ST. LOUIS -- Though they have the most productive lineup in the National League, the Reds still strike out as often as a guy with a bad pickup line. Strikeouts are the natural side effect of a lineup full of power hitters, of course. So the Reds have learned to just grin and bear it. "With the makeup of our lineup," manager Jerry Narron said, "we're going to strike out."
With 1,286 whiffs this season, the Reds won't eclipse last year's total of 1,335, which is a club record. The team has, however, set a record for number of players with 100 strikeouts in a season. The record had been three players, but after this season it will stand at five. Coming into Saturday's game against the Cardinals, Adam Dunn had 164 strikeouts, Wily Mo Pena had 116, Felipe Lopez had 109, Austin Kearns had 106 and Jason LaRue had 101. Ken Griffey Jr., who had 93, likely would have upped the total to six, had his season not ended prematurely. The strikeout totals are a concern to Narron, who watched his club fan 11 times in Friday night's 12-6 loss to the Cards. "I'm an on-base percentage guy and a put-the-ball-in-play type of guy," Narron said. "One thing we have done is score runs. But there are times when we've faced better pitchers, and we've struggled with a lot of strikeouts." Indeed, while the lineup has been productive -- the Reds came into Saturday's action with the NL lead in runs scored (809), home runs (216) and RBIs (773) -- it's also been remarkably inconsistent. But Narron said he's seen improvement over the course of the season in the strikeout department. "I think we've got some guys that have done much better," he said. "I think Adam Dunn has cut down. I don't know what his exact number is, but he's improved." Dunn set a Major League record with 195 strikeouts last season, and he won't reach that mark this year. But that doesn't mean he hasn't had stretches where the Ks come in bunches. "I was thinking [before Thursday's game against the Brewers] how much better he's done," Narron said. "Then he went out and struck out four times." The Reds aren't likely to alter their lineup much this offseason, so the Ks will probably continue. And Narron will continue to make cutting down on them a point of emphasis in Spring Training. "You want guys to put the ball in play better than they have," Narron said. Baby time: LaRue got an early jump on the offseason when he left the team Saturday to head home to Bulverde, Texas. LaRue's wife, Heather, is expected to give birth to the couple's third son any time now. LaRue was a nervous-looking man the past few days. With LaRue gone, Javier Valentin will get the last two starts at backstop, Narron said. Miguel Perez is available as the backup. "We're going to have to make do with a four-man bench," Narron said. LaRue, who will be eligible for arbitration this offseason, hit .260 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs in his fifth full season with the Reds. Who gets the vote? The topic was the NL MVP, and it's a topic that's led to a debate among any astute observers of the game this season. Narron was asked who would get his vote, if he had one: the Cardinals' Albert Pujols or the Braves' Andruw Jones. "When we played Atlanta, I thought for sure it was Jones," Narron said with a smile. "And when we play these guys, I think it's Pujols." Narron said the vote should go to whichever player has the biggest impact on his club, but he's not quite sure who that is. "Both of them would change their teams [if they weren't there]," Narron said. "It's a shame only one of them can get it." But after thinking about team impact, Narron joked that perhaps Barry Bonds' four-year reign as MVP shouldn't come to an end. "If Barry Bonds plays this year, the Giants probably win their division," Narron said. "So maybe he's the MVP again." Keisler concerns: Before Friday night's game, general manager Dan O'Brien said Randy Keisler might find himself in the mix for consideration for a starting spot next season. "That experiment continues tonight," O'Brien said. It's an experiment that hasn't gone particularly well. Keisler was knocked out of Friday's game after just 3 1/3 innings as he gave up four runs on nine hits. He used 84 pitches in that span. "In order for Keisler to be successful, he's going to need to be more efficient with his pitches," Narron said. "We would like to see him work quickly to get outs. The way he changes speeds gives him a chance." Reds report: Pena was out of the lineup again Saturday with a hyperextended lower back, and it looks as though he's shut down for the year. "I guess so," Pena said. "When I walk a lot, I have to sit down, because it tightens up. I have to stretch a lot." ... With an RBI on a walk Friday night, Dunn became the first player in Reds history to notch 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 100 walks in consecutive seasons. Joe Morgan, who accomplished the feat in 1976, is the only other player in team history to do it even once. On deck: It's the end of the line, as the Reds close out the '05 season with Sunday's 2:15 p.m. ET game at Busch Stadium. Left-hander Brandon Claussen (10-10, 4.01 ERA) will get the starting nod against right-hander Matt Morris (14-10, 3.94 ERA).
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.