The Reds opened the 2011 season with a three-game spanking of the Milwaukee Brewers, a flawed team that was being pimped as much more than that by people who should know better. The Reds’ other so-called Central Division contenders, the St. Louis Cardinals, didn’t look much better than the Brewers, losing two of three to the revamped (as in lone power source Adrian Gonzalez is gone) San Diego Padres. (The snake-bitten Cards also lost outfielder/key offensive cog Matt Holliday for an undetermined period with an emergency appendectomy.)
One weekend does not make a season, but it’s beginning to look like 2010 all over again.
A trendy pick by many to win the NL Central Division after acquiring starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in the offseason, the Brewers looked no better than they did last year — a mediocre (at best) team with three or four good hitters, no depth, heinous defense and a weak bullpen. (Isaac Thorn predicted as much in his preseason preview.)
The soft-tossing Marcum will certainly be better than he showed Saturday against the Reds, but he’s in no way an “ace,” as some tagged him after the Brewers traded a top prospect to get him from the Toronto Blue Jays. (I’ll take his Reds counterpart the other night, Travis Wood, over him any day of the week.) And I’m not sold that Greinke, a notorious head case who’ll miss at least a couple more weeks after breaking a rib during a pick-up basketball game, is the guy he’s being to hyped to be either — he followed up his 2009 Cy Young season with a 10-14 record and 4.17 ERA, and he sports a 3.82 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP over his seven-year career, not the stuff of a guy who’ll single-handedly turn around a franchise that hasn’t won a division title in nearly 30 years.
But enough about the Brewers and Cardinals — the opening series revealed that the Reds still possess the same strengths that led to their first division title in 15 years, strengths the Brewers and Cardinals lack: lineup and starting rotation depth, stellar defense and a solid bullpen.
For proof look no further than the Reds’ underrated catching duo, Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan, two players who aren’t buzzed about in the national press or by fantasy baseball geeks but who, taken as a tandem, are about as effective as any catcher in baseball not named Joe Mauer or Brian McCann. Last year they combined to hit .299 with 12 homeruns and 88 RBI; this year they’ve started 9-12 with two homeruns — one of which was Hernandez’s season/tone-setting game-winner on opening day — and seven RBI.
Numerous national prognosticators picked the Cardinals and Brewers ahead of the Reds before each of their ace starters — Adam Wainwright for the Cards, Greinke for the Brewers — went down with injuries, if for no other reason than the Reds largely stood pat this offseason. Yet they stood pat for good reason — unlike the Brewers and Cardinals, the Reds already had the ingredients to play again in October.