What's the difference between these defending World Series champions and the Cincinnati Reds? Or put a different way: Can we get there from here? The hopes of Reds Country - and the opinions of quite a few prominent baseball analysts - say our team is on the rise. Rightly or not, comparisons have been drawn between last year's Reds and the 2007 Phillies (a team that went 89-73 and bowed out in the divisional series after being swept by the Rockies). That edition of the Phils, while owing their MVP first baseman a lot of money for the first time, kicked off their active streak of four straight playoff berths.
It's not wise to look beyond the next game, nor beyond the 2011 NL Central. But it's also impossible not to. With a taste of the playoffs last season, every Reds fan with a moderate command of office jargon is thinking "Next Steps." I don't pretend to know how the injuries, regressions and progressions will break this year, but I think the depth is there for this team to have a few more stabs at a deep playoff run. The experts seem, sometimes grudgingly, to agree.
According to John Fay, Sam LeCure is being stretched out for possible use in the rotation. In light of Leake's struggles, idle speculation has turned into a very real opportunity for LeCure. And if LeCure's in the running, Maloney oughta be too. Willis is still nominally being considered for the 'pen, so it would stand to reason that either he or Maloney (not both) would be in the running to be a potential third lefty there. Loser of the multi-front war on not having a fifth starter could end up the swingman in the 'pen or #1 starter in Louisville. In any case, it's nice to have options.
It's been a recurrent theme throughout the spring, but short of the Cueto injury, the pitching woes need to simply slide on. Last season in Arizona featured mediocre-to-miserable springs by the likes of Arroyo, Bailey, Cueto and Jordan Smith. Around the Cactus League this season, witness 4.00+ ERAs from the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Jonathan Broxton and Hiroki Kuroda,
That's why they invented the thick-aired, Valley Fever-immune, stat-countin' Regular Season. I, for one, am looking forward to some regularity. And I mean that in the least scatological way possible.