Friday, March 30, 2007

Harang: "Stay healthy and hope for the best"

The Reds are preparing to celebrate the seventh anniversary of their last winning season with all-day festivities on April 2, including a big parade through downtown and a free day off work for all the people that seem to get infected with a peculiar bug that goes around on Opening Day every year.

Unfortunately, the organization had to ruin everybody's fun by scheduling a baseball game against the Cubs at 2:10 on that day at Great American Ball Park.

Anybody as excited as me about seeing the Reds explode out of the gate and falter down the stretch once again? I swear, every season that goes by, I feel like one of the Wright Brothers watching his new byplane get off the ground. Only it flies for eight seconds before crashing into a beach dune in a ball of flames. And the Boeing 747 that's flying overhead? That would be the Mets and Tigers.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a Boeing of our own right here in Cincinnati? Maybe once Homer Bailey starts pitching on a consistent basis in the bigs and studs like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce get up here, we might see our byplane get a pair of jet engines. But right now, it's still a byplane, and it's probably going to stay that way for the 2007 season.

I was watching "Jim Rome is Burning" yesterday (I was in the cafeteria; I can only stomach Rome when I don't have any other choice), and guess who was the guest? None other than Aaron Harang. I was pretty surprised to see him on the show, too, especially given his hellish 6.66 ERA for the Spring, but given the fact that Spring Training is winding down, they'd probably gotten all the high-profile guests out of the way early.

One of the last questions Rome posed was whether Harang thought this would be the breakout season for the Reds or if it was a season to "stay healthy and just hope for the best".

Let's think about this for a second. Athletes aren't the best people to rely on to "tell it like it is". For most of the interview, Harang forewent legitimate answers for the usual sports cliches that ESPN's interviews tend to harvest.

But when it came to this question, Harang said that this season, the Reds are probably just going to "stay healthy and hope for the best". Really, that's probably the right answer. We're not likely to see Homer Bailey up with the Reds until September (unless the Reds go on a tear and are in first place around the All-Star Break), and nothing screams "pennant" to me about an outfield of Dunn, Griffey, and Conine. Not to mention the fact that I don't see Ross having the same year he had last year, and Alex Gonzalez isn't exactly a step up from Felipe Lopez (good glove or no).

But you don't expect a soft-spoken guy like Harang to answer with that. When he said that, I got a pretty sick feeling in my stomach. I thought that the Castellini administration was supposed to come in and instill a new attitude of confidence and success in this franchise. One season, and we're already back to the "chuck and pray" mentality?

This is all a fan's perspective, though. From a realist's perspective, it's going to be at least 2009 before this team has a legitimate shot at the division, let alone the pennant or a championship. It's obvious that guys like A-Gon, Conine and Hatteberg are just stopgaps for the young guys that are working their way up in the minors.

Homer Bailey wasn't exactly mowing them down in Spring Training. He's got a prodigious fastball, but word from Sarasota was that he was relying too much on just trying to blow batters away with the fastball, and he didn't use his curveball or changeup enough. I know he's got a ton of potential, and he'll probably work these issues out while with the Bats this season, but there's still that ever-present feel deep down that he's going to turn into an Adam Dunn on the mound. Like he's going to find what he does best and rely on it at the expense of all the other talent he's got languishing within, untapped. But if the Reds are in contention by July and he's finding tremendous success in Louisville, expect that shaky fifth spot in the rotation to be his by that point. But a lot's going to have to go right for that to happen, I think.

Joey Votto had a breakout year last year in Chattanooga, but he's clearly not quite ready for the big leagues yet. He batted .240 in 19 at-bats in Spring Training and has shaky defense at first base, but he's got a good eye and great power (.841 OPS). Sounds kind of like another, more vilified guy we've already got on our roster, doesn't it? But if he gets in enough cuts down in the minors, I think he'll get past his current shortcomings. This guy looks like he's going to be good. Whether he'll be scary good is going to be seen in time.

Jay Bruce just finished a season in low-A. He tore them apart down there, but low-A is still big steps below even AA. He's still a few years away, but his reputation as a young Griffey Jr. still follows him.

The Junior from Seattle, not the Junior from Cincinnati. Yes, it's a compliment.

A good core is coming. But it looks like for 2007 the Reds are just going to have to "stay healthy and hope for the best".

It's going to be a long year, Reds fans.

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