Monday, March 31, 2008

Baseball Here. Reds Awesome. Me Excited. Jeff Brantley Annoying.

With First Pitch just hours away I can barely sit still or keep a thought in my head. I am Ellis Redding. Which, I guess, means Aaron Harang is Andy Dufresne.

But anyway, baseball is here. And I gots me some thoughts on my Redlegs (in no order whatsoever, which is the same as saying no particular order, but this makes me different. Which makes me hip. Somehow).

1. Edinson Volquez outshines Johnny Cueto; both make me consider becoming a gay.

Not since Scott Williamson (the 99-00 version) have the Reds possessed such a prolific strikeout pitcher. Aaron Harang strikes out a good number of hitters. In fact, he led the league in K's in '06. Bronson Arroyo has fanned an average of 170 batters over the past two seasons. In the words of Bud Kilmer, "That's really not bad, boy." Johnny Cueto, I suspect, will be about as productive as Harang and Arroyo have been striking out opposing hitters. Maybe even more. Who knows?

But Volquez...

Volquez has the stuff to throw up the occasional 13-strikeout game. And by "stuff," what I mean is Volquez has a crippling changeup. As good as you'll ever see, actually. Does this mean Volquez is as good as Johan Santana? Obviously not. Do I think Volquez will have Trevor Hoffman's career? I ain't that dumb. BUT...when Volquez's changeup is working it's as dirty a pitch as there is in baseball. And if he learns to spot his fastball, sky's the limit...

2. Edwin Encarnacion craps (as opposed to getting off the pot. Yes, this is a good thing.)

I really think Encarnacion will finally put together a complete season. Regardless, it's officially now or never for this guy. I've made 8 billion excuses for him for the past two seasons, but it's time for him to grow up and stop worrying so much. Third Base is all yours, fella, and you have a manager in your corner. This is what you've been asking for, now show me you can drive in 90 runs while playing solid D. Really, that's all were asking.

3. Brandon Phillips and Aaron Harang have really good years, but don't match last season.

It can't all be great news.

4. Franky Cordero scares the living hell out of me on more occasions than a $10-million-per-year closer should.

But he still gets the job done better than David Weathers ever could.

5. Jared Burton gets his head kicked in this year.

Just a hunch. But...

6. Josh Roenicke makes his way to the bigs. And stays.

Anyone watch his St. Patty's Day performance against (I think) Tampa? He's has back-end-of-the-bullpen stuff.

7. Bill Bray will be the best lefty in the bullpen.

He's up by the end of April. Watch.

8. Alex Gonzalez is out longer than we expected. Jeff Keppinger's hitting .312 with a buttload of doubles when Gonzalez gets healthy. Talk show hosts wet themselves when they think about the ideas for the next day's show.

Nobody can predict a longer rehab stint than me. By the way, doesn't "compression fracture of the knee" just sound bad? I mean, how can that only be a 2-4 week injury?

9. Todd Coffey will still be a head case.

Listen, whether the guy is in better shape or not (and he's still pretty fat), is this somebody you'd ever want in a tight situation? Didn't think so.

10. Juan Castro will make me wonder why the Reds cut Jorge Cantu.

Defensive replacements are stupid. Dirt cheap, perfectly healthy 25-year-olds with a 117 RBI season on their baseball card are not. Question: Is Juan Castro the luckiest man on the planet?

11. Corey Patterson will be decent for a month.

What's funny about Patterson is that nobody thinks he's worth a crap because Jay Bruce is waiting in the wings. And yet Brandon Phillips and Josh Hamilton are living proof that sometimes an elite athlete has to face adversity a few times before they put it together. That said, can we just bring up Jay Bruce already. This Patterson guy is a bum.

12. Joey Votto hits .310. But in less than 300 at-bats. Scott Hatteberg drives in 7 runs

Me want to stab Dusty Baker.

13. Bounce back year for Bronson Arroyo.

The worst kept secret in Redsland last season was Bronson Arroyo's midseason arm injury. Sure, nothing was ever confirmed, but it seemed quite clear that the man was battling some sort of injury following his 129-pitch outing versus San Diego in mid-May. Over his next four starts Arroyo allowed 26 earned runs in 17.2 innings. Was it a coincidence that four of his five worst starts were in succession? Maybe, but probably not. The whispers were pretty damn loud.

Injury or not, Arroyo still finished the season with a 4.23 ERA. Not bad at all. Plus, for the second consecutive year--and contrary to popular belief--the long-haired goof finished strong. In his last 11 starts (spanning 69.2 innings), Arroyo went 5-3 with a 3.23 ERA. Which means...let's sing it together, people...the National League hasn't caught up to Bronson Arroyo.

14. I make fun of Dusty Baker's grammar about 750 times before the end of May. Baker doesn't care.

Say what you want about the man, but he does it his way, which is refreshing when you consider the turds who have been in his position this decade.

15. Reds win more than 78 games.

They better, considering I called the bookie last night and wagered money on such a thing. (For the record, I also took the over of the Rockies win total, which is 83.) Really though, I see the Reds as an 85-87 win team. I see them competing to the end in the wide open NL Central. Maybe they win, maybe not. But it should be a three-horse race between the Reds, Brewers and Cubs.

One final prediction...

16. Jeff Brantley describes called strikes as "rrrrrrrright dowwwwn brrrroadway" somewhere around 100 percent of the time. I want to hang myself.

Anyone who says they enjoy his play-by-play is either (a.) lying, or (b.) stupid. It's as simple as that. The man gets paid to speak for a living and his vocabulary consists of about thirty words. As for his analysis, it's okay I suppose, but it seems to me that he's trying to be edgy and outspoken like Marty, as opposed to just being himself. I watched Brantley while he was on ESPN and I can't remember him ever being a controversial guy...can you?

Besides that, go Reds and whatnot!

(By the way, I'm going to try my hand at in-game blogging for Opening Day. I'll provide little or no analysis, of course, but I will make fun of George Grande as much as possible. Giddy up!)

-Brad Spieser (