Was the Reds success of last season an aberration or a trend? They were 43-24 against the Astros, Brewers, Cubs and Pirates, and 48-47 against everyone else.
1--Who among the Reds' young stable of starting pitchers will take it to the next level?
Homer Bailey: 4-3, 4.46 ERA, 19 starts, 109 innings
Johnny Cueto: 12-7, 3.64 ERA, 31 starts, 185 innings
Mike Leake: 8-4, 4.23 ERA, 22 starts, 136 innings
Edinson Volquez: 4-3, 4.31 ERA, 12 Starts, 62 innings
Travis Wood 5-4, 3.61 ERA, 17 starts, 102 innings
Do you see a pattern here? Cueto was the only one who was in the rotation all year.
Volquez was out after Tommy John elbow surgery a year. With his control lapses and mechanics issues, did he come back too soon? If he can regain his fom of 2008, he may never be worth Josh Hamilton, but has the potential to be a #1 starter on the level of Jose Rijo before his elbow problems.
Wood came up at mid year, and came within two outs of a perfect game, a feat only accomplished by the last successful Reds' left-handed starter, Tom Browning. He seems to have the stuff for long-term success.
Who will win the NL Central in 2011
If Bailey is still around, 2011 may be his last shot at gaining a permanent spot in the rotation. He could fulfill the need for long relief they had[n Pedro Borbon who kept the Reds in a lot of ball games. But Bailey takes a while to warm up the clock is ticking...
After getting off to a fast start that would have made Leake an early Rookie of the year candidate, Leake seemed to have evaporated after Volquez returned. When he went to the bullpen, he got hammered. And then he disappeared.
Although Champan is able to throw 105 m.p.h., I am more concerned with his ability to get 27 outs. He either has to start or finish. There is no way to justify his money for a set up man.
If he becomes a closer. where does that put Francisco Cordero? Cordero gets a huge salary to finish games and probably not be around after next year. To justify Chapman's salary, he would have to be a Mariano Rivera.
In order to compete with other clubs, the starters have to go deeper into games. Given the Brewers recent acquirisitions, they will need to get better in order to repeat.
Cordero, 6-5, 3.84 ERA, 40 saves is in the last year of contract. With eight blown saves, if half of his blown saves had been converted, the Reds playoff position and maybe results could have been different. Even when he converted saves, it was rarely easy due to erratic control.
The NL Central Winner has not won a playoff game in four years. How will this years' winner do?
Behind Cordero is Nick Masset, who was 4-4 with a 3.40 ERA, with two saves. With Arthur Rhodes departed, Matt Maloney or the possible resurrection of Dontrell Willis filling the void. Logan Ondrusek, 5-0, 3.68 ERA, in 60 appearances, pitched much better in his second stint with the big club.
Middle and long relief could be a weakness of this team, if a starter, relegated to the bullpen is unable to make the adjustment.
Last season's pickup of Ramon Hernandez (97 games, 7 home runs, 48 RBIs, .297 ave) was, for the short term, along with Scott Rolen, one of the best in recent years. Coupled with Ryan Hannigan, (70 games, 5, 40, .306) two solid catchers, until last year's first round draft choice, Yasmani Grandal time to develop. Last year, Hernandez handled about 60%, to Hannigan's 40%. Hannigan always caught Arroyo. and usually an additional start a week. Barring injury, the Reds seem to be in good shape.
If the Reds can pony up the dough, they seem to be set for the decade with Joey Votto (150 games, 37, 113, .328, almost unanimous MVP) at first base is the first real difference maker that has come up through the Reds' system since Barry Larkin, meaning to the Reds what Jeff Bagwell meant to the Astros in the 90's and Tony Perez to the Big Red Machine.
With another potential big bat in Yonder Alonzo waiting in the wings, one or the other may have to play out of position, like Perez playing third when Lee May came up. Votto worked hard on his defense last year, so any move of Votto that would affect his offense would be a bad idea, and Alonzo may become to Votto what Hal Morris was to Don Mattingly, or Paul Konerko was to Sean Casey.
Brandon Phillips (150 gams, 18, 59, .275) scored a lot of runs, and had a better year than the stats due to a late season hand injury. His remarks about the Cardinals didn't set to well in head-to-head encounters, but seemed to set a fire under the other teams in the division, The Cards were 12-6 against the Reds, but 27-33 against the other four teams, with much of the damage coming after Phillips' remarks.
When Willie Stargell wrote his book on the 1979 "We are Familee" Pittsburgh Pirates, he wrote that Dave Parker, a guy who was so talented that he replaced Roberto Clemente, played out of hate. It doesn't take much bitterness to shove one into playing out of hate. They win championships and they are not happy. Baseball is still a game that pays insane money and most of us can only dream about it. My best advise to Phillips is to play hard but be happy.
The 1979 Pirates were their last championship team, sweeping the Reds in the LCS, and beating the Orioles in a seven game World Series. They haven't had a winning season since Barry Bonds left them.
Like most Reds good second basemen, Phillips is a converted shortstop, with shortstop range at second base. Phillips made only three errors and won his second Gold Glove.With Cabrerra out of the picture, it seems that the Reds have put the confidence in Paul Janish (82 games, 5, 25, 260)as an everyday shortstop. Like Juan Castro, there was never any doubt about Janish's defense, but had little confidence in his hitting. But Dave Concepcion was not much of a hitter when he started either. Put Janish in the eighth slot and leave him there. They have plenty of 1-7 offense. Geronimo batted .307 in the eighth slot in 1976, and Sparky Anderson didn't move him.
Who's on third, long term: I dunno.
Last year at this time I speculated what kind of a difference having Scott Rolen (133 games, 20-83, .85) for a whole season would be. He certainly was enough of a difference to make the Reds a division winner. But Rolen faded in the second half of the season, and will probably be limited in starts in 2011. Like several guys in the past, I wish Rolen would have become a Red earlier than when he was acquired. It is possible that the Reds can have four Gold Gloves this year.
Two guys that were brought up in September, Juan Francisco (36 games, 1-7, .273) and Chris Valiaka (19 games, 1-2, .263) are possiblilties. Francisco has the offensive pop, and Valaika can back up at second, short, or third, taking Janish's spot as a backup. With Miguel Cairo (91 games, 4, 28, .290) returing, it is unlikely that Francisco, Valaika and Alonzo will be with the team on opening day.
Johnny Gomes (148 games, 18. 86, .266) was an enigma in left field. At times he looked like the perfect #5 hitter, driving in runs in droves, and other times he looked all the things Adam Dunn's agent never brings up in contract negotiations, strikeouts, and although he made only one more error than Jay Bruce, he had 149 less total chances than Bruce. At 29, he could still have many productive years ahead of him, but 2010 could have been a career year.
Whenever the Reds are approached about trades, Chris Heisey's (97 games, 8, 21, .254) name probably comes up in discussions. He appears to be a five tool guy that could be an everyday outfielder for a decade. When Bruce was injured, and Gomes, Heisey and Stubbs had to play every inning of every game, the team's play suffered. Since no one was brought up from Louisville to fill the void, it seems there is little help at AAA.
The potential great white hope of the Reds is former #1 pick Drew Stubbs (150 games, 22, 77, .255h). With blazing speed, he appears to be the perfect leadoff hitter. With Stubbs it is all about contact. How many times last season was Stubbs 0-2 without taking the bat off his shoulders? Batting lead off is a lot of pressure, but Baker and the coaching staff are working to make him more aggressive. If he can become even a decent bunter,he can become a terror to opposing teams. Short fences in small ballparks are a real tempta tion for guys like Stubbs to look for a perfect pitch to drive. In the "dead ball" era, guys like Willie Keeler were successful because, as he put it, "I hit 'em where the ain't."
With their speed Heisey and Stubbs can cover a lot of ground. One aspect of the Big Red Machine that is often overlooked was that its defense was as good as its offense. A great defensive outfield can knock off half a run off the team ERA.
The Reds made a major commitment by signing Jay Bruce (148 games, 25, 70, .281) to a long term contract. At one point last season Marty Brenamin wondered aloud, "will this kid ever get it?
One can summarize last season in this statement "as goes Jay Bruce, so goes the Cincinnati Reds." As good as Votto is, Votto cannot carry this team alone. When Bruce is on top of his game, he can hit the first pitch 400 feet to clinch a playoff erth. When he slumps, the whole team suffers.
In terms of talent, Bruce is a faster version of Paul O'Neill. O'Neill "got it" after he left the Reds, and has five World Series rings. When O'Neill first came up, Pete Rose called him "Jethro."
When Bob Castelinni bought the team, he got Walt Jockety to be General Manager. Baseball is different from other sports because baseball is a very long season with the fewest teams making the post season. A franchise that was an also ran has a bright future. Jockety sems to be pushing the right buttons like Bob Howsam in the '70s. I feel for Bengal fans who are stuck with Mike Brown.
When Dusty Baker was hired as manager, I had my doubts. Like any. leader, he can only tell his people what to do. His players have to execute. Some guys succeed, other do not. In 1990, people were looking for any reason for hope against the prohibitively favored Oakland A's. What they came up with was "the ex Cub factor," with the Reds having less ex Cubs than the A's. After losing the LCS, the win 66 games the next year, Baker gets canned. His teams weren't very good his first two years, but found success in the third.
Aside from starting pitching, and even then cannot keep up with the big spenders, the Reds are not very deep. If their regulars stay healthy and continue to improve the decade of 2010 might be like the decade of 1970. 1990 was a great year. A unique year, being in first place all season. The rest of the decade was up and down. I make no predictions.
My Opening Day Lineup:
Hannigan, C (catches Arroyo)
Arroyo, P He deserves it.
An irony to end this piece: only one year have they opened on the road: