Something struck me this weekend while I watched Cincinnati sweep the Braves right out of Great American Ballpark. Could it be true? Can this really be happening? For the first time in a LONG time, is it more exciting to be a Cincinnati Reds fan that it is to be a fan of the Atlanta Braves? Say it ain't so!
The Braves were, without a shadow of a doubt, the team of the '90s. While the Reds had their bright spots (1990 World Series Champs; 1995 Division champs) the Braves were the team to beat, year in and year out. Since then, the Reds have fallen to the bottom of the NL Central, and the Braves still find a way to compete for the top of the NL East since the beginning of 2000. That, however, may be coming to a halt in the very near future.
After watching the series this weekend, I began to compare and contrast the two teams, and what the future may hold for both. After doing so, I was pretty excited about what may be in store over the next few years! Let's take a look at a position-by-position breakdown from my eyes.
Ok, this one is really not close and actually probably shouldn't be the first point of the discussion since it favors Atlanta so strongly! Brian McCann is, without a doubt, one of the most offensively gifted catchers in MLB. There really is no logical person that could possibly muster up an argument for that.
On the other side of the coin, Cincinnati runs out its three-headed monster of mediocrity! When looking at the three catchers the Reds have on their roster (David Ross; Paul Bako; Javier Valentin), I personally do not see a potential everyday catcher among them. This is one spot on the field that the Reds could certainly stand to upgrade.
Advantage: The Braves have the advantage at this position both for the short-term and long-term future.
Acquiring Mark Teixeria last season from the Texas Rangers was a wonderful move by the Braves' front office...for now. Coming over at the trade deadline last season, Mark put on a slugging exhibition that finally let the world see what type of player he could be. So far this season, Mark has been a tad disappointing while hitting .276 with nine HR and 42 RBI. The biggest problem with Mark is the fact that he is a free agent after the season, and there are rumors abound that he will be the starting first baseman in Fenway next season.
As for Cincinnati, they have finally given the 1B job to youngster Joey Votto, and he has shown (so far) that he can handle the position. Joey was brought up in September last season, and saw some time at first while platooning with Scott Hatteberg.
After a slow start, Votto started to get a little more comfortable and began spraying hits all over the field. 2008 began much like 2007 did for the youngster. After being named the starter, Joey got out of the gate rather slowly, and people started second-guessing Dusty Baker's decision to start the kid rather than the veteran Hatteberg.
Votto has since silenced those critics. Hitting .281 with 10 HR and 29 RBI, Joey is showing everyone that he will be a mainstay in the Cincinnati lineup for many years to come.
Advantage: I would say as of this moment the Braves have the advantage at first with Tex. That being said, if they do not lock him up to a long-term deal, the future looks like it will favor the Reds.
Kelly Johnson has not been flashy at 2B, but he has certainly gotten the job done. After starting slowly in 2008, Johnson has turned it on and provided the Braves with solid contributions night in and night out. With little help to be found in the minor leagues, the Braves hope Kelly will continue to produce and give Atlanta the type of professional play he has shown so far this season.
In Cincinnati, the Reds former GM Wayne Krivsky should have a warrant out for his arrest after stealing Brandon Phillips from the Cleveland Indians. Phillips has brought his boyish smile and enjoyment of the game to a town that has quickly fallen in love with him. Providing Gold-Glove defense and some surprising pop in his bat, Brandon has anchored himself in the Reds 2B position for the foreseeable future.
Advantage: I would say the Reds have a clear advantage at this position for both right now and for the future. BP seems as if he will find his way to his fair-share of All-Star games in the future.
When the Braves decided to deal Edgar Renteria in the offseason, it showed the world that they felt Yunel Escobar was ready for prime time...and so far they have been correct!
Escobar has given the Braves solid (sometimes flashy) defense while batting .300 with five HR and 25 RBI. This 25-year old will be part of the Braves' foundation for quite a while. He many not put up the huge numbers his NL East counterparts do (Reyes; Rollins; H. Ramirez), but he more than gets the job done.
The Reds captured lightening in a bottle when they placed Jeff Keppinger in the starting SS position. Before going down with a knee injury, Jeff was hitting .324 with three HR and 21 RBI. For a while he was the only bright spot for the Reds offensively.
Since he's gone down, Jerry Hairston Jr. has stepped right in and continued the hot hitting that Kepp was giving the Reds. For the season, Jerry is batting .327 and has provided the Reds with a number of key at-bats, including a miraculous suicide-squeeze against the Braves this past weekend.
Advantage: This one is close. I think Escobar has the brighter future, but Keppinger (when he returns) has shown that he can flat out hit! Kepp doesn't make the great plays, but he rarely makes mistakes. I would call this a draw for now and give a slight advantage to the Braves for the future. To me, however, this one is a toss-up.
Chipper Jones continues to pad his already Hall-of-Fame worthy stats. Hitting a ridiculous .409 with 13 HR and 38 RBI so far this season, Chipper is showing that at 36-years old, he is still an MVP candidate. He may have lost a step defensively, but if he can find a way to continue swinging the bat even close to the level he is right now, people will be able to overlook any other deficiencies.
The concern with Chipper is always how long he will be able to stay healthy. The Braves have given him some time off when needed this season, but Chipper's history shows that the injury bug will show up at some point this season.
The Reds are not quite as lucky when it comes to the 3B position. Now don't get me wrong, Edwin Encarnacion is a pretty good player, but he is nowhere near the player Chipper Jones is. Edwin has shown flashes of brilliance with the glove at third, but also goes through some mental lapses where his throw ends up in the crowd!
He has given the Reds 10 HR so far this season, but is hitting a minuscule .239. EE is only 25-years old, so he certainly has room to grow, and he has shown signs of improvement so far this season.
Advantage: It goes without saying that the Braves have a HUGE advantage right now at 3B, not only over the Reds, but pretty much any other MLB team.
Chipper has been nothing short of amazing this season, and has shown he's not quite ready to call it a career just yet. The future, on the other hand, may favor Cincinnati. Chipper is coming up on the end of his career, and the Braves seemingly do not have much in the minor-league system to take his place. Edwin, like I mentioned, is only 25-years old and still has a very high ceiling.
The Braves decided against bringing back Andruw Jones (which turned out to be an excellent decision), and instead went with newly acquired Mark Kotsay in CF. While Mark will never be the player that Andruw was during his career with the Braves, he is certainly a great stopgap until Atlanta's group of young OFs (Jason Heyward, Jordan Schafer, Brandon Jones) are MLB ready.
Greg Norton has given the Braves solid contributions, but seemingly is nothing more than that. Jeff Francoeur has been disappointing this season, but still shows flashes of ability that keeps Braves fans interested in the kid. With one of the best arms in the league, one must wonder why any 3B coach would test this kid in RF. He should be a mainstay in that Atlanta OF for quite a while.
The Reds have a couple of decisions to make very soon when it comes to their OF. Adam Dunn becomes a free agent after the season, and the small-market Reds must decide if they are willing to pay him the money he deserves. He will never be mistaken for a Gold-Glove OF, but Dunn gets the job done defensively while putting up astounding offensive numbers.
On the other side of the OF is "The Kid"...well, maybe more like "The Old Man" now! Ken Griffey Jr.'s time in Cincinnati is clearly coming to an end. The Reds must decide if they are going to trade him after he hits his 600th career HR or keep him around for the rest of the season simply to decline his option in the offseason.
Griff still has some pop, and though has lost a step in RF, he still makes the great play from time to time. Then there is Jay Bruce. Now, I know this kid can't possibly keep up the pace he has started his rookie season off with, but all you can say at this point is "wow"! After lighting the league on fire for a week, Reds fans everywhere are sitting on the edge of their seat every time this kid comes to bat!
Advantage: I would say that currently the Reds have a significant advantage in the OF. The future, however, depends on what the Reds do with Adam Dunn. If he is re-signed, then I would say the future also belongs to Cincinnati. If they let Adam walk in the offseason, then it makes things a little harder to read.
The Braves need to give their young kids a chance at some point to see how they react to the big leagues, but that's a little harder to do when you are actually in contention for the division!
With John Smoltz seemingly finished (which in itself is sad), the Braves' rotation is not looking good. Glavine isn't getting any younger, and he is showing his wear-'n-tear these days.
Tim Hudson has loads of ability, but for some reason has not been able to 'put it all together' since joining the Braves. Mix that in with the fact that the injury bug keeps biting him, and a lot of Atlanta fans have been unhappy with his performance with the team. He has been giving them 14-16 wins per year, but there was so much more expected out of him that I am not sure he COULD have lived up to his expectations.
Jair Jurrjens and Jo-Jo Reyes both have lively arms and could provide Atlanta with solid starts, but neither seem like "front-of-the-line" guys that will take over what the team loses with Smoltz out.
The Cincinnati rotation is finally starting to come together. Aaron Harang hasn't pitched like the ace he was last year, but he has been steady with a 3.86 ERA and 78 Ks. The Reds offense has given him little, to no, run support, which explains his awful 2-8 record on the season.
Edinson Volquez has been nothing short of spectacular so far this season. Coming over from Texas in an offseason trade for Josh Hamilton, Edinson has dazzled Reds fans with his minuscule 1.46 ERA and eye catching 83 Ks. Armed with a 'plus' fastball and at times an unhittable changeup, Volquez has started the season in Cy-Young-Award winning fashion.
Johnny Cueto's major-league debut was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever witnessed. The kid looked like Pedro Martinez reincarnated! Since then the league has adjusted to him and he is no longer getting people to swing at his slider off the plate. His last few starts have been solid, and it seems like he may have figured out that his first start was a fluke and he needed to change a few things to survive.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde...oops...I mean Bronson Arroyo has been serviceable as long as you view him as your No. 4 starter. He has been all over the map so far this season, and you really do not know what to expect when he starts a game.
The No. 5 slot for the Reds has been a TRAIN WRECK so far this season, and they are wheeling out their next "Star of Tomorrow" this week in Homer Bailey. We will wait until after his first start of the season before passing judgment on Mr. Bailey.
Advantage: The Braves had a run where they had the best starting pitching in the league. Unfortunately for Braves fans, that run is over. Tim Hudson is very solid, but really doesn't posses the No. 1-type stuff you are looking for. With Smoltz out for the season, I would certainly give the Reds the advantage both right now and in the future. The future is bright for the Cincinnati rotation.
The Braves bullpen was forced to go through some changes when Rafael Soriano went on the DL earlier this season. Now that he is back, and everyone is allowed to "shift back" to their regular spots, the Braves' bullpen can finally settle down.
Soriano is flat out nasty, and as long as he's healthy, the closer roll is certainly solidified. Manny Acosta filled in adequately for Soriano while he was out, and can now step into the set-up role nicely. Once they get Mike Gonzalez back, the Braves should have a very good back-end of the bullpen.
After what was a joke of a bullpen last season, the Reds went out this winter and brought in a few pieces to help settle things down. Francisco Cordero was given a ton of cash to come in and lockdown the ninth inning for the Reds. So far he has done a great job, collecting 11 saves to go along with his 2.10 ERA.
Jared Burton (Rule Five pick from Oakland) has found his groove again, and is currently blowing people away in the eighth-inning set-up role. Mix in a healthy Bill Bray and Gary Majewski to go along with Jeremy Affeldt, and the Reds' fans finally do not have to hold their breath every time the manager goes to the pen.
Advantage: I would call this one a close toss up, but with the youngsters in the Reds' bullpen, I would have to give the 'future' advantage to Cincinnati. The Braves key bullpen guys have all had injury concerns over the last few years, which brings their durability into question.
My late Grandfather (God rest his soul) was a HUGE Atlanta fan when I was a kid. We would sit and argue back and forth for hours over which team was better (an argument that I knew I had no beef in, but couldn't let him just steamroll me). Well grandpa, I think our arguments would be a little more fun for me now.