The Reds pulled out an exciting win on Opening Day, which means we can immediately begin to overanalyze the team and pretend we know things that we really donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s part of the fun of baseball. One day tells us nothing, but it allows us to complain, debate, and dream of what could be.
Opening Day gave the optimist reasons to believe in this team and the pessimist reasons to further dismiss the team. I predicted the team to go 82-80. I also said that this team would be pretty good when healthy. Opening Day did nothing to deter me from thinking that. Optimism abounds. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s allow it to while we still can.
Make no mistake, the Reds have plenty of question marks, and Opening Day reminded us of some of those. Marlon Byrd swung the bat at will and missed often, doing nothing to alleviate fears that his rising strikeout rate (29% in 2014) will eventually lead to a drastic drop off in production. The pitching staff has plenty of questions marks, especially until Homer Bailey returns. The Reds have very little depth anywhere on the field and need healthy seasons from their regulars.
Many fans are understandably upset with Bryan PriceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision to pitch Kevin Gregg in the 8th against the middle of the PiratesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ lineup. That decision is indefensible. But, GreggÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s poor performance doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worry me in the least.
Why you ask? Because I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t expect Gregg and Manny Parra will pitch many important innings in close games this year. The Reds have too many other options and better ones at that. Gregg and Parra are likely the Reds two worst relievers, and that will become apparent soon enough. I expect Burke Badenhop, Jumbo Diaz, and Tony Cingrani will pitch important innings and pitch well enough for the Reds to succeed.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m especially excited about Cingrani. I would prefer he start instead of Jason Marquis. But if he is going to pitch out of the pen, he will likely dominate an inning or two at a time. Price will figure out the bullpen. The pieces are there to be good enough.
The Reds defense will really help the Reds pitching staff. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m still worried about the rotation, but the defense eases those concerns slightly. On Opening Day, the Reds put on a defensive clinic. Frazier likely saved a run in the first with an assist from Votto on the other end. Billy Hamilton made a great play on a ball that took a wicked turn right in front of him. Byrd made a leaping grab that mitigated some of the damage from the Gregg debacle. Does anyone think the Reds wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t save a lot of runs on defense this year?
But the most important take away from Opening Day was that Jay Bruce and Joey Votto looked healthy. Both had vintage moments. VottoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vintage moment came in the bottom of the eighth with Billy Hamilton on first. Votto fell behind 0-2 before taking some close pitches. He managed to lay off a tough pitch with a check swing (borderline call acknowledged). He eventually hit a fastball on the outer half the other way in classic Votto fashion. He just doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give away outs. He also ripped a single into right-center field earlier in the game.
Votto singling twice isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t big news. The big news is that his legs looked healthy, and Votto was able to take advantage of pitches he struggled with last year when he wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t healthy.
BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vintage moment came on an inside fastball that he clobbered into the sun deck. When Bruce connects, is there a better looking swing in baseball? ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s beautiful. We didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see that swing last year as Bruce struggled to overcome his knee injury.
If you get a chance, check out this article from early March from Fangraphs about how the leg injuries affected Votto and Bruce last season. They both seem to have their healthy swings back. At least for one day. The question is whether they can remain healthy all season. If they look as good as they did on Opening Day, the Reds offense will produce a great deal more runs than last season.
A healthy Bruce and Votto gives the Reds a dynamic middle of the lineup with Votto, Frazier, Mesoraco, and Bruce all capable of All-Star caliber offensive seasons. No one wants to face those four players in a row, especially if Hamilton figures out how to get on base more.
For those of us that believe the Reds can contend when healthy, Opening Day was encouraging. I still think they are a .500 team because of depth issues, but if the two left-handed boppers are bopping, Ã‚Â we can hope. And for now, hope is all we need. Let optimism abound!