By Josh Kramer
Every city has special traditions and aspects of life that are unique. Things that are simply “insert city name” (Cincinnati in this case). Well today is that day for Cincinnatians and others from around the Tri-State area. Opening Day is a tradition unlike any other for inhabitants of Cincinnati. It is hands down the most anticipated day of the year in Southwest, Ohio. The day starts bright and early and goes into the night. If there was ever a day to play hookey from class or take a “sick” day from work, today is that day.
People not from Cincinnati tend to forget who the first professional baseball team was. Back in 1866, the Cincinnati Red Stockings made history and became the first openly all-professional baseball team. And sure the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals are all very historically rich franchises, but did any of them ever win 130 consecutive games? The Reds did back in 1869/1870.
This year is very special though. There is more hype surrounding the 2012 version of the Cincinnati Reds than any year since 1995 (I am talking in early April). Anybody under the age of 18 has never really seen or experienced this type of excitement heading into a season. And it pleases me to say that the hype is warranted.
So long Albert. Afwah Prince. The NL Central is now Joey Votto’s division for the taking. Votto is hands down the best player in the division and just received the massive payday to verify that fact. Cincinnati has had one of the most lethal offenses in the National League the past couple of years. They do not have a problem hitting the long ball at Great American “Small” Park and scoring massive amounts of runs. Offense has not been the problem. And it won’t be this year. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto are the best right side of the infield in baseball both with the bat and with the glove (sorry Teixeira and Cano).
Ryan Madson undergoing Tommy-John surgery was about the only unpleasant news since the very disappointing conclusion to the 2011 season. Castellini and Jocketty have made all of the right moves. They are all in. It is “Win Now” time. And we could argue till we get blue in the face whether the deal for Votto was unnecessary, but let’s live in the present. We can worry about 38-year-old version of Joey Votto in ten years. Overall, it looks like this team has a great shot at bringing home the NL Central and advancing to the playoffs for the second time in three years.
What we already know:
-Joey Votto is going to hit. Joey Votto is going to field. Joey Votto is going to play well.
-Drew Stubbs will strike out over 190 times.
-Aroldis Chapman will throw 100+ MPH fastballs. Now whether they find the strike zone remains to be seen.
-There will be much debate about who should start in left field, Heisey or Ludwick.
-The “BRUCE” chant will occur on a frequent basis during home games.
-Dusty Baker will go through at least 162 toothpicks.
What we don’t know:
-Who will be the everyday starter in left field?
-Is Zach Cozart the first long-term solution at shortstop since Barry Larkin?
-How will Brandon Phillips respond to the recent Votto deal that likely really limits his future with the team?
-Can Johnny Cueto repeat his outstanding 2011 performance?
-Will Sean Marshall be able to handle the closer position?
-Will Scott Rolen play over 100 games?
-Will Devin Mesoraco live up to the hype or will we see a good deal of Ryan Hanigan (which may not be such a bad thing)?
-Will the Bronson Arroyo of 2010 or dare I say the Bronson Arroyo of 2011 show up?
-Will Homer Bailey finally develop into a respectable Major League pitcher?
-Can Jay Bruce consistently play at an All-Star level?
Keys to success:
-Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey must contribute significantly (I think these guys are much bigger question marks than Cueto, Latos, or Leake).
-A closer must emerge. Whether that is Sean Marshall or not as I stated earlier remains to be seen.
-Brandon Phillips must put contract disputes on the backburner and continue to show why he is one of the top few second baseman in all of baseball.
-Cozart has to come to play. A team cannot thrive without a solid fielding and at least mediocre hitting shortstop these days.
Despite the many question marks (things we don’t know), Cincinnati will win 97 games (one more than they won in 1999 where they fell just short) and advance to the playoffs. They will cruise into the postseason behind their potent offensive attack and respectable pitching staff. The pitching staff will not be great, but they will get their ERA back under 4.00 and move to the upper half of the National League. Joey Votto will finish in the top five of the MVP voting and the Reds will finally appear to be a team that is consistently ready to contend year in and year out. Also, by June, Great American Ball Park will start selling out games on a consistent basis (okay this may be a little too optimistic).
Enjoy what should be a great day today. This is one of those instances that you just have to smile and be happy that you are a Cincinnatian. Opening Day is a “Simply Cincinnati” kind of day.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.