Reds better, but still pretenders
CINCINNATI — All signs point to mirage.
As fun and nostalgic as it has been, that’s what the Cincinnati Reds’ fast start looks like.
It looked like that before the Brewers threw their launch party with Brandon Claussen as the guest of dishonor on Saturday.
Even at 11-6, the clouds seemed to be gathering just as they were on Opening Day, when the Cubs didn’t pretty much the same thing to staff ace Aaron Harang.
These truths are self-evident over a 162-game schedule.
But before we get to all that, there are a few things the first 19 games have shown us that give hope for better days at Great American Ball Park. First of all, there are the performances of players acquired by new General Manager Wayne Krivsky. Krivsky has brought in Bronson Arroyo, Scott Hatteberg, David Ross and Brandon Phillips since CEO Bob Castellini handed him the reins on Feb. 8.
Arroyo is a bulldog. He has been the only starting pitcher to give the Reds consistent innings, and he has been spectacular on occasion. Arroyo’s 3-0 record and 3.04 earned-run average pop out, especially when placed against the rest of the rotation’s ERAs: 4.55, 6.50, 6.75 and 10.50.
Hatteberg, a first baseman, and Ross, a backup catcher, have shrugged off slow starts. Through Saturday, Hatteberg was hitting .310, Ross .261.
And what can you say about Phillips, the Cleveland castoff who has done it all since joining the team? His run-producing pace can’t continue, but it’s been fun to watch.
By the way, the most disappointing new Reds are pitcher Dave Williams and bench player Tony Womack. What do they have in common? They were former GM Dan O’Brien acquisitions, which explains why they play like, well, Dan O’Brien acquisitions.
Is anybody else tired of hearing manager Jerry Narron repeat that Williams won 10 games for Pittsburgh last year, so he must be decent? He’s not, and whom do we see about getting our Sean Casey back?
Another bright spot has been the Reds’ improvement in the area of fundamentals, at least offensive fundamentals. They’re aggressive on the basepaths, and, with the addition of Phillips and Ryan Freel’s consistent presence in the lineup, they have decent speed.
Cincinnati still has overwhelming power, but it also has shown the capability to win low-scoring games with timely hitting and run manufacturing. In fact, I swear I saw Adam Dunn, he of the two sacrifice flies this year, actually hit a grounder to the right side of the infield with a runner on second base and no outs.
Finally, there is the emergence of closer-in-waiting Todd Coffey. Coffey’s stuff has looked nasty so far, as his 0.96 ERA through Saturday attests. It’s still unclear if the 25-year-old has what it takes to close games, but he has escaped tight spots. His strikeout of Jim Edmonds with the bases loaded during the Reds’ 1-0 win over the Cardinals on April 14 was impressive.
Now, back to the signs that indicate this is not the year the Reds contend. Here they are in rapid fire, so as not to dwell on the negatives.
There is one consistent starting pitcher.
There is one very elderly bullpen.
The April schedule has been kind.
Ken Griffey Jr. has another mysterious injury no one wants to talk about.
Left fielder Dunn and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion are stationed on the side of the field where right-handed batters hit the ball the hardest.
The best thing that could happen to the Reds is that they somehow stay near the .500 mark at the July 31 trade deadline, giving Krivsky the excuse to make a couple trades to upgrade the pitching staff for a playoff run.
That playoff run won’t come this year, though.