Yet Another Hunt for a Reds October

Monday, March 17 2008 @ 07:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Mick Doherty

Every year in this space, I write a Cincinnati Reds preview that is wildly incorrect -- when I predict a World Seris appearance, the Red Legs tank; if I foresee gloom and doom, they at least hang around on the peripherals of a pennant race far longer than one might suppose.

So in this fourth annual edition of "The Hunt for a Reds October," let's dig back into the annals of Red Leg lore and "bottom line" it; by comparing the projected 2008 edition of the Reds with their most successful forebears -- the last Reds team to win a title (1990) and the greatest team in franchise history (1975) we can at least more accurately (one would surmise) project whether or not there is a glimmer of hope for the glint of a World Series trophy shining over the Queen City in 2008. Let's see ...

First, we should start by stating outright, there is nothing remotely scientific about this analysis; and I should admit that as an Ohioan born and raised, I will probably find it hard to imagine anyone comparing particularly well to the Big Red Machine (BRM) of my youth or even the Nasty Boys of my first post-collegiate place of residence, also in Ohio ... but regardless, let's meet the contenders!

2008 Reds
C David Ross
1B Scott Hatteberg
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Alex Gonzalez
3B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Adam Dunn
CF Jay Bruce
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
Bench: Freel, Valentin, Votto, Castro, Hopper

SP: Harang, Arroyo, Bailey, Fogg, Volquez
CL: Franciso Cordero
RP: Weathers, Stanton, Belisle, Affeldt, Majewski (Bray, Coffey)
MGR: Dusty Baker

1990 Reds (91-71)
C Joe Oliver
1B Todd Benzinger/Hal Morris
2B Mariano Duncan/Ron Oester
SS Barry Larkin
3B Chris Sabo
LF Billy Hatcher
CF Eric Davis
RF Paul O'Neill
Bench: Reed, Quinones, Winningham, Braggs, Griffey Sr.

SP: Browning, Rijo, Armstrong, Jackson, Robinson
CL: Randy Myers
RP: Dibble, Charlton, Layana, Birtsas, Mahler
MGR: Lou Piniella

1975 Reds (108-54)
C Johnny Bench
1B Tony Perez
2B Joe Morgan
SS Dave Concepcion
3B Pete Rose
LF George Foster
CF Cesar Geronimo
RF Ken Griffey Sr.
Bench: Plummer, Driessen, Flynn, Chaney, Rettenmund, Crowley

SP: Billingham, Nolan, Norman, Darcy, Gullett (Kirby)
CL: Rawly Eastwick
RP: McEnaney, Borbon, C. Carroll, T. Carroll
MGR: Sparky Anderson

Um ... So What?
Okay, let's break that down a little further, position-by-position.

Dave Ross is a nice player, but not quite as good as the '90 Oliver and of course, then you have Arguably The Greatest Catcher Who Ever Lived, Johnny Lee Bench. From a depth perspective, Ryan Hanigan is a .300 career hitter (he's, uh, 3-for-10) but the Reds are in trouble if they need to go to him as a long-term answer. Jeff Reed '90 and Bill Plummer '75 were both better in that regard. Let's go (1) 1975 (2) 1990 (3) 2008. No surprises!

First Base
So there's a (some say borderline) Hall of Famer in Tony Perez, a really nice and productive Todd Benzinger/Hal Morris platoon in '90 and, another nice pair in '08, including '07 .310 hitter Scott Hatteberg and rookie masher Joey Votto. It's Perez in a runaway, but very close after that. But let's go, in a mild upset, (1) 1975 (2) 2008 (3) 1990.

Second Base
Oh, look, another Hall of Famer for the BRM! And it's the '75 NL MVP to boot! The Duncan/Oester pairing in 1990 was more than serviceable, but Brandon Phillips is already the best 2B in Cincinnati since., well. you-know-who. (1) 1975 (2) 2008 (3) 1990.

When Davey Concepcion played shortstop for the Reds, he was generally considered the best shorstop in team history, though that did not land him the Cooperstown plaque young fans all over Ohio assumed (probably in error) he deserved. Anyway, he eventually gave up the Best-Reds-SS title to Barry Larkin, the Cincinnati native who steered the '90 ship. The '08 Reds? Well, Alex (not the ex-Jay) Gonzalez is a heckuva nice player, may even make an All-Star team or two going forward, but he does not belong in the Concepcion-Larkin discussion. (1) 1990 (2) 1975 (3) 2008.

Third Base
Speaking of potential All-Stars, Edwin Encarnacion is going to make the Rangers regret trading him, especially if Hank Blalock stays injury-prone, but he is not yet to the level of Chris Sabo's career, much less some guy named Rose -- controversy aside, it's hard to argue that Rose was a great, great player and certainly a positive cog in the BRM glory years, regardless of what came next. (1) 1975 (2) 1990 (3) 2008

So we're around the infield and so far ...
What a shock, we see 1975 in the lead 14 points (three for first, etc.) followed by 1990 with nine points and 2008 with 7. Let's move on the outfield and see where this ends up.

Left Field
Ah, the '08 squad "wins" a position. Perennial 50-homer threat Adam Dunn hit balls farther than even Ted Kluszewski could've dreamt of; '75er Foster actually did hit that many (52) once, but was a few years away from that pace in '75, when he hit 23 and drove in 78 after taking over in LF in May when Rose made the surprising move to 3B. Dunn may reach those marks by the All-Star break! Billy Hatcher, you were a nice player and an important part of a title team, but thanks for stopping by. (1) 2008 (2) 1975 (3) 1990.

Center Field

iIf Jay Bruce is anywhere near as good as some people think he will be, he may rocket to the top of this list sooner rather than later. But with exactly zero career MLB at-bats so far, who can tell? It's just as likely Ryan Freel might end up the Reds' everyday CF. The '75 squad had Cesar Geronimo, who was a year and 50 points away from a '76 career-best .307 average,  and  the '90 Reds had Eric Davis, who was a superstar and sure-fire Hall of Famer in 1990. We'll go (1) 1990 (2) 1975 (3) 2008.

Right Field
Oh, Paul O'Neill, if only your last name was "Griffey"! The young O'Neill was a very nice player for the '90 reds, but not yet nearly fully developed into the Yankee pest he would become to the rest of the AL throughout the decade. So it's really a battle of the Griffeys, Sr. vs. Jr., isn't it? Dad had 2000+ hits and a wonderful career, but even on the downslope, the son outshines the father. (1) 2008 (2) 1975 (3) 1990.

Of course the '75 Reds had the best Bench of these three -- but he was the starting catcher. As for the top collection of offensive reserves, none of the three options are all that eye-popping; if the '08 group gerts solid non-starting contributions from Votto and Freel, it could leap to the head of the pack. Should the '90 crew get bonus points for including Griffey Sr.? Frankly, this is a three-way tie for first (or last?) ... (2T) All three.

The '75 and '90 starting rotations were both vastly underrated than most ring-winning groups are. Can Edinson Volquez make the Josh Hamilton trade seem less like pure theft by the Rangers? Actually, the '08 Reds would be thrilled to duplicate their earlier cohorts' production. (1) 1990 (2) 1975 (3) 2008.

Captain Hook versus the Nasty Boys! It's actually hard to dub Eastwick and Myers as the "closers" on their teams, though as the leaders in saves and save chances, they surely were. But McEnaney/Borbon/Carroll and Dibble/Charlton/Layana were all as important to the great bullpen successes of both teams. The '08 Reds will definitely have a single closer -- unless he implodes -- as Francisco Cordero signed a ridiculously huge contract to make a run at the team's single-season saves record (48 by Jeff Shaw a decade ago). Hmmm ... (1) 1990 (2) 1975 (3) 2008

Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella have combined with Sparky Anderson to preside over 4,960 big league wins. Piniella had 255 wins and the one ring in his time with the Reds, in addition to four other non-Cincinnati division titles; Baker has no wins with the Reds yet, but two division titles and one pennant to his name (though no rings). The Main Spark had 863 of his 2,194 career wins in Cincy, including four pennants and two rings. In his career, he managed six division winners, five of whom went on to the Series, three of who won that Series. But the most impressive thing about his Cincinnati time (other than that guest spot on WKRP, of course)? Nine seasons, eight times finishing first or second. Maybe Lou and Dusty end up in Cooperstown some day; Anderson is already there. (1) 1975 (2) 1990 (3) 2008.

Um ... Again, So What?
Oh, hell, I don't know. I get this wrong every year, remember?

The numbers -- let's see, three times six carry the nine, divided by pi (times r-squared), well, I was an English major who minored in Philosophy and took "Logic" for math requirements, so actually, these rankings are not only mathemetically worthless, I can't even interpret them!

That said, the '08 squad doesn't look quite as strong as the '90 team and would probably lose 120 of 162 against the '75 behemoth. Then again, the 2008 NL Central doesn't look as strong as, say, the '75 or '90 AL West, where the Reds resided at the time (along with Atlanta, another "West" team!)

Bauxites responding the '08 NLC poll had the Reds in a far, far, barely visible speck in the distance third place in the division, behind CHC and MIL. That's probably about right. But what needs to happen for the Reds to actually win the division this year? Well, if ...
... then this is your NL Central team to beat! Now, all of those things are possible, individually; the odds of them ALL happening this season are, well, less than likely. But hey, you know, the 1990 Reds did it ...

This year's edition? (And remember, I'm always wrong about the Reds) ... nice year, 83-79, third in the NL Central.