Tuesday, September 09, 2008

About the Reds?!? Yes, It’s True!

I haven’t written a post about the Cincinnati Reds in a VERY long time. So long, in fact, has it been that I haven’t said anything the ENTIRE 2008 season … until now. This fact remains more than a bit contradictory given that my off-site blogs have primary subjects of NASCAR (for which I have written a few things) and baseball / MLB / Reds (which I only apologize for not writing things). Given how ugly most of this season has been, I really don’t have as much need to be forgiven as the team does.

We have come to that point in the season where the role of the Reds is spoiler. Being a “spoiler” is exactly what it means … to spoil the season(s) of contending team(s). So far, so good on that front, considering that our Redlegs took 2 out of 3 (dramatically on Sunday versus closer Kerry Wood) from the front-running Chicago Cubs and now the first game of their series in Milwaukee (again a dramatic, come-from-behind effort versus Brewers’ closer Solomon Torres) on Monday night. If this team found a way to play with this much energy all season, things certainly might have been different. But, in the same vein, I doubt they would be with the former cast of characters.

Gone are both Ken Griffey, Jr. (who was going to be gone after the season anyway) and Adam Dunn (who probably was, too), who were the respective faces of the team (as evidenced by both formerly being on team scorecards, wall signs, etc.). While I admire Junior’s career as a total, his best days are behind him. Dunn still has a decent offensive career ahead of him, but his defensive liability (as well as Griffey with his aging body) was worth abandoning to bring up some newer faces. Dunn was good for mammoth homers and a solid OBP … and not much else. Junior was surviving on legacy (as further evidenced by his lack of playing time for the White Sox).

How have the Reds been producing lately? Well, the new “faces” of the team are clearly Joey Votto, who has been on fire of late, and Jay Bruce, who has had the “next great thing” label for a while now. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the whole season has been the quality starting pitching. Edinson Volquez goes without saying, with his 17 wins to date and anchoring the staff. Aaron Harang has been the unpleasant surprise, never quite recovering after his short-rest relief appearance in San Diego … even he has looked more like his old self in recent starts (and has been burdened with nearly the worst run support in the league). Bronson Arroyo has been steady and picked it up notably in the second-half of the season … finally looking like a smart decision on that contract extension. Johnny Cueto has shown the makings of a potential excellent starter next season and beyond. The fifth-starter slot still has question marks around it, but folks like surprising Ramon Ramirez or even a mentally refreshed Homer Bailey (our former “sliced bread” ace) might do nicely in 2009.

There appears to be a core to work around here. Votto and Bruce are no-brainer choices, as is my personal favorite Brandon Phillips, who deserves far more credit for his defensive abilities at second baseman than national coverage usually gives him. Jerry Hairston Jr. may or may not be in the plans for starting next year, but his versatility (much like injured fan favorite Ryan Freel) is hard to ignore. Chris Dickerson, who came with little fanfare to fill Dunn’s absence, has been nothing short of excellent to start his MLB career. The aforementioned pitching staff is finally a strength after years of being a liability. Third base and shortstop are still questionable spots, with the streaky Edwin Encarnacion who may or may not be part of the future plans and Jeff Keppinger who is a dependable, but average, choice both offensively and defensively. Catcher remains a weak position for the team, although defensively former backstop David Ross (since released) seemed more successful at throwing runners out. Ryan Hannigan may or may be the future choice (leaning towards not), but he, too, has been dependable of late. Team deadweight, like Corey Patterson and Paul Bako, just need to be let go come season’s end.

I would much rather be writing about a postseason run by my Reds, but at least I feel reason enough to be optimistic about next season not to write them off completely. Of course, I say that every year … we just haven’t seen a winner since the beginning of the century (sounds more dramatic than just the decade).

Reds – have fun being spoilers for all of those “actual” contenders down the stretch. At least give them something to think about … for next year.

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