Friday, March 31, 2006

Hey Cincinnati ... are you ready for some baseball?!?

As I write this, April is less than one day away. For baseball fans, this means baseball -- the first sport in Cincinnati -- is here, too. After the Bengals flew into the playoffs last season as AFC Central Division Champions, the Reds may now be playing second fiddle to those guys for the first time in many years.

Obviously, the Bengals have yet to win a Championship at the highest level (the Super Bowl), but the Reds have a long history and World Championship trophies as well. Given how long the Reds have been a professional organization (1869), one would expect the Reds to have won a number of WS titles over the years (since WS began in 1903), but, sadly, the last one came in 1990. The "drought" is longer than most of the faithful Reds' fans would like, but most baseball fans are happy that at least we're not the Cubs (none since 1908 and holding).

As a "good" baseball fan would do, check out the statistics. There have been 101 World Series played since the first in 1903. The winningest team, by far, is probably the most love-hate team in baseball: the New York Yankees, 26 wins in 39 appearances. The next closest teams have nine (9) titles each: St. Louis Cardinals (the best NL team, in 16 appearances) and Oakland (/Philadelphia) Athletics (in 14 appearances). After those top three, whose combined titles at 26 + 9 + 9 = 44 of 101 is 43.5% of all titles won, the next tier of teams (with at least 3 titles each) make up most of the "chunk" up to 100%. The Reds, among others, are one of those teams. Those mid-tier champions (eight of them) are: Dodgers (LA & Brooklyn, 6 of 18), Red Sox (6 of 10), Giants (NY & SF, 5 of 17), Reds (5 of 9), Pirates (5 of 7), Tigers (4 of 9), Braves (Boston, Milwaukee, & Atlanta, 3 of 9), Orioles (3 of 7), White Sox (3 of 5), and Twins (/Senators, 3 of 6). Combining those Championships yields another 43 titles. Clearly, the other 14 titles were won by teams with two or fewer titles to their credit, which is the case. Two-time World Series champions include: the Mets, Marlins, Cubs, Blue Jays, and Indians. That accounts for 10 more titles, meaning that 4 teams (Angels, Royals, Phillies, and Diamondbacks) in the history of the World Series have only 1 title and the other teams still in existence not already noted have none. I don't need to mention anyone else -- you can use process-of-elimination to figure that out for yourselves.

There has been an interesting trend over the past decade of either first-time champions or teams that had Cubs-like droughts before getting over the hump. Between 1997 and this year, there have been three first-time winners (Marlins, Diamondbacks, and Angels) and two "it's been a really long time" winners (Red Sox and White Sox in the last two seasons). Other than those five teams, it's been the Yankees. So, the basic trend has been (with the exception of the second title for the Marlins in 2003): win your first title, win your first in a long time, or be the Yankees.

Since the Reds have won before and they're not the Yankees, I am not sure it has been long enough to qualify in the "long time" category yet. The Cubs have been overdue in forever (haven't even seen the World Series since 1945), and the current long streak in the AL is now the Indians (who last won in 1948). Maybe we'll get the Cubs versus Indians World Series, but I'm not banking on it.

What do Reds fans have to hope happens? Well, short of all-out collapses by both of the division front-runners (the Cardinals and the Astros), the division title looks pretty unlikely. I'm not a betting man (usually), but the chances are not with the Reds.

I have no doubt this team has offense. The reality is that last year's team had offense, too, but, like last year's team, there is still very little pitching depth. I would rank this year's starting rotation as about a half a letter grade better (maybe from a C to a C+), but it takes a B or better staff to get the job done historically. The 1990 Reds had an ace - Jose Rijo - that this staff has not produced (yet, anyway). Is Aaron Harang that ace? Is Brandon Claussen that ace? Bronson Arroyo was the fourth or fifth-best pitcher in Boston before he left, so I have to hope he's not the ace. Paul Wilson, who was considered the "ace" a couple of seasons ago, wasn't really an ace. Eric Milton has been a bust, but given his history with allowing home runs, that shouldn't have been a shock. This team could benefit greatly from a Roger Clemens / Randy Johnson / Jason Schmidt / Johan Santana type of starter that you could rely on for a strong outing almost every time he went out to the mound. The Reds don't have that.

To add insult to injury, this team still doesn't have a closer either. If David Weathers is the best we can do (no offense to him), we're toast. I had high hopes for Ryan Wagner to develop into a Brad Lidge /Billy Wagner -type performer, but it hasn't happened.

Oh well ... pray that this team overachieves by a lot. Otherwise, we'll be waiting (and praying) for the Bengals by July.

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