Forgive me if I missed this one, but last year a lot of us chimed in with our predictions for the 2002 season. I think I estimated a 91 win season, and for a couple months there it looked exceedingly doable. Well, here goes mine for 2003, along with some thoughts...
92-70 - NL Wild Card
Strengths: This rotation is much better than it was last year going into the season. Would have been nice to hold on to Elmer, but it was painfully obvious that Dawkins was never going to be ready to man ss and I like Lopez a lot. We still need a hammer at the top of the rotation, but there is little doubt that the likes of Haynes, Dempster and even Anderson are bound to give us more innings than we could have expected out of Hamilton and Dessens (per outting). There is depth in the bullpen with Sully and a healthy John Riedling, three lefties to deal with the Cardinals and depth in Louisville with Harnisch, Rietsma and Seth Etherton. I would like to think that nobody in this rotation will get too comfortable with their spots, taking every outting very seriously with the knowledge that there several other options available to the club. I think Graves is going to be fine as long as he is allowed to pitch from the stretch, and Paul Wilson was a very nice pitcher last season before a late season meltdown. If this club is as competitive as the 2002 Reds up to the all star break, I was happy to read in the paper today that Lindner may be willing to ante up for that hammer. If that happens, I am extremely pleased with the balance in this staff. It might be as good as the 99 Reds or better regardless. If Willy struggles as closer, I might even like Riedling in that role better.
Junior being healthy is another strength. Anybody who believes that his pawltry numbers the last couple years was due to anything other than injury is insane. Even with his problems, Erica Davis is still the only outfielder that I have seen outdefend him here in my lifetime. Personally, I think if he plays 140 games, 40 hr's and 120 rbi's is a low estimate.
I'm excited about Brandon Larson at third, and think he will be a nice compliment to Austin in balancing out the heavy left handed slant of our lineups in previous seasons. Tweny home runs if he plays every day could be low, and if he struggles a little early on I would be very disappointed if Papa starts platooning him with Russ Branyan or even Lopez. Aaron moving to second was not only selfless, but very beneficial to the club.
Speaking of which, I would like to see Felipe Lopez get 350-400 abs, at least. Subbing for Barry, Larson and Boone, he ought to be able to get three starts a week until he takes over one of the most sacred positions in all of baseball, the Reds shortstop, permanently some time late this year or early next (hopefully early next as that would mean Barry had a strong season).
Austin Kearns is going to be better than Adam Dunn.... but not by too much. I was at Saturday's game, when both players were involved with defensive miscues. The wind had Austin twisting and turning on a lofty fly ball to right in what turned into a triple, and Dunn was once again involved in a miscommunication on a popup, resulting in another three bagger. The difference is, last year Adam had about five or six of those jobs when he played left and Kearns' was due to abnormal conditions. I can't blame Larkin or Boone, as I wouldn't want to run into that guy either. But, Kearns is LOT more polished as a player right now. He takes his walks and his patient, but he is actually working a pitcher to get his pitch. Adam has been accused of being timid, and I think that criticism is starting to bear a little weight. Both comprise the best yound duo of outfielders in the game, and a TON is riding on them this year. I am thinking 30 homers, 90 ribs and .290 for Kearns, 35-40, 110, .270 for Dunn... which would be right on schedule....
Getting rid of Jim Lefebvre (sp) seems to have been a popular move among the players. I'm not a fan of Bob Boone, but if you can't have a great coaching staff you should at least have some guys who get along. In previous years, the battles between Oester, Griffey Sr., Collins, Tim Foli and Boone were embarassing. I have never seen Ray Knight, one of the most ridiculously intense men in the game, smile more than he does right now. BTW, I am not a fan of Ray's either . But, it seems that the malcontents have been rooted out. Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen, but at least the players do not have to deal with a bunch of geasers going through massive power struggles this season.
The bench, team spead, questionable defense overall... eh, fogettaboutit! It's OPENING DAY!!!!!