One of the loyal members of the Nation pointed out in a comment tonight that MLB posted their first “power rankings” of the season. Here are the top 12 teams:

  1. Washington Harpers
  2. Los Angeles Angels
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Toronto Blue Jays
  6. Los Angeles Dodgers
  7. Cincinnati Reds
  8. Atlanta Braves
  9. Texas Rangers
  10. Tampa Bay Rays
  11. Arizona Diamondbacks
  12. St. Louis Cardinals

The good news is that the Reds are ranked ahead of three great teams – the Cardinals, Rangers and Braves. Yet, many Reds fans will recoil in disbelief at the rankings. Not because the Yankees and Red Sox failed to make the list (boo-hoo), but because Reds fans expect their team to make it to — and — win the World Series this year. There’s no way that six teams are ahead of us.

But the hard truth is that even though the Reds front office has taken meaningful steps to improve the club from last year (signing Shin-Soo Choo, improving the bench) and presumably JoeyMVP will be fully healthy this October, the team nonetheless has lost ground relative to other top organizations.

Look no further than the top of the list. The Washington Harpers won more games than the Reds last year. Like the Reds, they were agonizingly close to winning the NLDS and advancing to play in the NLCS. In the off-season the Harpers added Dan Haren as a starting pitcher. They added Denard Span to lead-off and play a great center field. They signed Rafael Soriano, a dominant closer to go along with an already tough bullpen. AND this year, they’ll have Stephen Strasburg in the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the process of becoming the best baseball team money can buy, with a $200 million payroll. Their lineup and pitching staff is filled with All Stars.

The main reason I so strongly want the Reds to give Aroldis Chapman a legitimate chance to become a starting pitcher is that his success in that role would be one change that could move the Reds forward dramatically to compete with those six teams. If the Chapman-to-starter experiment works, the rotation of Cueto, Latos, Chapman and Bailey could be truly awesome in the post-season. And that’s what the Reds need to be to beat the handful of teams they’ll face at the end of the year. In the 2012 NLDS, because of his role, Chapman pitched just one important inning. [I almost left this paragraph out, because it isn’t the main point of my post and I don’t want it to devolve into more all-Chapman, all-the-time.] 

The Reds front office is always looking to improve the team. And ownership has — as promised — substantially raised the payroll to bring the city a championship. But if their goal is to win the World Series — and I believe it is, from Castellini to Cozart — then incremental improvement isn’t enough. We can’t abide by the philosophy that “well, it worked last year, if it ain’t broke…” because it only “worked” up to a point. It “worked” if you were satisfied watching other teams play in the NLCS and World Series.

Yes, those power rankings will change substantially as the season goes on. Teams will suffer devastating injuries. Some will lack the chemistry to play up to the sum of their parts. And a few will exceed their talent on paper. Hopefully the Reds will fall into the latter camp.

But the bottom line is that Reds fans should go into this season with clear eyes. The Reds should be an improved ball club and that still might not be enough.