Cincinnati Reds: Taking a Look Back at the Month of April
With the arrival of spring time comes new hope and new energy, among the list of things that philosophers like to wax poetically about this time of the year.
For the Reds, it also represented new opportunity. That being, a chance to show that they were ready to pick up where they left off at from 2010.
It was a month with scintillating highs and humbling lows, as the walkoff style wins were a sign that this team still had the same heart and mentality as last years squad, but losses to teams that they should beat indicate that they have a target on their back that they didn't have before.
Most importantly, though, they remain in the thick of things in the NL central, and last season, it was right around this time of the year when they started to pick it up.
With the return of Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, plus the eventual return from Scott Rolen, that could be the case again this year.
Even though it was technically in March, for the purpose of this column, I'll include Ramon Hernandez' walkoff home run on opening day.
Much of the crowd left early, assuming that the Reds' three run deficit in the ninth was too much to overcome.
Never count this team out. Besides, trying to beat out traffic is overrated.
That win helped catapult the team to a 5-0 start.
Also, among the other highlights in the month, they survived trips to St. Louis and Milwaukee. I'll take a .500 trip to those cities anytime.
Additionally, they had the same result in their earlier west coast visits to San Diego and Arizona. Everyone who watched the Reds knows how bad they typically struggle on the west coast, so I can live with that result.
Finally, the month ended on an Edgar Renteria walkoff hit against his old team. It was a game in which the Reds appeared to be down and out, but they kept fighting, and they prevailed in the end.
In 2010, the Reds dominated the weaker links of the National League. They couldn't beat St. Louis to save their lives, but their work against the rest of the division was key to them ultimately winning the division title.
A big part of that, plus their uneven play as a whole following the 5-0 start, is injuries. Two-fifths of the projected starting rotation is out.
As a result, the much publicized rotation, though to be long on depth and talent, has been a problem thus far.
Also, the Scott Rolen injury has created a fairly sizable problem. Miguel Cairo is a nice player to have around, but you don't want him as your everyday third baseman.
This wouldn't be an issue had Rolen's backup, Juan Francisco, not gone down with an injury as well.
Also, there was the Mike Leake story, which was embarrassing for the organization to have to deal with.
Needless to say, the Reds have been tested early on. Last year's team had the mental fortitude to overcome various obstacles.
What about this one?
Most Valuable Player—Offense
Joey Votto, hands down.
Without him, this team would be sunk.
Heading into May, Votto has reached base in 27 consecutive games, and following his 2010 MVP campaign, is putting up a similar effort this far, with a .372 batting average and a staggering .504 OBP.
It's such a joy to watch this man hit on a daily basis, as he hits for power, hits for average, to all parts of the field, and can shorten his swing if need be.
I'm very glad to have him on our side.
Most Valuable Player—Starting Pitching
This organization wants to sell us on the virtues of the young pitching coming up through the organization, but at the end of the day, old man Bronson Arroyo is still the standard setter.
His three victories and 3.64 ERA lead the club this far, as he has shaken off mono with relative ease.
While I still like the young pitching in place, there is no man in the starting rotation I'd rather take the ball in a key spot than Arroyo.
An honorable mention goes out to Mike Leake, who made news for a lot of the wrong reasons off the field, but has fared the best out of the youth thus far.
Most Valuable Player—Bullpen
This was a bit of a tough category to pick from, but I had to go with Francisco Cordero, as he has picked up the pieces from a shaky 2010 campaign.
Small/mid market teams should never invest this kind of money in a closer, as this was a mistake from the previous regime, but at least Cordero hasn't been a total disaster.
With the awareness that his deal expires at seasons end, Cordero seems to have found his control.
Least Valuable Player—Offense
For this category, there wasn't an obvious choice, but I had to go with Scott Rolen for a few reasons.
Many feared before the season began that he wasn't going to be able to contribute for the duration of the season, as he was penciled in for roughly 120 games.
Well, with injuries already creeping up this early, even that projection may be difficult to reach.
Also, when he did play, he was largely ineffective.
The Reds need production behind Joey Votto in the lineup. It remains to be seen whether or not Brandon Phillips will continue to hit cleanup, but Rolen was counted on for that task, and hasn't delivered.
Considering he's one of my personal favorite players on this team, and a classic, gritty veteran, it's tough for me to place Rolen in this category, but the 36-year-old may not have much left to offer this point going forward.
Least Valuable Player—Starting Pitching
This was a tough choice, as both Travis Wood and Edinson Volquez have been brutal, but I had to go with Volquez here.
At this point in time, I have more faith that Wood will turn things around, as he has youth, plus a much calmer demeanor.
Volquez, on the other hand, is still only 28 years old, but at this point, how much better can he get? What he did three seasons ago may be the apex of his career.
Plus, he was counted on to be the ace, as Dusty handed him opening day duties.
His mental preparation, and his lack of control, are really concerning. True, it wasn't long ago that he has Tommy John surgery, but it's always something with this guy.
Maybe its time to accept him for what he is. That being, an average major league starter who can hopefully get you through five or six innings with a repertoire that can occasionally dominate.
Least Valuable Player—Bullpen
Much like other areas of the team, this is tough to identify, as no one has been an unmitigated disaster
I went with Nick Masset, who seems to be a slow starter. Also, walking nine batters in 14.1 innings pitched is unacceptable.
Some peg him as the future closer. He has great stuff, but those walks kill him.
While the bullpen as a whole has been solid, its clear they miss the presence of an Arthur Rhodes, but assuming Masset turns it around, this unit looks to be a strength of the team
The majority of the month consists of games vs. National League Central opponents, so the Reds will have an opportunity to make a direct impact on their place in the standings.
Last year, this is when the team started to gel, and play great baseball, so I look forward to seeing if a year later, this team can do the same thing.
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