The real games start tomorrow. Well, for the Reds anyhow. Of course the Red Sox and A’s began their seasons last week when everyone wasn’t paying attention. I hardly noticed myself.
Looking back on my bold spring training predictions, I’d say I did pretty good. I had Volquez making the rotation, I had Bailey and Bruce being sent down, and I had a dog fight between Hatteberg and Votto for first base, with Hatte making a strong case to start on opening day. I even had Paul Bako possibly making the team and driving everyone crazy, which he has done.
Considering C. Trent is bragging about only being 2 spots away from his roster prediction which he made only two weeks ago, I’d say I did pretty good having made my predictions before they even played a practice game.
Where I went wrong was not foreseeing the Corey Patterson signing. The writing was clearly on the wall with Dusty scoffing at OBP as an overrated stat, and even mentioning Corey by name when discussing centerfielders available via free agency. Somehow I just thought our duo of GMs woould veto such nonsense having two qualified leadoff candidates in Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper already on the roster. So I missed on that one.
I will now predict what goes down in the opening month, which is such a critical time as it sets the table for the rest of the year. A disastrous start, and the team may never recover. An early winning streak and the momentum can carry deep into the season. Momentum in baseball is huge. Once the fans and the talking heads start believing in you, the psychological trickle down effect actually makes the players think they are better than they probably are and anything becomes possible. Of course the opposite is equally true.
So let’s peer into the crystal ball and see what’s in store for the 2008 Reds in the opening month. Harang and Arroyo will be solid if not spectacular. Cueto, if slotted to pitch behind Arroyo, is going to struggle. His last 3 starts of the spring indicated he is not as major league ready as the scouts and media claimed he was after his first couple of outings. His M.O. the past 3 starts was to put base runners on immediately. Two of the starts he then struggled to throw strikes and took damage. His last start he struck out the side to escape trouble. In all three of his past outings he tallied up a high pitch count early and was pitching from the stretch often. While he clearly has more command than Bailey, his control definitely needs improvement, especially when he has runners on base. Personally I have him slotted as the #5 pitcher and I am hoping it still falls that way, but Fay and C. Trent have been pretty consistent in projecting him as the #3 starter simply because that is his schedule. However, Volquez has not pitched in 5 days and if he is not needed in emergency relief the first two ball games he is available to be the #3 starter as well. So I will make the bold prediction that Dusty gives the not to Volquez, not Cueto, for game #3. Edinson has a spring ERA of 2.70 compared to Johnny’s 5+ ERA, and his spring K/BB ratio of 26 to 3 is simply awesome. How can you not give this guy the #3 slot?
I believe Hatteberg gets the start on opening day [update: C. Trent is indeed reporting that Hatte is in the opening day lineup]. He had a superb spring, batting over .385 while Votto struggled barely cracking the Mendoza line. Votto made the team though, so I expect him to get some starts, perhaps when the pitching match up is more favorable. By the end of April he may be ready to assume the every day job.
Patterson will be the opening day centerfielder and leadoff hitter, but I expect Freel and Hopper to get some starts as well. I don’t think this situation is in cement, I expect to see a lot of shuffling around as really none of these guys is the perfect leadoff candidate. Hopper had a great half of season, but can he duplicate it? Freel, coming off injury and one of his worst seasons, is not a sure thing either. If none of these guys steps up and seizes the job, Jay Bruce will get the call after May. I believe there is a magical date in late May that postpones his free agency eligibility another year, so look for him to be called up shortly after that time. Once that happens we may forget all about Patterson’s OBP and Dusty’s loyalty to past players.
A pretty tough schedule prevents the Reds from exploding out of the gate, but I expect a solid month from them nonetheless. Look for them to be right around the .500 mark and very much in the race, just a couple of games out of first place. I don’t see any team running away with this thing and it should be a dog fight to the bitter end. Cordero will close the games in near perfect fashion and in doing so the whole bullpen will show marked improvement. Mercker will develop a sore arm by May and be replaced by Bray. Lincoln probably won’t survive very long clearing a roster spot for hard throwing Roenicke or possibly Marcus McBeth depending on who is peforming better in Louisville.
Everyone’s favorite, Gary Majewski, will fail to maintain an ERA below 4 in AAA and thankfully will not be promoted in the forseeable future. Griffey stays healthy for at least the first month so the offense is pretty solid, though the debate about leadoff hitter will rage on.
The big question mark in my mind is Edwin Encarnacion. He looked downright clueless in spring training, and if he doesn’t get his act together Keppinger will be more than happy to slide over and grab his job when Alex Gonzalez returns to action. Ryan Freel is more than capable of playing third as well. Its one thing to struggle in Spring, but if he chokes when the games count I don’t expect Dusty to have infinite patience. We need a power right handed bat in the middle of the lineup, so Edwin’s success or failure could strongly determine the fate of the Reds season.
Josh Fogg will be surprisingly solid as the #4 starter assuming Dusty has a short hook and is ready to pull him after 5 innings. History tells us Fogg falls off fast once he gets past 5 innings.
My crystal ball has suddenly gone dark, that’s about all I got right now for you.