Springtime Storylines: Will the Reds break .500 for the first time in a decade?

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Reds logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Redlegs


The
big question: Will the Reds break .500 for the first time in a decade?

I’m pretty optimistic about this team. Within reason, of course — they won’t seriously challenge the Cardinals and aren’t good enough to compete with the second bananas in the East or the West for the Wild Card — but I think the Reds are going to take a leap forward this year and post their first .500+ season since Bill Clinton was in office.

I think the biggest reason for this is that the Reds are going to have some respectable pitching. Aaron Harang is in a contract year and seems like a good candidate to bounce back to his former, quasi-ace status. Bronson Arroyo had an under-the-radar 15-win season last year. Homer Bailey’s return and resurgence in the second half last season — a 1.70 ERA in 58.3 innings with a 53/24 K/BB ratio in his final 9 starts — was largely ignored because it occurred on a team going nowhere, but he gave those who did pay attention a reminder of why everyone was so high on him a couple of years ago.  Johnny Cueto has great stuff, has shown flashes of brilliance and, at age 24, could certainly take a step forward.  Edinson Volquez won’t be back until August, but if the Reds are in it he could provide a late boost or, at the very least, some hope for 2011.  And of course there’s a fellow named Chapman down in Louisville who will almost certainly contribute this year.

The biggest question is the offense. It’s a group that, if everything goes right, could be more than respectable. Joey Votto is a young star, Scott Rolen is an old star, and if both of them can stay in the lineup the Reds have a couple of bats that will certainly play. Jay Bruce is a highly-touted enigma. I could see him turning in an All-Star breakout season just as easily as I could see him put up one of those ugly 30 home run, 150 strikeout, terrible OBP lines.  It’s nice to see that Walt Jocketty hasn’t given Dusty Baker some new version of Willy Taveras or Corey Patterson on whom to waste hundreds of plate appearances, but there is still uncertainty in centerfield and left. Drew Stubbs is an interesting prospect who came up and hit for some power late last year and he’ll hit better than Tavares did, but how much better is an open question.

Like I said: this is an “if everything breaks right” kind of team. Given that the majority of things rarely tend to break right in any given setting, I don’t think the Reds are going to win 90 games or anything. But I do think they’ll be a surprising bunch, primarily due to pitching, and will finish second — and above .500 — in an otherwise weak division.

So what
else is
going on?

  • The Aroldis Chapman watch, of course. As I mentioned yesterday, traditional arb-clock politics is going to cover this, as it probably should from the Reds’ perspective. Besides, if he embarrasses AAA hitters for a month or two his legend will only grow, leading to a big sell-out crowd in Great American Ballpark some day in June. OK, like I did with Strasburg, let’s call this thing: Friday, June 11th vs. the Royals. Which is who I think Strasburg will start against too, both for competitive and attendance reasons. I may invite the Royals to my son’s t-ball league too.
  • I really like a Jonny Gomes/Chris Dickerson platoon in left.  Dickerson has an OBP-heavy career .845 OPS against righties. Gomes is a career .885 OPS hitter against lefties. These are the sorts of things that get me kinda excited but which make my wife and non-baseball fan friends scratch their heads.
  • Dusty Baker is in his third season as Reds’ manager. He’s a lame duck too, and one which would probably require a lot of money to keep around. I don’t hate Dusty Baker as much as a lot of web writers do, but I don’t think he’s the best guy to be leading this team either, so part of me hopes that the Reds improve enough to give the fans hope but not so much that the team feels obligated to bring Dusty back.
  • Travis Wood is likely to take the fifth starter’s spot. Here the Reds have a couple of good options — the other being lefty Mike Leake — but Wood seems like he has the edge. Assuming both Harang and Arroyo are allowed to walk next year — a safe assumption given their salaries — both of these guys are likely to be starting for the Reds in 2011.

So
how
are they gonna do?

I think the Reds will be a pleasant surprise. The sort of team that everyone imagines the Marlins are supposed to be every year: 85 wins, maybe, and kinda dangerous to visitors who are more squarely in a pennant race than they themselves are. The sort of team that causes Lou Piniella to finally throw his hands up and say “ah, screw it, I’m retiring” and really angers Brewers fans who want to know why they can’t get a couple of decent pitchers like the Reds have.

Prediction: A somewhat distant second place in the NL Central.

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Clay Buchholz apologized to the Phillies for getting injured

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MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports that starter Clay Buchholz is at Citizens Bank Park for Wednesday night’s game against the Marlins. The right-hander recently underwent surgery to repair a partial tear of his flexor pronator mass. The timetable for his recovery is three to five months, but most are expecting him to miss the rest of the season since the Phillies aren’t legitimate contenders.

According to Zolecki, Buchholz apologized to GM Matt Klentak “and others” — presumably other front office staff and/or his teammates — for getting injured. Buchholz hopes to return to pitch in September.

It’s saddening to me, and indicative of the general anti-labor culture in sports, that a player feels obligated to apologize for getting injured on the job. Injuries are nothing new for Buchholz, which might have factored into his decision to apologize. Red Sox fans got on his case quite a bit over the years for his propensity to land on the disabled list. But it wasn’t like Buchholz was taking unnecessary risks; he simply did his job, which entails doing a lot of unhealthy movement with his arm. Buchholz owes no one an apology.

Buchholz isn’t the only player to have apologized for getting injured. Outfielder Hideki Matsui apologized to the Yankees in 2006. Starter Masahiro Tanaka apologized in 2014. Twins reliever Glen Perkins apologized last year. Even Madison Bumgarner sort of apologized for suffering injuries riding a dirt bike on an off-day, saying “It’s definitely not the most responsible decision I’ve made.” Because god forbid an athlete has interests and hobbies outside of his vocation.

Players are brought up in a sports culture that allows exorbitantly wealthy owners to bilk the players — laborers — at every possible turn. They’re mostly underpaid and poorly taken care of in the minors. If and when they reach the major leagues, their salaries are intentionally depressed for six years and their service time is toyed with (just ask Kris Bryant). Buchholz endured that and then endured the criticism that comes with having been a hyped prospect who mostly failed to live up to expectations. He’s gone above and beyond what he needed to do to have a successful career as a professional baseball player, even if it wasn’t as much as fans or front office personnel would have liked.

Eric Thames leaves game with apparent injury

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Update (5:22 PM ET): Thames is dealing with left hamstring tightness. Manager Craig Counsell says it’s “not a big deal,” Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

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Brewers first baseman Eric Thames left Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Reds in the top of the eighth inning with an apparent injury. Thames took his position to start the inning, but was replaced by Jesus Aguilar. Thames had flied out weakly to center field to end the previous inning, so perhaps something happened while he ran that out.

The Brewers should provide an update shortly on the exact nature of Thames’ early exit. Needless to say, losing Thames to the disabled list would be a huge blow to the 11-11 Brewers, as he entered Wednesday leading all of baseball in runs (25), home runs (11), slugging percentage (.929), and OPS (1.411). Thames was 1-for-3 with a single, a pair of walks, and two runs scored before leaving.