...and I'd like to take stock of the team as it stands at this point.
I know we've had a thousand threads and sixty eleven million posts regarding the Reds' surprising early-season success. I've been both thrilled and terrified by it, but in the greater scheme of things I haven't really allowed it to influence my view of the team for the rest of the season. Until this weekend. Do I think the Reds are going to the postseason? No. But I think they are playing some exciting baseball, I think they are noticeably improving every day, and I think we are at the point now where, contenders or not, it may be time to seriously re-evaluate what we expected of this team this season.
I would really like to hear, objectively as you can, what you think of the team now in light of last month. Those of you who predicted a 70-win season, those of you who thought the Cards/Astros/[insert team here] were unbeatable for the Reds -- have you changed your minds? Do you think that Krivsky's moves have indicated that he will trade for pitching before the deadline, or are you under the impression that this is still being used strictly as a building year? What do you think has gone into this team being good the last month, and do you think whatever that is is sustainable? Or do you think that the Reds have pulled this off by chance and by virtue of the quality of the teams they've faced on any given day, and that the Reds haven't fundamentally improved enough at all?
This has all been covered, of course, but it's kind of all over the place. There are a lot of very articulate people on this board and I am very interested to hear everyone's thoughts on the bigger picture of things, especially in light of the fact that the first month of the season is officially over and we face our fellow first-place team tonight.
For me, on Saturday night, I was able to say for the first time that I am a fan of a good baseball team. I know all the disclaimers, and their implications still cause me a lot of lost sleep. It's only May 1st. The pitching is still not good. The bullpen is horrific. The schedule will get tougher. The walls of Great American Ballpark aren't moving back anytime soon.
But, for the first time, I can say that this is not a fluke. And I think that anyone who thinks so, and who continues to fully discount them at this point, is mistaken. The Reds are not winning a handful of blow-out games with shows of power hitting, and losing the rest in grand fashion with Little League pitching and comical defense. They are managing catches that they used to miss, they are making the most of the pitching when it's good and trying to compensate with smart hitting when it's not. There's been a good bit of shifting with the team and the lineup this year, especially around the infield (not to mention Griffey's absence in the outfield), but they look like a team out there, and they still look like they're having a tremendous amount of fun, which is really the one thing that has kept me going with this team as they have sucked horribly the last five years. I guess what that all means, in some sense, is that they're being managed well, which frankly is a surprise in and of itself.
I have been unable to admit all this or talk about it much, out of some bizarre fear that any good words that I may say about the Reds will jinx them. But I don't really care anymore. I feel that they are genuinely good enough, at least today, that I can talk about it. The chances of them going to the playoffs are still very slim, and I don't care. They could lose the next 20 games, and I would probably still be less surprised than I would be if they won the next 5, and I don't care. Right now, they are good, and I love to watch them. I love to hear about them. I love to check the news expecting a loss only to be surprised at yet another win. If they all turn out to be losses soon, so be it. I am so happy about this team right now, this team that is made up of a relatively large portion of homegrown players plus the coolest superstar in baseball.
And for people who are baffled by their success, it's not too tough to understand when you really look at the team. Not to harp on the most harped-on issue of this board, but anyone off this board who talks to me about Dunn's strikeouts anymore is going to get a slap in the face. He is an extremely patient and valuable hitter and, slump or not, he is still absolutely the jewel of this team. Jason LaRue is weathering his early 30s well and remains, in my opinion, one of the most underrated players around, pulling off more catches and hits than his talent should really allow. FeLo, the baby All-Star, is a kick to watch as a hitter and baserunner even if his defense still leaves a lot to be desired. Brandon Phillips has gotten a lot of attention as of late, obviously, and it's well-deserved, but he's still not even as good as Edwin Encarnacion. That kid is quickly moving to the top of my list of favorite Reds and we're going to have a great time watching him develop. Even Rich Aurilia and Scott Hatteberg are doing what they're on the Reds to do. For all of the jokes we make about scrappy baseball, and discounting for a moment that it's one of the stupidest possible things to focus on with the Reds when their offense has been just fine without it, thank you (FIX THE FREAKING PITCHING), the Reds have been playing just smarter baseball with regards to hitting and baserunning -- yesterday's game was an excellent example of that, loss or not. And Adam Dunn has had at least 1 (one) sacrifice fly this season. Possibly more.
And then there's the pitching. The bullpen is a mess, plain and simple, Coffey notwithstanding. They've been holding it together well recently, but by the skin of their teeth, and even so there's no hiding how bad it is, possibly the worst in the majors. It would drive me to drink if adulthood hadn't done that already. If the key is the bullpen, as one of my friends is often wont to remind me, then the Reds are screwed, which they probably are anyway. so there's that. And the starting pitching is still not good. But they are certainly pitching to the best of their limited abilites lately, for the most part. Arroyo is on fire, and Harang's performance the other day (among others) indicates that he seems to have mastered something crucial for him -- coming back and pitching well, sometimes stunningly well, after a couple of bad innings. You do that with this offense behind you, and you're going to be ok.
And that is why I'm so proud of this team. Baseball is not about assembling a perfect team, as my beloved but often woefully misguided Yankees try to believe at times. Every team has strengths and weaknesses. The simplest and the toughest thing to do in baseball is to step back, take stock of both, hone in on improving the weaknesses and capitalizing on the strengths. To grit your teeth through the bad parts and play like hell through the good parts. That is what the Reds are doing, and also what their management seems to be doing for that matter. That is why they are winning. People can try to tell me otherwise, that they're just lucky, and a few days ago I might have agreed with them. But that was before the Reds beat Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte in succession, taking the team to a record 17-win April. The Reds are never that lucky. Of course, the team has also recently parted ways with Tony Womack, so that may be why they are winning too.
The wheels could well come off tonight. But I sure am enjoying the ride.
Man, I love baseball.