Baby Steps to the Playoffs: Can Cincinnati Repeat as NL Central Champions?

Greg JudyContributor IIIMarch 15, 2011

Reds manager Dusty Baker
Reds manager Dusty BakerJeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Even though the Cincinnati Reds lacked key offseason acquisitions, General Manager Walt Jocketty believes they still have the players needed to win the National League Central Division for the second consecutive year.

The Reds have improved their wins in every year since manager Dusty Baker took over the team in 2008. Just like Bill Murray's character in What About Bob?, the Reds seem to move in "baby steps."

Last year, they achieved their goal of not only producing a winning team, but making the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons, before being swept in the NLDS by Philadelphia.

This year, the Reds will seek to repeat their successful playoff run, but will also strive to win a playoff series.

They no doubt will want to redeem themselves after last year's poor outing in the NLDS.

The Cincinnati rotation consists of young, hard-throwing, future all-stars, instead of the usual aging washed-up veterans of the past.

Edinson Volquez will be the opening day starter for the Reds. He rejoined the team half-way through the 2010 season, after missing over a year with surgery and recuperation of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament of his throwing elbow. Volquez, an all-star in 2008, was at times overpowering and dominant, but at other times wild and mediocre.

It will be interesting to see which Volquez will show up on opening day.

The Reds other starters include the consistent veteran Bronson Arroyo; Johnny Cueto, who gave up less hits than innings pitched; and second year prodigy Travis Wood.

Another question mark to the Reds rotation is Homer Bailey. Like Volquez, Bailey can be real good, but also real bad. However, he finished 2010 with the best earned run average (4.46) of his four year career.

Reds fans are not very happy with the performance of closer Francisco Cordero in 2010, but neither are Reds management.

Even though Cordero had 40 saves last year, he blew eight saves and had a miserable 6.75 ERA in September. If Cordero starts the 2011 season the way he ended the 2010 season, he will most likely be replaced by either of the two young flame-throwing relievers: Aroldis Chapman and Nick Masset.

Masset had a 1.45 ERA in the second half of the season and Chapman had 19 strikeouts in 13 innings.

The Reds chose not to resign veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera, opting to make Paul Janish the everyday shortstop. The 29 year old Janish batted .260 in 82 games last season.

The Reds also added 2010 World Series MVP Edgar Renteria as a backup to Janish.

Brandon Phillips will again start at second base for the Reds. Phillips, a Gold Glove winner, made his first All-Star appearance last year after batting .275 with 18 homers and 16 stolen bases.

The Reds have one of the best corner duos in the National League in MVP first baseman Joey Votto and six-time All-Star Scott Rolen. These two will continue to provide leadership for this young Reds team.

After ending the 2010 season on a high note, right-fielder Jay Bruce will seek to continue his stroke. He currently has 68 career home runs, more than any other active player under 24 years-old. The Reds are still confident in young center fielder Drew Stubbs. Despite his low batting average, Stubbs finished his rookie season with 22 home runs and 30 stolen bases.

Jonny Gomes will start at left field for Cincinnati. He is a fan and clubhouse favorite who was given a starting role last season. He hit 18 homers and had 86 RBIs.

As far as the position of catcher is concerned, the Reds are stacked: Ramon Hernandez is a veteran who has proven that he can still play at a high level when healthy; Ryan Hannigan finished his second season with the Reds, batting .300 with 40 RBIs in 70 games; and Yasmani Grandal, the team's top pick in 2010, will quickly ascend the Reds' farm system.

Dusty Baker has to feel satisfied with the players he has on his bench, many of whom would be starters on any other team. The bench is led by utilityman Miguel Cairo, who filled in for Scott Rolen last year when he was briefly injured. Also joining the Reds bench this year is outfielder Jeremy Hermida, a new addition from Boston.

The Cincinnati Reds are no longer considered to be the laughing stock of the National League.

They are now feared and respected not only for the players that they place on the field, but also for the transactions and moves that GM Walt Jocketty is not afraid to make. With a season-ending injury to St. Louis' ace Adam Wainright, the Reds are poised to repeat as NL Central champions.

However, a deep playoff run is still a major question, given the young pitching staff.

Baby steps will be the course of action yet again.