Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Arroyo & Reds Roll Over Mulder & Cardinals in 6-1 Win

The Cincinnati Reds rolled to yet another victory on this young season with a 6-1 defeat of the former co-leaders in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals. Monday night's effort was a microcosm of the season we have seen to date, with pitcher "extraordinaire" Bronson Arroyo going the distance for a complete game against his rival Mark Mulder, who failed to get out of the sixth inning. With this win, the Reds move into sole possession of first place again (at 18-8), as the Cardinals (17-9) fall to one game back and the Astros, in losing to the Brewers on Monday night as well, slip to a game and a half behind (at 16-9).

This homestand to date could not be going much better for the home team. When the Reds returned to Cincinnati, they were riding a wave of success on a road trip that saw them win three of four from the Brewers in Milwaukee and sweep the Nationals in three at D.C. (for six of seven overall on the trip). With three of four won so far in these two series at home (two of three from the Astros and this last game from the Cardinals), the Reds have won an impressive eight of their last 10 games (with six straight between Sunday and Saturday during the week of April 23rd). Could things be going much better for this upstart team?

I find it interesting, yet not surprising, that the Reds continue to be ignored by the national media. Only one other team has as many wins (18) as the Reds do -- the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox -- but Cincinnati is only getting a "blip" mention during most SportsCenter broadcasts that I have seen. How many wins will this team need to be taken seriously? Do they need a multi-game lead in the NL Central before they get the attention that is due at this point? My guess is that showing them more prominently at this point is an admission that the "experts" (notably from all media outlets) predicted this team was going absolutely nowhere fast. When they are already one-quarter of the way to their predicted win total (between 65 and 70 wins), it is not an unreasonable expectation that 80+ wins is within reach now.

Whether the Reds can manage a playoff spot by season's end is still a longshot. The Reds may have the number of both the Astros and Cardinals for now, but will that winning continue as the season progresses. The BIG positive in the season so far is that this team never sees themselves down and out, without the prospect to win a game despite trailing, and they will fight to get back the lead and claim victories whenever they can. That attitude is contagious, and I don't see it being lost as long as this team keeps winning games like they have. The offense has been fun to watch, mixing small ball with long ball and doing the "right" things at the right time repeatedly. Speed has been a blessing, with the potent combo of Ryan Freel at the top and Brandon Phillips towards the bottom of the order. The power in the middle (Dunn, Griffey (when healthy), and Kearns) is a great complementary component, and this lineup is as strong as any I have seen this team have in years.

Where this team has been separating itself from its opponents so far is (surprisingly) the starting pitching. The Reds are beating the league's best pitchers (Chris Carpenter, Ben Sheets, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, and Mark Mulder, all notables) from the contending teams in head-to-head competition with the likes of Arroyo, Aaron Harang, and Brandon Claussen. With Eric Milton soon to be returning from his surgery (when he started off 2-0 before a bad defeat prior to going on the DL) and Paul Wilson (the team's ace during the 2004 season) coming back from Tommy John surgery, this pitching staff might just be able to get even better. Elizardo Ramirez has been a very able substitute during Milton's absence this past week (providing two quality starts) while Dave Williams, the Reds' fifth starter, is the only "weak" component of the staff.

Williams will probably lose his starting spot at the current rate unless he delivers an impressive outing in today's afternoon game against the Cardinals to close out the homestand. His 1-2 record and 9.53 ERA is the worst in the rotation but at least his last start against the Nationals was a *little* bit better (not much, mind you, in dropping the ERA from 10.50 to 9.53). His opposition is Sidney Ponson, looking to notch a second win against the Reds in as many starts and split the two games in this quick series.

Fans will be watching intently today to see if the Reds can put some daylight between themselves and the opposition. The next two series after this one (two games at Colorado followed by two games at Arizona) *should* provide games this team can win, while the Cardinals and Astros will be beating up each other for a pair of games in Houston before St. Louis heads to Florida for three and Houston then gets three at Colorado. Colorado is playing better (15-11 overall, but 5-7 at home), Arizona is playing respectably (at .500, 5-6 at home), and Florida has been nearly the worst in the league (2-8 at home, 6-17 overall).

Stay tuned Reds fans ... this has been a great ride so far.

P.S. I finally saw some positive "press" on this morning's SportsCenter. John Kruk, of the ESPN Baseball Tonight crew, said the Reds will be contenders into October in the NL Central. That is the highest praise of any kind I have seen so far. Kudos, Mr. Kruk ... I knew I liked you!

1 comment:

  1. Oh, just wait. I think in another two weeks, we're going to see a Reds bandwagon forming. Just look at how the attendence has already shot up.