Early Surge Changes Reds' Outlook
Wednesday, May 3, 2006 5:55 PM EDT
The Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) Adam Dunn glanced around the clubhouse and saw seven SEVEN! television cameras setting up for postgame interviews. "We must be winning," he surmised.

Yes, the Cincinnati Reds are winning more than anyone else in baseball. A two-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals left them with the major leagues' best record for at least one bright day in May.

Hardened fans never expected this.

A 3-2 victory over the defending NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals left the Reds at 19-8, their most stunning start since 1990. They opened 23-7 that year and led their division wire-to-wire on their way to a World Series sweep of the Oakland Athletics.

With the league's highest-scoring offense and an overhauled pitching staff, these Reds are starting to think that a playoff run isn't so far-fetched.

"We've finally got everything together," said catcher Javier Valentin, whose ninth-inning single Tuesday vaulted the Reds over the Chicago White Sox for baseball's best record. "We're consistent. We can play with anybody."

Their offense sure can.

The Reds led the NL in homers, runs, doubles and slugging percentage last season, and are piling up runs at a prolific pace again. They averaged 5 runs per game last season, 5.9 so far this year.

No surprise there. Even with the trade that sent power hitter Wily Mo Pena to Boston for starter Bronson Arroyo, everyone knew this lineup was going to score runs. The question was whether the pitching staff could pull itself up from the bottom of the league.

So far, it has. The Reds' rotation is squarely in the middle of the pack, thanks in large part to the first major move by new general manager Wayne Krivsky. He got Arroyo from Boston on March 20, swapping some of the team's offensive surplus for what it needs most.

Arroyo is 5-0, ranks among the NL leaders with a 2.06 earned run average, and has gone eight innings in each of has last three starts the first Reds pitcher to do so since Jose Rijo in 1994.

Finally, the Reds might have an ace.

"He brings the personality of being on a winning team," All-Star shortstop Felipe Lopez said. "He has a lot of experience in the postseason, and we're feeding off that."

The lanky, long-haired pitcher was initially upset by the trade, but has quickly regained his footing in the league where his career started. It's been no tougher than working his way through the AL East.

"When you face the Yankees 19 times, it's tough to pitch against them," Arroyo said. "It's mentally wearing. Just having a pitcher in the nine hole makes it less wearing."

Just like the '90 team got off to the fast start without its superstar center fielder Eric Davis was sidelined by a sprained knee this one is doing it without Ken Griffey Jr., disabled by an inflamed tendon behind his right knee.

Jaded fans are starting to see parallels. After five consecutive losing seasons the team's longest such slump in 50 years hope is beginning to return. WLW-AM radio sports show host Andy Furman was deluged with calls Tuesday night when he invited listeners to talk about the Reds.

"I didn't even get the phone number out, and every line was lit all the way through," Furman said. "Every call was upbeat, positive. People are going crazy. It's like they can't wait to grab hold of something and wrap their arms around it. Maybe it's because it's been so long. It's a great feel-good story."

The good vibes started in January, when local produce magnate Bob Castellini bought the team and promised a championship. He hired Krivsky as spring training was about to begin, and the general manager's first moves have gone wonderfully. In addition to Arroyo being unbeaten, second baseman Brandon Phillips obtained in a trade with Cleveland has been NL player of the week.

Krivsky has been so wrapped up in his new job that he hasn't gotten out in public much. His few ventures gave him a taste of the current climate.

"Walking home from lunch, people are saying, 'Thanks, Wayne. Way to go. Keep it up.' These are strangers on the street," he said.

Those strangers know there's still a lot of work and time ahead. Left-hander Eric Milton is sidelined by knee surgery, the bullpen has been erratic, and the offense isn't likely to maintain that torrid pace.

"It's only May," Dunn said, with some of those seven cameras rolling. "We started fast in the past. Hopefully we can finish a lot better than we have."