Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How About Those Reds?!? Winning Continues Over Nats in 6-5 Victory on Tuesday Night

The Reds are truly on a roll through their first 21 games this season. With a stellar 14-7 record, only two teams (the NL Central-leading Astros and the AL Central-leading White Sox) have a better record (14-6). What the Reds have set themselves up to do is something they haven't done in over a decade -- compete for the playoffs.

Yes, I know what you may be thinking (assuming you're reading this, of course). The Reds are supposed to be a bad team and all of those baseball experts said this team should be in the cellar of the NL Central, competing with the likes of the Marlins or Nationals for worst record in the NL overall. Well, if any conclusions can be drawn so far, they (baseball's "experts") all forgot that this team has offense, lots of it.

It is easy to jump on the bandwagon, but this author (yours truly) wrote in a post on March 27:

"I am a bit partial to my Reds in the Central, but I am realistic enough to know that Cincinnati lacks the pitching to be a real contender here. I DO believe they are better than the last place team, though, as I keep seeing predicted for them. Put them somewhere around mid-pack, but the offense has a lot of firepower to score some runs. Combine the lackluster starters with the extra run support ... either equals lots of high-scoring losses or possibly surprising wins."

How true has that been so far? Yes, people will point to the number of runs allowed by the pitching staff, but it has been an all-or-nothing effort at moments this season. The team has allowed double-digits in runs scored on three occasions this year (Opening Day 16-7 loss to the Cubs, 12-6 loss on 4/18 to the Marlins, and 11-0 loss on 4/22 at Milwaukee). Factor out that the sum of the runs in those losses (16 + 12 + 11 = 39 runs) and the overall runs allowed at 121 (of which 109 are earned) doesn't look nearly as ugly. Meanwhile, the offense has scored 131 runs (7 + 6 + 0 = 13, in those losses). The differential excluding those three games: 118 runs scored, 82 runs allowed (lesser amount earned). It paints a different picture of the pitching when you factor out the "blow-ups".

The pitching on this team still has question marks. Aaron Harang has emerged, as I hoped he might, as the staff ace. Bronson Arroyo, who most knew very little about coming from Boston, has been equally amazing. Eric Milton, who now sits on the DL, had two great starts but then one bad one. If the bad one was injury-related, I can forgive that one; otherwise, it raises the flag on a pitcher we saw struggle last year. Brandon Claussen is a roller coaster ride -- sometimes good and sometimes not. If Claussen finds the consistency from game to game, he will help this team immensely. Dave Williams, as the fifth starter, has been nothing short of bad. Consider that last night's game -- his fourth start of the season -- was his best to date: four runs allowed in five innings on nine hits with one walk and no strikeouts for his first win. His first start was actually better (six innings with three runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts), but he didn't get the win. The two starts in between (against St. Louis and Milwaukee) were awful -- three innings each and six runs allowed both times.

On the bullpen side, there are good stories and bad ones. I don't have time to hit them all right now, but Todd Coffey for one has been a bright spot. As much as I criticize David Weathers, he has done better than I would have expected as well. Kent Mercker, the veteran, has done consistently well. Matt Belisle and Rick White have comparable numbers, but both have had good and bad appearances. Mike Burns and Chris Hammond have both struggled, but Hammond has shown some signs of getting the ship righted (maybe). Burns is still a big question mark to me personally.

The injury front remains (fingers crossed) the general bright spot. Except for Ken Griffey Jr and now Eric Milton on the DL, the team remains relatively injury free. Junior is probably more precautionary than anything, while Milton is also a smart precautionary move before further injury could happen. Paul Wilson just might be back on the big stage in the near future, and his past history is something we should all look forward to getting back. If he is anywhere near where he was for much of 2004, we could all be happy.

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