Sunday, March 30, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Cincinnati Reds

So we ain't gonna get to all 28 by Opening Day, this much is clear. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't still strive to meet our goal. And so we take an Opening Day Eve swing through the fine state of Ohio. Shawn Weaver of Cincinnati Reds Blog gives us his thoughts on his beloved Red Stockings.

A new season brings new optimism. The Cincinnati Reds look forward to the new season with hope, as do other teams. This year, however, the Reds have some good reasons for hope.

Start with the new manager, Dusty Baker. A three-time manager of the year winner, Baker brings high expectations into the job and into the dugout. Certainly a team would not hire Baker if it did not expect to field a strong team, capable of winning. Baker has a reputation as a players' manager, and a history of getting stronger performances out of players than they had reached before his tenure. These things bring great excitement.

Baker also comes with caveats. There are whispers that he let the Barry Bonds situation get out of control in San Francisco. Others say out loud that he ruined young pitchers in Chicago. One source has written of his propensity to get "84 win seasons out of 88 win talent." Baker has a checkered record with young talent, which worries fans of the prospect-laden Reds. So does his habit of leading off with players of low on-base percentage. It is not a perfect world.

The second cause for optimism is the young pitching. Two rookies, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, are in the season-opening rotation. They join holdovers Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, with veteran Josh Fogg also joining. Cueto and Volquez bring live arms and excitement to the staff not seen in years. In the wings is another live arm, Homer Bailey. Things are truly looking up for Reds pitching.

That optimism extends to the bullpen, where the Reds signed a big-ticket closer, Francisco Cordero. Cordero has a strong track record, and his signing helps settle a bullpen that was a major disaster last season. With Cordero around, David Weathers, Jared Burton, Todd Coffey, and Jeremy Affeldt are expected to settle into roles that are suited for them, rather than being pushed beyond their limits. When lefty Bill Bray has settled questions about his health and joined the 'pen, the stable of arms should be formidable, especially with hard-throwing Mike Lincoln around.

The team on the field is much the same as last year, with an exception in center field. Corey Patterson joins the team. His lack of walks and propensity to strike out are worrisome points, but fans hope he is just keeping a spot warm for superprospect Jay Bruce.

Ken Griffey, Adam Dunn, and Brandon Phillips will again lead the offense. Edwin Encarnacion could improve, and Joey Votto could add more punch at first base. If Jeff Keppinger gets plenty of chances to play, he will provide a season's worth of grit and determination, as well as a .300 average at shortstop. Alex Gonzalez might get his job back, however. Catcher remains a weak spot, and the position most in need of an upgrade. If the Reds are in contention down the stretch, catching is the spot most likely to be bolstered by a trade.

The Reds look ready to break .500 by virtue of an improved pitching staff. A bit better, and they could make a strong case in the wide-open NL Central. Reds fans hope for some Dusty magic in 2008.

Shawn Weaver has been a Reds fan since 1972, the era of the Big Red Machine, and started the first Reds blog, the aptly-named Cincinnati Reds Blog, in 2002. He has been spending entirely too much time on the blog ever since, but no one can talk him out of it. He also writes the Baseball Awards Blog and the Rating the Greatest Baseball Players Blog just so he doesn't have any spare time.

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