In the first in a series of team previews of N. L. Central clubs, we present the Cubs Opening Day opponents, the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cincinnati Reds have announced their Opening Day 25-man roster
, and while the Reds are being tabbed by many as one of the worst teams in baseball, even when they've had a bad team, they still seem to have a knack for beating the Cubs at the worst possible time.
The 2005 Cincinnati Reds led the National League in runs scored, but they also led the National League in runs allowed and had the 4th-worst W-L record in the N. L. The 2006 Reds arenít much better than the 05 version. They are still a team in transition, which is to say, they are not very good in some areas. They have two or three good (OK) starting pitchers, but not much behind that. The bullpen has several veteran middle-relievers, but lacks a legitimate closer. And the defense is still below average. On the positive side, the Reds can and will score a lot of runs, although without Sean Casey
and Wily Mo Pena
in the lineup, probably not as many as last season.
The Reds have a very fluid starting lineup. In fact, it might be different almost every day. During the off-season, the Reds traded their long-time #3 hitter (and Certified Cub Killer) 1B Sean Casey
to the Pirates. This was done ostensibly to open up 1B for the defensively challenged Adam Dunn
, but Dunn has been playing as much LF as he has 1B this Spring. That's because Scott Hatteberg
(ex-A's) has had a good Spring, and should get a lot of playing time at 1B.
The Reds also acquired veteran free-agent Tony Womack
from the Yankees to play 2B and hit lead-off (sometimes), although Ryan Freel
will still get a lot of starts in the lead-off slot. Freel will play often, but not at any one position. The athletic Freel will move around, playing crash & burn defense at 2B, 3B, LF, CF, and RF.
has quietly developed into one of the best offensive shortstops in the National League. He will usually hit in the #2 spot, but sometimes will hit 3rd. He would look a lot better in Cubby Blue.
The Reds started last season with veteran Joe Randa
at 3B, but by mid-season, Randa was gone (traded to San Diego), replaced by rookie Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion was one of the Reds top prospects going into last season, and was given an opportunity to play every day after it became clear that the Reds were hopelessly out of contention. And Encarnacion had a nice rookie season. He has good power, and should grow into a middle-of-the-order run producer. He has had an outstanding Spring Training, with 6 HR and 20 RBI, and 9 2B. Like most Reds, he has some defensive shortcomings, but the hope in Cincinnati is that he will improve his ìDî with effort and experience.
The oft-injured future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr returns in CF. How long he can last before his next hamstring tear is the big question. But if he can stay healthy, hitting in the middle of the order, he should hit 30+ HR and knock in 90+ runs.
has tremendous power (he is a potential N. L. HR champion) with outstanding plate discipline, but he is not a very good hitter and he is a poor defender no matter where he plays. 1B would seem to be his best defensive spot, but the Reds donít seem all that anxious to leave him there. Like many Reds, Dunn seems to have his best games against the Cubs.
was supposedly available for a pitcher during the off-season, but Kearns will still be in RF in Cincinnati on Opening Day. Kearns had a good rookie season, but he has regresed since then. Kearns is a better outfielder than Dunn, but lacks Dunnís extreme power and plate discipline. Of course, that doesnít stop Kearns from killing the Cubs at every opportunity.
#1 catcher Jason LaRue
had arthroscopic knee surgery (same thing Kerry Wood
had) during Spring Training, and will start the season on the DL. Javier Valentin
is the primary back-up catcher, although he is on the roster because of his bat off the bench, not because of his glove. Valentinís best defensive position is 1B (or DH!). David Ross (ex-Dodgers, ex-Pirates, ex-Padres) is a better defensive options behind the plate, and is out of options. So Ross will share the catching duties with Valentin until LaRue can return to action.
will return for another season in Cincinati, and will be the primary back-up at 2B-SS-3B, and OF-1B Andy Abad and OF Chris Denorfia will be the other extra men.
During Spring Training, the Reds traded OF Wily Mo Pena
to the Red Sox for RHP Bronson Arroyo
. The rubber-armed Arroyo was a so-called "swing-man" (starter & reliever) in Boston, but he is now the Reds #2 starter. In his last outing before the start of the season, Arroyo shutout his ex-team (the Red Sox) on only three hits over seven innings, with seven Ks. Arroyo is in a position to become a very reliable starting pitcher in Cincinnati, and possibly could be one of the a surprises of the National League in 2006.
is the Reds #1 starter, and he is very good. He might be more of a #2 guy on a contender, but he is the Redsí ace. He may not be in the class of a Zambrano, Oswalt, Sheets, or Carpenter, but relatively speaking, Harang is to the Reds what Zambrano is to the Cubs.
Behind Harang and Arroyo, the Reds have Dave Williams (a soft-tossing journeyman LHP acquired from the Pirates in the Sean Casey deal), ex-Yankee LHP Brandon Claussen
, and veteran LHP Eric Milton
(who has devolved over the past few years into arguably the worst starting pitcher in MLB). Like the Cubs' Kerry Wood and Wade Miller, the Reds' former #1 starter (and one-time Kyle Farnsworth sparring partner) Paul Wilson
is still in rehab mode in Extended Spring Training for another few weeks while recovering from shoulder surgery. He is expected back in May.
The Reds have amassed a vast collection of middle-relievers in their 2006 bullpen, including veterans like David Weathers, Kent Mercker
, Rick White
, and Chris Hammond
, and younger ones like Matt Belisle
, Todd Coffey, and Mike Burns, but there isnít a true closer in the group. (Weathers will be the closer-by-default). One good thing about the bullpen situation is that contenders in need of middle-relief help will probably be calling on the Reds at the trading deadline.
The Reds might do OK for a while, scoring a lot of runs, and playing exciting baseball. But below-average defense, the lack of quality and depth in the starting rotation, and the lack of a ìshut-downî closer in the bullpen, will result in mega-runs allowed, and they will not be able to compete with clubs that have better defense, more depth in the starting rotation, and a reliable ìshut-downî closer, over a full season.
PREDICTION: .500 through first two months, a losing record in June, then free-fall after the All-Star break.
67-95 6th place in N. L. Central)