Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reds Knock Off the Nationals; 4-1 on Road Trip, 13-7 Overall

Can this possibly be the Cincinnati Reds team we heard so much about coming into this season as the "worst" team in the NL Central? How did a team this *bad* manage to have nearly double the number of wins (13) as losses (7)? While most of the analysts / experts looked at the Reds' pitching and believed it would be downfall of the team, they didn't factor that the pitching would come through big (so far) and the offense could make up for some of the relief pitching's deficiencies as well.

With Monday night's victory of 4-2 over the hometown Nationals in Washington, D.C., the Reds have won their last two, five of their last seven, and, notably, have lost only one series (and two games in a row, at St. Louis) to date. The Reds have won their series with an explosive offense and undoubtedly an unexpected series of quality starts from their unheralded starting pitchers.

Writer's Note: I have been diving into the individual game play-by-play efforts, but I have realized that this is not my value to you the reader as the writer. Of course, without feedback, I am not certain what part of this Journal is most liked by prospective fans; however, I can say with a relative degree of certainty that the play-by-play content would slant my writing more towards the strict news of the game than of game and team analyses. I won't expound on my observational shift any more than this, but I believe that discontinuing my strict adherence to individual game action and more towards overall stats and performance will serve everyone better. Enough said ...

There are two games remaining in this three-game series against the Nationals, and the first game was a very positive indicator that even a replacement cog (Elizardo Ramirez, a call-up from AAA to replace injured Eric Milton) can help do the job. I hate to make comparisons between teams, but this team is bearing eerie similarities to the 1990 World Series Championship team to me. That team, like this one, was unheralded and not expected to finish better than mid-pack in the NL West (back in the two divisions of the day) while, as memory serves, two division rivals (with back-to-back World Series appearances to their credit -- the 1988 champion LA Dodgers and the 1989 runner-up SF Giants) were the clear favorites to do better than the Reds.

History can be an ally or an enemy depending on how history chooses to repeat itself. The 1990 club started strong and stayed steady the rest of the way. They won their division that year wire-to-wire, which had been done only one other time (1984 Detroit Tigers) and has not been done since. For the 2006 Reds to win the NL Central title this year, it won't be happening wire-to-wire, given that they aren't in first right now (1/2 game behind in second). While it doesn't take a first-place all season position to win a Division crown, overcoming your two biggest rivals (the division-leading Houston Astros and the two-time defending division winner St. Louis Cardinals) is a big obstacle for a team like the Cincinnati Reds. If anything, it will be the mental demons and the potential for physical injuries to take their toll as the season progresses.

Consider this: the Reds haven't had a winning season since 2000, the first year that Ken Griffey, Jr. was a Red (and was healthy for a whole season). They finished a very strong (and surprising) second only one year earlier (1999) in losing in a play-in game for the Wild Card spot to the New York Mets (who had the same 96-66 record) This franchise has not seen the post-season since 1995, when they were swept out by the Atlanta Braves. For a team that was so successful throughout the 1970's as well as competitive for much of the late 1980's and early 1990's, the intervening years from 1995 to last season (2005) have produced some mediocre results. Six seasons with less than 80 wins (the last five, notably, in that category) and two years with more than 90 losses (2001 and 2003) have been a blow to most loyal fans.

The franchise hadn't lost more than 90 games in a season before 2001 going all the way back to 1984, the year when Pete Rose came back to Cincinnati to become a player-manager and break the all-time hits record. The last Reds dry spell for success was that period, between 1980 (an 89-win season) and 1985 (another 89-win season), when the team managed only 66 wins (1981 - strike shortened year), 61 (1982 - worst year in team history with 101 losses), 74 (1983) and 70 (1984) wins in those respective years.

I would write more about the subject now, but I am pressed for time. Stay tuned for more analysis with this club, as I believe the winning in 2006 is not over yet. I eagerly anticipate what will happen when Houston comes to Cincinnati this weekend for a three-game series starting on Friday followed by a short two-game series with St. Louis immediately after.

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