Cincinnati Reds 2008 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2008 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 32 teams. Teams will be rated on a 10-point scale in the following 5 areas: Lineup, Pitching, Manager, Intangibles/Chemistry, and Overall. Today’s team is the Cincinnati Reds.

This figures to be one of the most formidable lineups in the National League, but they’re not going to do it as a team who gets a lot of press before proving anything. The bottom line is in Great American Ballpark, if you put some guys out there that have pop in their bat, you’re going to see some fireworks. Guys play their way into numbers in that stadium.

The lead-off spot is somewhat a question mark right now, but for the sake of argument it’s going to probably be phenom Jay Bruce or young star second baseman Brandon Phillips who wins the job (or is forced into the spot). Phillips has done it before, Bruce has not. The Reds have been trying to find a true lead off man for years and haven’t been able to do it. It’s important that they find a man who can get on base and score runs when the thunder comes up. Also, don’t count Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper out when they’re in the line up/if they win the starting job.

Ken Griffey Jr. is coming into what may be his final season in Cincinnati. His contract runs out after this year, and it should be a good thing for the franchise if Griffey’s decent sized contract comes off the books. Griffey came here in 2000 and there were headlines that he’d came home to lead the Reds to the World Series. At this point, the happy ending comes if he can just stay healthy and get this young team to the postseason. Griffey should reach the milestone of 600 career home runs this season, which will get some buzz around this team in the early part of the season.

Adam Dunn returns in left field in what has been a successful career; but also could be his last season as a Cincinnati Red. Dunn will need to have a big year, as he is the most significant run-producer in the lineup. One of these years Dunn is going to hit 50 home runs. This should be that year in which Dunn has a career year that seperates from all the others (he’s homered 40 or more times in 4 straight seasons, the only active player to have a streak that long currently).

The Reds infield will be Jeff Keppinger at shortstop, Phillips, Joey Votto at 1st base (if he beats out Scott Hatteberg), Edwin Encarnacion at the hot corner, and David Ross at catcher. Every one of those guys can hit. Encarnacion had somewhat of a breakout year last year and looks to be a big right handed bat in the lineup that can drive in runs (he had the highest batting average with RISP in 2007 on the team). Keppinger has hit at every level he’s ever been at. David Ross must rebound from a tough year and be at least solid with the bat. Votto could be a 20-25 home run guy eventually.

Overall, this team is going to hit a ton of home runs and give pitchers fits all year long. The mystery isn’t in the line up.

Rating: 8.4

Aaron Harang is back as the unquestioned ace of the staff. Harang went 16-6 last season with 218 K’s and a 3.73 ERA. He’s going to be 30 this season and should be solid again. This might be the year whether we find out if Harang is ever going to reach Cy Young levels or if he’s simply just a solid big league pitcher. In other words, he’s never going to have a better shot at 20 wins in a season.

The #2 will be Bronson Arroyo, who was disappointing in his sophomore NL campaign, could be the X-factor of the rotation. Arroyo needs to look like the pitcher who posted an ERA of 3.29 in 2006 and not the pitcher who’s ERA was almost a run higher in 2007. If he can be even solid and stay healthy it will give them a huge shot in the arm so to speak.

From there, the rotation will be made up of Matt Belisle, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, or newly acquired lefty Jeremy Affeldt.

The biggest offseason acquisition for the Reds was signing closer Francisco Cordero. Cordero is still in the prime of his career and has absolute nasty stuff. This move allows the Reds to move the closer of the past few seasons, David Weathers; to the set-up role where he figures to be every bit as effective.

This group is a huge question mark with some big upside, but potential is only good for getting managers fired, and journeyman careers.

Rating: 7.3

Dusty Baker is the new skipper of the Cincinnati Reds and he’s getting big time hype. For a guy with one career World Series appearance (a loss) and a .527 winning percentage, there sure is a buzz in the Queen City this spring.

Look, Baker is not Whitey Herzog, but he’s ‘been there’ in a way that guys like Bob Boone, Dave Miley, and even my beloved Jerry ‘Grey Goose’ Narron; have not. Baker knows how to handle veteran ballplayers, and although his handling of a young pitching staff is questionable; he’s a big time manager in the sense of the word. He’s the Reds most proven manager since Sweet Lou Piniella was at the helm. That is high praise.

Rating: 8.1

Hey, these guys always play well late. They always seem to get those magical come-from-behind wins at home. In the 9th and trailing, they usually spark some sort of ill-inspired rally, even if it falls short. This core has been together a long time. Griffey, Dunn, Freel, Weathers, Harang, Phillips, Encarnacion, Arroyo, Ross, Valentin, and Hatteberg. The Reds always seem to have a ‘frat boy’ atmosphere in their clubhouse. This springs from guys like Dunner, Griff and Freel. They’ll have that again this year. No matter what the final record, you’ll see that this is a group that has an ingriedient in the inner-workings of that clubhouse that makes them enjoy playing together. It’s a dangerous weapon.

Rating: 8.8

They’re going to be over .500, and if you want my final prediction for them; you’ll have to wait until around Opening Day.

I like the lineup and roster makeup, but this team needs something more. I’m in the process of figuring that out right now. Homer Bailey is going to step up and show he’s a front-line starter in the making. Adam Dunn will either sign a contract that makes him a Red through his prime years; or go out in a blaze of glory in his finest season as a Red. Ken Griffey Jr. will chase down 600 home runs, and finish things in the city he played in during high school. Brandon Phillips will try to show he’s a true superstar. Votto, Cueto, and Jay Bruce (perhaps the most even odds) will show they’re the best prospects the Reds have had in decades.

Whether the Reds make it to the postseason or not; they’ll be exciting to watch. And if you’ve read this blog before, you know you’re going to get a TON of Reds run on Diamond Hoggers.

Rating: 8.15