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TeamBoone
03-10-2006, 03:35 PM
03/10/2006 8:00 AM ET
Reds quick hits
Team's chances of contending will boil down to pitching
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com


SARASOTA, Fla. -- A new regime is in place for the Reds, but will it be the same old results?
New chief executive officer Bob Castellini, new general manager Wayne Krivsky and manager Jerry Narron don't think so. They badly want to stop a run of five-straight sub .500 seasons for the club.

Expectations have been set at a high level and players appeared to have accepted the challenge with an all-business approach in camp. It remains to be seen if they will be able to deliver when the regular season arrives.

Team strength: With a National League-leading 222 home runs last season, Cincinnati boasts a boom-boom offense quite capable of depositing balls into the seats. Adam Dunn (40 homers in 2005) and Ken Griffey Jr. (35 homers) lead the lineup but power hitters Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns will be playing regularly for the first time and Jason LaRue can supplement his share of long balls, too.

Achilles heel: Pitching, pitching, pitching. The offense produced a league-leading 820 runs last season, but the club's pitching staff and its NL-worst 5.15 ERA couldn't make leads hold up. Cincinnati lacks a true ace in its rotation and has no established closer despite searching to acquire both in the offseason.

Top newcomer: Left-handed starter Dave Williams was one of the few winter acquisitions from a very unpopular trade with the fanbase that sent team leader Sean Casey to Pittsburgh. The club hopes Williams' ability to keep the ball down will serve him well at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. A 10-game winner in 2005, the hope is that he can bring more consistency to the rotation.

Ready to make The Leap: The everyday third base job is Edwin Encarnacion's to lose and his four home runs through the first week of exhibition games has been encouraging. The Reds believe last season's rookie exposure will help the 23-year-old Encarnacion heading into this season.

On the hot seat: Coming off an 8-15 record and 6.47 ERA last season in the first year of a three-year, $25.5 million contract, starter Eric Milton must turn it around if the Reds are to have any chance at competing in the NL Central. Milton will always be a home run pitcher (he's allowed 40 and 43 the past two seasons) but until last year -- he had a track record of finding ways to win. Now he has to get back on track.

You can bank on: Dunn might be moving to a new position at first base, but there's no indication his offensive production will wane. The only player in Reds history to have two seasons of 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 100 walks, which he did in 2004 and '05, is also coming off back-to-back 40-homer seasons. The 26-year-old was also rewarded with a new two-year contract worth a guaranteed $18.5 million last month.

Litmus test: Did we mention pitching? The Reds' chances of contending in the NL Central will come down to their rotation's consistency and if the starting five can be dependable to work into the sixth and seventh innings. Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen must build off their decent 2005 seasons, Paul Wilson must recover from major shoulder surgery and Milton must rebound. Williams needs to show he can work 200 innings, or very close to it.

Home games you don't want to miss:

Pirates, April 6-9: Casey's first visit to Cincinnati since his trade.

Astros, April 28-30: The defending NL Champions come to town.

Indians, June 30-July 2: The latest "Battle of Ohio."

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article.jsp?ymd=20060309&content_id=1341808&vkey=spt2006news&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin