Friday, April 14, 2006

Reds Win 2 of 3 from Cubs; 6-3 Record and T-1 in NL Central

Would the experts have guessed that the Reds would have started this well out of the gate? My guess would be no, but they will probably say 'it's early ... wait until June when they start to fade' to cover their pre-season predictions. While a June swoon could still occur, the starting pitching is not looking like the weak link (yet), and the bullpen has looked less shaky on this road trip than it did at home.

The most disconcerting thing on the season at home was the bullpen's lack of relief as well as defensive concerns, which appeared to come and go. In this short road trip so far the bullpen has picked itself up some while the errors have kept coming. Adam Dunn is being compared to former slugger, poor fielder Dave Kingman, who defined the shift to the era of the Designated Hitter being the place to hide the guys who couldn't play in the field. While Dunn has struggled to start the year, he alone hasn't caused all of the team's errors (his have just been the most glaring).

Thursday's series finale at Wrigley Field allowed the Reds to win their second straight series after splitting the two games at GABP with the Cubs to open the campaign. The 8-3 victory looked like the kind of win you would expect from an offensive juggernaut like these Reds have been, and the three runs allowed is much more acceptable versus an average of five or more runs given up during the 2005 season. Eric Milton has truly been a bright spot so far, with a perfect 2-0 record now in two quality starts. Combine the efforts of Milton with Bronson Arroyo's and Aaron Harang's last starts and one can see why the Reds are succeeding. Brandon Claussen struggled in his last start (yesterday), but even he looked good in his first outing last week. Dave Williams has had only one start as the fifth starter, but his outing on Sunday wasn't all that bad (the errors helped to bite him, unfortunately). If these five, or even four of these five, can deliver quality starts 80% of the time, the Reds will win more than their fair share of games.

How did the Reds score their eight runs in Thursday's game? If you have been following along so far, the answer is easy: the long ball. Live by the homer and die by the homer, or so you would think with a flyball pitcher like Milton on the mound and the wind blowing out at Wrigley. In this case the Cubs' pitching was the victim (including starter Victor Zambrano) to the Reds' sluggers. Adam Dunn, Felipe Lopez, and Austin Kearns all hit homers on the day, three-run shots each for Lopez and Kearns, to account for seven of the eight runs. Dunn struck in the first (1-0), Lopez in the third (4-0), and Kearns in the eighth (8-3, the final score, at that point). Milton scored the Reds' only other run without the benefit of someone else's RBI when he hit a triple in the fifth and then scored on a throwing error by Zambrano.

I would go into the Cubs' offense in this one ... but, hey, this is a Reds-related post. Why talk about the Cubs on a day when the Reds outplayed them?!? OK, a little about the Cubs -- Matt Murton, the Cub leftfielder, drove in both earned runs for the team on the day, with the first by a solo homer in the fourth.

Another plus for the Reds in this game: the two relievers (Todd Coffey and Kent Mercker) pitched two and two-thirds innnings allowing no runs on five strikeouts (nothing like five of eight batters being fanned).

Now the attention of this Cincinnati club shifts to division powerhouse St. Louis, who has struggled a bit out of the gate. The Cardinals are tough no matter when or where the Reds play them, so look for this series to be a tough one to win. In Friday's game, the Reds should be sending the staff "ace" Aaron Harang to the mound (who shined in his last outing, despite the poor bullpen support) against the Cardinals' ace Chris Carpenter. Carpenter has dominated the Reds in recent outings, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a Cardinal win in the first game. The series overall will be a tough one, but the Reds might still be able to take two of three (against Mulder and Marquis (or Ponson, depending on the exact rotation)).

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