Weekend Buzz: Meet the new Red Machine
April 30, 2006
By Scott Miller
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
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Here's the Weekend Buzz, while you were raising a glass to toast at the Boss Man's wedding ...
Cincinnati Red Hots: As far as honeymoon periods go, new Cincinnati general manager Wayne Krivsky is finding this sure beats 10 days in Hawaii.
The game's hottest team as April turns into May, the new Red Machine is surprisingly balanced, surprisingly efficient and, thanks to perfectly placed pieces such as Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Phillips, David Ross and Scott Hatteberg, not prepared to drop the "surprising" tag anytime soon.
The past three Fridays, the Reds have tamed aces Roy Oswalt (Houston), Ben Sheets (Milwaukee) and Chris Carpenter (St. Louis, the 2005 NL Cy Young winner). Also in that span -- though not on a Friday -- they roughed up Florida's Dontrelle Willis.
"I was hoping we could stay under the radar," Krivsky was saying the other night over the telephone after the Reds moved into first place in the NL Central. "But I think our cover's blown."
Past Reds teams were one-dimensional bangers that employed the same philosophy as your rec league softball team: Outscore the other guys. The difference so far this season: Their lineup is much more balanced and the Reds are finally getting some pitching. Not that all of their pitching woes are solved, but Arroyo (4-0) has been a huge acquisition and opening-day starter Aaron Harang (4-1) has roared to life in winning four consecutive decisions.
Cincinnati has been able to rest its bullpen when Arroyo pitches -- he's worked into the seventh inning or deeper in four of five starts -- silencing critics who chafed when Krivsky grabbed him from Boston for slugger Wily Mo Pena. Besides, critics, take note: Until Pena hit his third home run Sunday, he and Arroyo were tied with two apiece.
Leadoff man Ryan Freel and No. 2 hitter Felipe Lopez already have a combined 17 steals (Lopez has nine, Freel eight). But perhaps the best example of the New Reds is the smart work of Phillips, who is taking consistently good at-bats, hitting to all fields and navigating the bases as if in possession of a personal GPS device.
In Saturday's win over Houston, he swiped third with Freel at the plate, then alertly scored on a wild pitch that didn't even bounce all the way to the backstop.
The night before, Phillips stole second base, snatched third on a routine ground ball to shortstop -- "A lot of guys wouldn't have even tried that," Krivsky says -- and was in position to score on a squibber to second baseman Craig Biggio. There wasn't even a play at the plate.
And last week in Milwaukee, Phillips scored from second base on an infield hit, never even hesitating while rounding third.
Then there's Ross, who according to Krivsky "doesn't get enough pub. He's done a hell of a job as Arroyo's catcher. I'm very pleased. He's handling the pitching staff, calling games, receiving the ball very well."
The youngest player on the team, 23-year-old Edwin Encarnacion, leads the team with 24 RBI -- in no small part because he is working counts much better than he did last year. After fanning 60 times against only 20 walks in 69 games 2005, he's struck out 13 times and walked 12 in 21 games in '06. Just as encouraging, under the tutelage of Bucky Dent, the Reds already have seen improvements in both Encarnacion's footwork and glovework at third base.
Where the difference between the old Reds and the new Reds is most notable, though, is upstairs, where new owner Bob Castellini has made it clear he is as interested in winning as he is in the bottom line. Following the Marge Schott and Carl Lindner eras, it was no small thing for the Reds to designate infielder Tony Womack for assignment last week -- and risk eating roughly $900,000 of his contract.
"I think the players have a lot of faith in ownership now," Krivsky acknowledges. "I think they know Bob Castellini is in this to win."