So no, the Mets series isn’t the exact culmination of the season because the Reds have six games after its end and the Mets have seven (four of which are against the Marlins). Suarez and Alonso’s duel will continue for another week after they go toe-to-toe, sucking a smidge of the drama out of this weekend.
But in essence, after another season filled with cobbled-together storylines and unmet expectations, this weekend is the Reds last time in the 2019 spotlight. It’s Eugenio Suarez’s step into the superstardom conservation. And for my money, it’s a heavyweight statistical chase worth watching.