Reds' Promising Start to Season A Sign of Things to Come

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIApril 30, 2009

CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 8: Edinson Volquez #36 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Great American Ballpark on April 8, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

Johnny Cueto is part of an improved <a href=Cincinnati Reds pitching staff, and part of a surprisingly good start to the season" title="The Cincinnati Reds have had a promising start to the season" width="368" height="406" />

Johnny Cueto is part of an improved Cincinnati Reds pitching staff, and part of a surprisingly good start to the season

The numbers put up by the Cincinnati Reds aren’t mind-boggling. Their hot start to this 2009 season, an 11-10 record (7-3 on road), good for a tie of third place in the National League Central, however is. They struggled in years past, gaining the reputations as a mediocre, middle-of-the pack ballclub in the NL Central. This year is different. Their time has come to succeed and assert themselves among the elite in Major League Baseball.

The Reds have not made the playoffs since 1995. This is primarily because the franchise began to buy into the philosophy that a powerful offense could offset poor pitching. In recent seasons, Cincinnati’s offense has lived and died with the home run, which has led to mediocre team batting averages and sporadic production. Their pitching could not combat these struggles, as many of their talent was still working their way through the minor leagues.

The talent, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, has since arrived. Cueto, 23, made 31 starts during his 2008 rookie campaign, and though he struggled to the tune of 14 losses and a 4.81 Earned Run Average, there were plenty of bright spots to build from. Cueto, with this valuable experience under his belt, has made significant strides.

In his first outing he allowed four runs, but struck out nine Pittsburgh Pirates. Since that performance he has given up only two runs in three starts and 18 2/3 innings pitched. Despite his stellar pitching of late–amounting to an overall 2.19 ERA–he only has one win to show for his efforts because his offense has scored a grand total of eight runs this season for him.

Volquez has received the support that Cueto has been asking for, which is the reason why he has three wins despite a below-average 4.45 ERA. He has given up 15 runs in 20 innings this season, but this is deceiving, considering 11 of those were relinquished in his first two starts. Over his five starts, his offense has helped him out considerably, averaging almost six runs per game for the 25-year old righthander. Like Cueto, his best outings have come in late April. Opponents have only mustered six hits in his last three starts, including his most recent gem–eight innings of one-hit ball.

The youthful Cueto and Volquez headline a rotation that boasts two wily veterans: longtime Red, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo.

Harang, who has been with the team since 2003, had a stretch of three seasons from 2005-2007 with an ERA under 3.85. Like the rest of his staff, he had a rough 2008, losing 17 games while allowing 35 home runs. He has rebounded, once again an integral part of the Reds success. He has 2-3 record, which is nothing special, but, like Cueto, his offense hasn’t accounted for much during his starts. His 3.09 ERA is a true testament to how well he as pitched.

Arroyo was an extremely dependable pitcher throughout his tenure with the Boston Red Sox, and though he has faltered somewhat since joining the Reds, he is a vital asset nonetheless. His first season with Cincinnati was tremendously successful, as he compiled 14 wins and a 3.29 ERA. In the following two years, his effectiveness drastically decreased. Even so, he benefited from fantastic run support, which is primarily why his 4.77 ERA resulted in 15 wins.

This season is eerily similar. He’s 3-1 despite allowing 18 runs on 30 hits in 25 innings pitched. His 6.48 ERA is atrocious, but even that stat is deceiving as well, since has he had three consecutive wins, including two in which he surrendered 4 runs in 13 1/3 innings. If he can get on track, and stop putting a substantial amount of pressure on his offense, he will complete a pitching staff that’s ready to shake the reputable below-average title.

Their offense has clearly been rejuvenated as well, considering how many runs they have given the likes of Harang and Arroyo. A .233 batting average is nothing to be proud about–in fact, it is downright abysmal–but the Reds two promising young hitters, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, have carried a majority of the load. Votto has a .346 batting average and has driven in 20 runs; his RBI total is good for a tie of 3rd place in the National League in that category. So, despite ranking 15th out of 16 National League teams in offense, Cincinnati has something to build upon, and hopefully production that will turn contagious to the rest of the lineup.

If the Reds offense starts hitting consistently, and the pitching continues to improve, the Reds will be in contention for the long haul for the first time in a long time.