Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lineup Against The Wall: Cincinnati Reds

Going through life, you have a lot of jobs. Some of these are actual careers, some are just gigs to get you through college. When I was matriculating at The Colorado State University, I toiled as an honest-to-goodness bookmaker for a couple football seasons.

It was fun, and it created some decent supplemental income. It taught me to never gamble, because the house always wins (I rarely follow this lesson). But the most lasting tidbit I gleaned from my bookie days was how to spell Cincinnati. I always botched how many N's and T's were in there, but after typing a few hundred parlay sheets I can recall that shit in my sleep.

What's any of this have to do with the National League Base Ball Club that plays on the shores of the Ohio River? Not much, unless you consider a former Red who knew his way around a parlay sheet himself. I've always loved the history and the spectacle of the Reds, especially back when crazy old Nazi-lovin' Marge Schott owned the team. For my entire childhood the Reds, as the oldest professional baseball franchise, were given the honor of hosting the very first game of the season--Opening Day was always in Cincinnati. They had a parade, and Barry Larkin was allowed to deflower a debutante in the town square.

Then ESPN ruined baseball by pushing the start of the season up to Sunday night, which is like opening your present on Christmas Eve. Sure, you get an early gift, but it still ain't Christmas. Let's start our tour of the divisions Central in Cincinnati, where the Redlegs play a little pepper...

Here's Dusty Baker's projected lineup for the season:

1. CF Wily Taveras (R)
2. SS Alex Gonzalez (R)
3. 1B Joey Votto (L)
4. 2B Brandon Phillips (R)
5. RF Jay Bruce (L)
6. 3B Edwin Encarnacion (R)
7. LF Chris Dickerson (L)
8. C Ramon Hernandez (R)
9. Pitcher

All in all, it's about what I would throw out there. The heavy-duty sabermetrician types would pick this apart to maximize on-base, squeeze out a few more runs and minimize the damage from inevitable strikeouts, but it's fine. It's an old-school lineup, and Dusty is nothing of not an old-school guy.

I don't like Taveras, and few who truly watch the game of baseball do. It's hard to stick around this sport when you have so little ability to actually hit a baseball with any kind of authority, but Wily does it with speed, lots and lots of speed. Whenever he gets on, he'll run, and he'll certainly score with all the firepower behind him.

Alex Gonzalez returns from an injury-marred 2008 to reclaim his shortstop job from Jeff Keppinger. He'll add a ton of stability to the middle of the field, and he has the ability to handle his stick to boot.

Joey Votto is simply one of the best young hitters in the game, with a good sense of the zone and a shit ton of power. Dusty will hate the fact that he'll draw a walk with men on, but Dusty needs to check his watch and whittle another toothpick--first base and the three-hole are locked down in Cincinnati for years to come.

Brandon Phillips is an enigma--he's suited to lead off with his speed, or possibly bat sixth or seventh. But cleanup actually serves him well. It's just weird to see a second baseman bat there. I think he'll hit a few more bombs this year than last, and with a more seasoned Jay Bruce protecting him he should see better pitches and turn in better at-bats. If Phillips could shave 30 whiffs off the back of his baseball card he could be an absolute monster, plus he still runs when he gets on.

Bruce was a much ballyhooed prospect when he was called up last year, and although he slumped late he really appears to be legitimate. A great contact bat with sneaky power, he could do anything from win a batting title to hit 40 homers. He's got a sweet swing and he's fun to watch--even though Junior Griffey has left town there's still a picturesque windmill spinning in the Reds' lineup.

Quietly, Edwin Encarnacion has evolved into a pretty good player. He still gives away too many ABs and loses focus, but at a thin position Cincinnati has a fairly steady player who's grown remarkably and is still only 26. He gives the Reds even more power, respectable speed and defense, and one of the most tradeable commodities on the roster.

I don't know dick about Chris Dickerson, so I'll get to the eight-hole. Ramon Hernandez came over from the Orioles in the offseason, and it's my belief he'll have a nice season. This team needs a catcher who'll work with a young staff, particularly the Latin kids. The Venezuelan Hernandez ought to be able to break down the slumps of Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez a bit more deftly than Paul Bako. He can also hit a lot more than Paul Bako, but I think former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer can hit more than Paul Bako. I like Paul Bako, but this is a massive improvement in the lineup.

The bench is paper thin, so no one is allowed to get hurt or popsicles will not be served after the game. There's the lineup for your Cincinnati Red Stockings, boys and girls, let's show them our appreciation. Anyone?