As we entered the 2011 baseball season, the natural train of thought was to assume that whatever happened last year, would not only be duplicated but perhaps improved on.
And why not? This organization has brought along a stable of young pitchers to go alongside the veteran Bronson Arroyo, providing the perfect mixture of experience, plus youth.
Mike Leake and Travis Wood made their major league debuts in 2010, as Leake did the majority of his best work in the first half of the season; Wood essentially picked up where Leake left off at to be a key cog of the staff in the second half.
Johnny Cueto also grew exponentially not only as a pitcher but also as a professional. He showed more courage and grit than he had in years prior.
Homer Bailey was hurt for a large stretch but looked good in the final month of the season.
Edinson Volquez apparently pitched with enough promise upon his return from Tommy John surgery to earn the trust of Dusty Baker in Game 1 of the NLDS (we all know how that turned out, but that's an entirely different topic).
Heading into spring training, with the way things were supposed to shake out, there was a good chance that someone very talented was going to be on the outside looking in—a good problem to have.
My, how things have changed.
As we currently stand, there isn't a member of the starting staff that hasn't faced some sort of major adversity.
Arroyo was recently flown back to Cincinnati to have his back examined. The MRI results returned favorable, but his current ERA of 5.28 is very un-Bronson like, suggesting he has pitched with pain (and lingering mono issues) all season.
Cueto missed the beginning of the season with minor shoulder inflammation and, to his credit, has not only returned stronger than ever but looks like the current rock of the rotation.
In other words, he may bear a startling resemblance to the enigmatic Edinson Volquez (more on him later), but he sure doesn't pitch like him.
Wood has picked it up this month, following an awful April where he ended it with an ERA near 7.00.
Bailey, much like Cueto, also missed the first month of the season and though he has looked great upon his return, was pulled from Thursday's start with shoulder spasms.
Leake has put together some solid starts, but an embarrassing off-field incident, plus ineffectiveness have marred his progress, as he was also sent down to the minor leagues for the first time in his young career.
As for Volquez, every start he has made, the Reds have trailed in. He can't stay ahead of hitters and he seems like a nice guy, but comes across as being somewhat unprofessional between the lines.
We can sit here all day and talk about the potential and talent of this staff, which was what was being done this offseason, but health, mixed in with good luck, are needed in large doses.
Cincinnati got those aforementioned things in 2010. One of the most underrated factors that led to not only the success of the staff but the team as a whole.
It hasn't happened yet this year, as the pain/pressure of 162 and adjustments other teams make can cause the best of plans to go awry.