Forget the predictions
Believe it or not, last year's club looked better on paper than this year's, so who knows how the 2006 club will do?
You can make a pretty convincing argument that - on paper at least - this year's Cincinnati Reds are not as good as last year's.
Last year's club started with a rotation that had a combined record of 42-36. Three of the four starters were coming off winning seasons.
This year's club starts with a rotation that had a combined record of 53-59. Only one of the five starters is coming off a winning season.
Last year's club had an established closer in Danny Graves, who saved 41 games the year before and had 162 career saves.
This year's club is going with a closer-by-committee. No one on the staff has been a full-time closer, and no one has more than 29 career saves.
Last year's club had former All-Stars at first base and third base.
This year's club has a bargain-basement free agent at first and an unproven 23-year-old at third.
But last year's club proved pretty quickly that what kind of club you have on paper doesn't mean anything as soon as the first pitch is thrown on Opening Day.
Last year's rotation quickly crumbled. Paul Wilson was ineffective and injured. Eric Milton was healthy but just as bad.
Graves was done in by the Fickle Finger of Fate. He was gone before summer officially started.
The club scored a ton of runs - the most in the National League - but the pitching gave up enough to make all the offense meaningless most nights.
I predicted - wrongly, of course - that last year's club would win 85 games.
The other night when the beat writers had dinner with general manager Wayne Krivsky, he asked us to give him our win total for this year.
We all politely chickened out.
Which makes it a good bet no one was going to say 85.
You won't get a number from me here, either.
I'll say what I've been saying since last season ended: The Reds will be as good or as bad as their pitching.
Again, on paper, it's not as good as last year's going in.
But if you want to take the Bob Castellini optimistic look at things, there are reasons for hope:
Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen are ready to establish themselves as solid major-league starters. It's not unreasonable to think they can each win 14 or 15 games.
Milton has to be better, because he can't be any worse. And the pressure is off. He's down to the fourth starter.
Arroyo won 14 games in each of the last two years in the pressure cooker that is Red Sox Nation. We saw in his last start how good he can be.
The whole closer thing is overrated. As bad as Graves was - and he was abysmal - he converted 10 of 12 saves before he got the boot. That number was right around his career average.
The offense will be as good, or nearly as good. Edwin Encarnacion has a chance to put up better numbers than Joe Randa at third. Scott Hatteberg's home run and RBI totals were on par with Sean Casey's.
It looks like Ken Griffey Jr. is poised to be good from the start. Griffey hit .244 with one home run and nine RBI in April 2005. Over the next four months, he hit .313 with 34 home runs and 83 RBI.
Now, I could give you the reasons to be pessimistic. But Opening Day's a day away. Why rain on the Findlay Market Parade?
We reporters told Krivsky if the Reds finished above .500 - 82-80 - people would be doing back flips down Vine Street.
Is that realistic? Not on paper. But, again, we found out last year that what is on paper doesn't matter so much on the field.
I would have to say that not necc. on paper we are better but overall we are a better team in terms of defense as a whole unit and he didn't touch on the bench is far better both offensively and defensively and the pen should be a little better.