NL Central - The Cincinnati Reds

I’ve always been told that the best way to learn about the future is to know about the past. So let’s take a look at the disappointment that was the 2008 Cincinnati Reds’ season.

The Good: the youth movement, getting rid of the twin albatrosses who resided in the corners of the outfield, and Dusty Baker setting a world record with his 1,000,000th toothpick consumed

The Bad: finishing 74-88 (only seven games better than Pittsburgh), Reds’ ace Aaron Harang’s 6-17 record

The Ugly: continuing the streak of losing seasons (eight), continuing the playoff drought that’s lasted since 1995, Edwin Encarnacion’s defense at third base, Corey Patterson (only in Cincinnati can you bat .205 and lead off)

Disclaimer: There were lots of awful things you could say about the Reds’ season. I merely skimmed the surface, knowing that if I dove deep enough into that abyss, I may end up never seeing the light of day again. I apologize for my lack of journalistic presence in this matter.

Looking forward, this team has plenty to get excited about. Forward might mean three years from now, but at least there’s something to be optimistic about. This optimism springs from the youth of this ball club. Last season, rookies all stepped in and by the end of the season had filled big roles. Joey Votto’s name needs to be placed first and foremost in this group (pun intended). Votto put up a .297 average with 24 HRs and 84 RBI’s in his first campaign, which got him runner-up to Cubs catcher Geo Soto in the NL ROY race. The highly touted outfielder Jay Bruce also got his first big-league season under his belt last year, putting up a .254/ 21/ 52 in only 108 games. Rookies stepping up to a lesser extent were outfielder Chris Dickerson and catcher Ryan Hannigan, who did more than serviceable jobs in their late season call-ups. These young men, along with Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips, will make up the core of the offense for the 2009 Reds.

The Reds' 2009 Preseason MVP, Joey Votto

GM Walt Jocketty didn’t make any big splashes in the market this year, but I think his moves will pay off. He greatly improved the CF position, bringing in speedster Willy Taveras to be the table setter for this young team. He resigned Jerry Hairston to come compete at LF and SS. He also traded the oft-injured Ryan Freel (and his imaginary friend Farney) for former All-Star catcher Ramon Hernandez, who really needed a change of scenery. These guys may not be studs, but you don’t need to be to outperform last year’s Corey Patterson and David Ross/Javier Valentin.

The Lineup

1. Willy Taveras – CF
2. Jerry Hairston/Chris Dickerson – LF
3. Joey Votto – 1B
4. Jay Bruce – RF
5. Brandon Phillips – 2B
6. Edwin Encarnacion – 3B
7. Ramon Hernandez – C
8. Jeff Keppinger – SS

The bench will be made up of Alex Gonzalez, Ryan Hannigan, Norris Hopper, Wilkin Castillo, and probably either Jacque Jones or Darryl Ward.

The youth movement also was prominent in the pitching staff. Starter Edinson Volquez, who the Reds received for Josh Hamilton, earned All-Star status in his first year away from Arlington. He put together an impressive 17-6 record, while also leading the Reds with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 196 innings. Rookie Johnny Cueto also played a big role in the rotation last season, and he’ll look to improve on his 9-14 record from last year. The success of this rotation as a whole will depend on the health of staff ace Aaron Harang. From 2005-2007, Harang went 43-30 with an ERA of 3.76 and 597 Ks. He was on pace for another solid year before Dusty Baker tried to ruin yet another pitcher’s career. If he can return to his previous form, and Bronson Arroyo can continue to be the innings eater he’s proved he can be, this minus from last year can become a plus pretty easily.

The bullpen looks to build on what was a solid year, at least in Cincinnati terms. Closer Francisco Cordero completed 34 saves in 40 opportunities, and I would expect similar numbers from him for this year. Losing lefty Jeremy Affeldt to free agency is going to sting, but the signing of veteran reliever Arthur Rhodes will hopefully ease that pain. Guys to watch for will be Bill Bray, Nick Masset, and Jared Burton, who all pitched really well last year when needed.

The Rotation

1. Edinson Volquez
2. Aaron Harang
3. Bronson Arroyo
4. Johnny Cueto
5. Micah Owings/Homer Bailey/Ramon Ramirez

The 2009 Cincinnati Reds I feel are a sneaky team. They have a young core and a clubhouse without a cancer. On paper, they’re probably just as good at the beginning of the year as the Tampa Bay Rays team of last year. If the pitching staff can stay healthy, which is a big if with Dusty “The Ligament Hater” Baker managing, this team will be successful. The if’s make this a hard team to project, but I have a feeling that this team will do better than years past.

Cincinnati Reds: 83-79, Third Place in NL Central