Cincinnati Reds: 10 Early Observations
I’ll start this with one major caveat: I know we’re only a week into the season.
Of course it’s early. Of course things could change in a day. Of course we shouldn’t base assumptions on numbers players have cobbled together in seven days.
But with the excitement of a new season comes inevitable over-reactions, over-analysis and loads of stress.
It’s the business we’re in. We watch, we react. It’s that simple.
So, don’t freak out, man. Let’s agree that nothing is effed.
But still...here are my reactions after one week of Reds baseball.
1) Ryan Madson's Injury HURTS
When I heard about Madson shredding his elbow, I was busy tailgating for a spring training game, and my drunkometer was hovering at medium.
Maybe that’s why I only took the news semi-hard.
After all, the Reds had a good bullpen last year and had added the league’s best lefty setup man in Sean Marshall.
Turns out, I just didn’t give the whole situation enough thought.
A week into the season, the effects of the Madson nightmare are starting to come into focus, and they’re kind of scary.
First and most obviously, without Madson, the Reds are left with no proven closer. The man replacing him (Marshall) looks really good so far, and I personally am not worried that his first year as the head man won’t be a success.
Still, that’s the most obvious effect, so I feel like I shouldn’t leave it out.
Second, Marshall taking over the ninth means others need to step up in the seventh/eighth. Nick Masset (no sure thing, himself) is hurt, so the responsibility shifts to a rickety Bill Bray and an erratic Jose Arredondo.
Unless (and this is number three) Aroldis “Hammer Face” Chapman takes one for the stupid team and drops out of the rotation battle. Which he did, probably involuntarily. That move alone means Homer Bailey gets the rotation’s fifth spot, and we all saw how that movie can play out (three dingers given up in Monday’s first inning).
With Madson, we’re looking at air-tght eighth and ninth innings, locked down by two dominant pitchers who are comfortable in their roles. Middle-relief duties would be taken care of by guys who should be pitching in middle relief (Arredondo, Ondrusek), and the rotation would include one of the filthiest mo-fo’s Fidel Castro ever misplaced (too soon?).
Without Madson, we’re looking at an unknown in the ninth, a shaky (at best) fifth starter and guys like Alfredo Simon pitching in middle relief.
2) Middle Relief Is a Legit Concern
Not to be redundant, but our middle relief corps is an issue.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote this article and said I wasn’t worried about the Reds’ relief pitching.
I’ll take “retractions” for a thousand, Alex.
Our sixth innings are currently manned by three guys whose early ERAs could make your eyes bleed.
Sam Lecure (6.00 ERA), Jose Arredondo (9.00) and Alfredo “not good enough for the Orioles” Simon (7.75) have been shaky at best, making these next observations all the more glaring.
3) Matt Latos HAS to Be Good
This one is simple.
In order for the middle relief to be passable over the next week or so (while Bray and Masset get fully healthy), they cannot be overworked.
Dusty needs to be able to pick his spots wisely with these guys, and not have to use them for two innings at a time or in situations where the matchups beg him not to.
Sure, at times, that will be unavoidable.
Bronson Arroyo will have games where his buttocks is handed to him in the first or second inning.
Homer Bailey will continue to have a fastball that’s flatter than an Iowa expressway. But that’s why we need Latos to be a stabilizer.
Johnny Cueto is a good makeshift No. 1, and Latos needs to complement him and allow the bullpen to recharge. He can’t have regular meltdowns, and he can’t under-perform his expectations. If he does, I say the Reds miss the playoffs.
In fact, I’ll put that out there right now—as Latos goes, the team goes.
Let’s validate that statement in July.
4) Homer Bailey Will Never Be a Good Major League Pitcher
I doubt you’ll find a Reds fan anywhere who doesn’t really wish Homer Bailey would work out.
At one point, he was the savior.
Then he was the “wow if he could only stay healthy” guy.
Then he slowly took on the “high-upside fourth starter” role.
Now? Ugh—it’s like we’re all just wishing he'd go away.
Yeah, sure, the talent is there. Or at least it was there, at one point. But nothing out of Homer Bailey (seemingly since the Clinton Administration) has proven that he’ll be anything more than a fifth or sixth insurance arm.
It’s sad, but I have to side with my heart, not my head on this one.
I’d say “Homer being done” is another bold prediction, but that would assume that most of you aren’t completely aware of this sad reality already. Still, I say he never has a 12-plus win season or a sub-4.00 ERA.
5) Jay Bruce Is Proving Me Right
In my preseason predictions, I said Jay Bruce would parlay his new physique and increased experience into a dynamite season.
I predicted a .280 batting average and 35-40 home runs. I predicted he’d win a Gold Glove.
So far, Bruce leads the team in homers and RBI and has had several base hits (little hook shots where he went with the pitch instead of flailing wildly) that he never would have had at this time last year.
I predict I was right.
6) Drew Stubbs = Invisible
Remember Opening Day?
Remember what Drew Stubbs did that made every Reds fan in the country go all goat-kneed?
That's right—Drew Stubbs bunted, ladies and gents. And he emerged with a base hit to show for it.
Since that at-bat, his first of the year, Stubbs has gone 3-for-19 and hasn’t even attempted to spell bunt.
There was a time when I got excited at the thought of Stubbs’ “tools.” Tingly, even, when he’d come up to bat, reeking of triples-speed and ding-dong power.
These days? I’ll be quite honest—as he sits there sandwiched between Heisey and the catcher, sometimes I literally forget he exists.
7) Willie Harris Is Worthless
Corey Patterson. Willy Taveras. Fred Lewis.
I know preaching to Reds fans about how little Willie Harris will contribute this year is probably like telling the residents of District 12 how uncool The Hunger Games is.
I get it, and I won’t spend much time on it.
But seriously—you’ve heard about athletes that make everyone around them better?
Well, every time I watch this guy struggle through an at-bat, I feel myself getting worse.
8) Wilson Valdez Is Not
I like to think that, as a resident of Philadelphia, I have a pretty unique perspective on how valuable Wilson Valdez can be.
First, he was the winning pitcher in that 19-inning marathon last year, a game I attended and one that was surely a big demoralizer for the Reds.
But Valdez has value beyond his ability to win 19-inning snoozers, and you need only listen to Philly talk radio to understand it.
Last season, as Chase Utley commuted back and forth from the retirement home, Valdez stepped up in countless situations, providing a steady bat in the lineup and a reliable glove anywhere he was needed.
Today, as the same Chase Utley continues to age at three times the pace as the rest of humankind, Philly fans cannot believe the organization let Valdez get away. The guy’s a gamer, plain and simple, and he’d be invaluable this season at Citizen’s Bank Park.
Luckily for Reds fans, he now plays in Great American, where just yesterday he dropped down two bunts (two!) for hits.
I predict that Cincinnati fans will warm to Valdez quickly this season, and that he’ll play a bigger role than we may have originally thought.
9) We Need Scottie
As steady as Valdez may be, he is still no substitute for someone like Scott Rolen.
Sure, Rolen’s bat may never be what it once was (he’s currently hitting .118).
But I say Rolen hits between .275 and .280 this season, provided he stays healthy.
If he does, we’re a much better team. Period. Plays like his bare-handed laser-beam to first the other night prove it.
I like Miguel Cairo, but I really like Scott Rolen.
10) This Team Can't Afford Injuries
Despite a disappointing series against the Cardinals (where they barely avoided a sweep), I like this Reds team.
I think the hitting has depth throughout the order and will be fine, I think the defense will be superb and I think we’ve got a few really good arms.
Still, the Phillips and Madson injuries show what a few dents and dings can do.
Without Phillips, Dusty has already resorted to things like leading off Willie Harris and Drew Stubbs. Without Madson, guys like Todd “Spring Training He-Man” Frazier get sent down in favor of Alfredo Simon.
A serious injury to Votto, Phillips or Bruce would be really detrimental to this team’s chances. A serious injury to Cueto? I’d say pack it in.
Though stocked with potential, I say this team (especially after watching them for a week) needs to stay healthy.
Now then—everybody go freak out.
For more sports coverage from Reed Domer-Shank, visit his blog: J O U R N E Y M E N . You can also follow Reed on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact him directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.