Last year, the Cincinnati Reds snapped a 15 year post-season drought. This season, they will repeat as division champs for the first time since The Big Red Machine years of 1975-76. The Reds’ combination of depth, good pitching, and maturity will enable them to accomplish this feat and possibly even return to the World Series for the first time in 21 years.
Perhaps no team in Major League Baseball has the depth that the Reds have. GM Walt Jocketty deserves plenty of praise for his assembly of this ball club. At catcher, with Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati has two everyday backstops who can handle a pitching staff and provide some pop at the bottom of the order. The Reds wisely re-signed Hernandez this season, keeping his maturity behind the plate and allowing top prospect Devin Masoraco to gain more seasoning at AAA. In the outfield, Chris Heisey could be starting for any number of clubs. In Cincinnati, he provides an outstanding defensive replacement for Jonny Gomes in left as well as a regular replacement outfielder allowing Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce to get days off without any real drop-off in production. And what other team has the reigning World Series MVP as their backup shortstop? The acquisition of Edgar Renteria adds tremendously to the clubhouse while, along with Paul Janish, giving the Reds a slick-fielding combination that’s hitting .485 collectively as of this writing. Being able to stay healthy is always a major factor for any team making a championship run. Look at the Phillies right now. Jocketty has built a quality everyday lineup in Cincinnati and has put the right pieces in place to pick up the slack if injuries come along.
Perhaps nowhere are the Reds deeper than on their pitching staff. The old adage is that a team can never have too much pitching. The Reds will put that to the test in 2011. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, two-fifths of the starting rotation, open the season on the DL. No problem. Plug in Travis Wood and Mike Leake and still jump out of the gate fast. You think the Cardinals would like to have some of that pitching depth about now? And don’t forget Sam Lecure, Matt Maloney, and Dontrelle Willis, who is off to a great start in AAA. Top it off with the talented Edinson Volquez and perhaps baseball’s most consistent starter, Bronson Arroyo at the top of the rotation, and the Reds have an abundance of talented arms to carry them through a 162 game stretch. Now whether those arms can match up against the Phillies or Giants in a short series, where depth is not as big an issue, remains to be seen. But gone are the days when the Reds were counting on some reclamation project like Joey Hamilton or Paul Wilson to turn around. With this staff, the Reds should be immune to any prolonged losing streaks.
Finally, the young Reds of 2010 have turned a corner maturity wise. Scott Rolen is back as the elder statesmen of the team and the aforementioned Edgar Renteria provides tremendous experience and wisdom. Bronson Arroyo brings his steadiness to the pitching staff as well. But the big difference will be the upgraded roles of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips as team leaders. This is their team. Votto, coming off an MVP season, now brings his hard-nosed approach as a qualified leader. Brandon Phillips is no longer the pouting head case of a few years ago. He now is a “fighter” and the spirit of this team. This team has the “feel” of a winner, from those mentioned above to the gritty Jonny Gomes. And don’t forget Jay Bruce is another year older. His experience last year of shaking off a late season slump to peak when it mattered most should be invaluable.
This will be another enjoyable summer for Reds fans. They have all the pieces in place to bring home another championship to Cincinnati. If Dusty Baker can push the right buttons, there may be a celebration on Fountain Square in October.