Saturday, March 25, 2006

Rounding Third and Heading for Home (Deja Vu All Over Again)

[Editor's Note: I wrote the following (verbatim) on May 11, 2005. Some of the same statements hold true starting this 2006 season as were true early last season. While some names have changed (notably Danny Graves, thank goodness), some have stayed the same (like Eric Milton or Paul Wilson). More to come on this front ...]

The words of Joe Nuxhall echo through the room as he signs off at the conclusion of Reds' baseball game, after interviewing the "Star of the Game" for every broadcast he does. Granted, Joe is no longer an *active* radio broadcaster for the Reds; however, his words have been "immortalized" on the GABP in Cincinnati such that every car passing by on Interstate 71 can see them. Nevermore have his words been more meaningful with regard to this current team and the recent years of struggles.

The current squad of Reds has problems. First and foremost, the Reds lack a quality number one starter -- an "ace" of the starting rotation. While Paul Wilson sufficed last season, the belief was that Eric Milton and/or Ramon Ortiz would take the reins this season. Unfortunately, it has not happened. Aaron Harang leads the staff with a 3.45 ERA (hardly the stuff of an "ace") but has only one win to his credit. Brandon Claussen looked like he was coming around last night (versus the Padres), but, unfortunately as well, he was hit by a comebacker in the 4th inning and left the game with an ankle sprain. Milton is being himself so far ... 13 homers allowed in only 7 appearances (ouch!). Wilson has fallen apart completely, including an awful performance again today (5/11) versus San Diego, with an ERA over 8.00(!). Ortiz has been hurt (already), while I have suspicions that Wilson may be ailing as well. The starting pitching needs help ... big time.

Secondly, and equally important, the Reds lack bullpen depth. While they have "veteran" pitchers, Weber, Weathers, are not living up to expectation. Kent Mercker (who seems to bounce between clubs, including the Reds) is the bullpen "ace" with a sub-3.00 ERA ... and is the only one who can say that. The total staff ERA is atrocious, while Danny Graves (giving new meaning to the "Cardiac Kid") bemoans being booed for giving up runs and blowing saves / victories. Graves coming back to the bullpen, after failing as a converted starter, seems to be sliding slowly into retirement and/or middle relief. The power pitcher of the bullpen is Ryan Wagner -- case closed. Wagner is to the Reds like Brad Lidge is to the Astros: a hard-throwing pitcher with the "closer of the future" label. Lidge didn't get the opportunity until Octavio Dotel was shipped away ... maybe the Reds could do the same with Graves.

Third, and finally (for this post), the Reds lack speed. Ryan Freel is the only legitimate speedy threat on the bases, while Felipe Lopez trails significantly (although he is better than most others). Dunn supposedly has some "hidden" speed and Junior stole bases historically ... neither does much stealing now. Freel can make or break a game with his play ... the Reds need at least another player like him in the middle to back half of the lineup to make things happen (LaRue, Aurilia, Jimenez, etc. aren't cutting it).

With deference to Mr. Nuxhall, this is the *young righthander*, rounding third and heading for home ... let us hope the Reds figure out some ways to prevent the opposition from doing the same so often.

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