In some ways, the strike-shortened 1995 baseball season shouldn't be used as a template. The Reds played "just" 144 games that year and it ended in disappointment. But it was also the most recent year the Reds won a playoff game. Seeing as how this is Barry Larkin Weekend, in which the Reds will officially retire his #11 jersey, I thought it might be worth drawing some parallels from that season.
Larkin took home the MVP award after the '95 season. It wasn't, arguably, the best season of his career. You could even make the case that Reggie Sanders had a better season - his main crime being that he fell 2 home runs short of 30/30. In any case, both had All Star-to-MVP caliber seasons. Along with Ron Gant, there were 3 hitters who were solidly above average (or better) anchoring the offense. Each could hit for power, get on base and steal - to varying degrees.
Gone are the days when muscle-bound players like Gant and Sanders are stealing 20+ bases, but the value of having a core of well-rounded stars remains. Teams need stars to carry the weight against good competition - and to be marketable - but they don't want to risk dumping too many Win eggs in one basket.
Like the '95 Reds, the 2012 team isn't so top-heavy as to send up flags. I'd even argue that this year's squad, when Votto is back on the field, has one more "star" player - give or take a Benito Santiago. The '95ers, however, were second in the NL in team offense, where this year they're just a shade above league average.
On the pitching side, 2012 makes up the difference. The '95 Reds were about average in park-adjusted ERA+ (102), where this year they lead the National League.
The verdict, I think, is that this team is slightly better. They may have less organizational depth, but they have more star power and versatility when fully healthy. Larkin's team won 59% of its games, while this team is on pace to win slightly more than that.
They get to their overall value by different paths, but they found themselves at similar points in late August. On August 18, 1995, the Reds led the Astros by 8.0 games entering a home series against Houston. The probables were Pete Schourek, David Wells and Dave Burba.
The Reds are lining up similarly this weekend against the Cards:
The Reds will face Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright this series. The '95 team's task was about as tough: Reynolds, Swindell, Hampton.
The Reds swept that series and never looked back. It's funny how little things change, isn't? The object is still to win as many games as possible. Maybe that's not so much funny as incredibly obvious. There's no reason why the Reds shouldn't go ahead and do it then.