Monday, April 2, 2007

Gameday 4/2: Cubs @ Reds (W 5-1)

Pretty tough to tell which team on the field had spent in excess of $300 million this offseason, wasn't it?

The game really couldn't have gone much better for the Reds. They pitched well, they hit well (most of the time), and they played solid defense. Best of all, we didn't have to hear a peep out of those fair-weather yuppie Cubs fans that infest every city that the Cubs visit (let's get one thing out right away: I hate most Cub fans. Honestly, I respect those who really love the team, follow them, and know their baseball. But there are far too many Cub fans in this world that just pick them because they've got a nice ballpark and every other goddamn uneducated person in the world that doesn't have a favorite team just picks the Cubs by default. No disrespect to those of you who fall into the former category. But if your favorite player is still Sammy Sosa, you deserve to be bludgeoned with a corked bat).

Three things I saw in the game that helped me come to my senses:

1) Aaron Harang
What's funny is that he didn't even have his best stuff. But how about this line?

7 IP, 6H, 1R (0 ER), 2BB, 5K

Remember, this is the same guy that posted a 6.66 ERA during Spring Training. But that's why they say Spring Training doesn't mean jack. His best pitch, his fastball, didn't have the same zip on it today that it did last year, but his offspeed stuff was lethal, and his pitch location was impeccable. What impressed me most was his curveball. Anyone else notice that it had a sharper, 12-6 arc to it? Is this something he was working on in the offseason? Harang always had good fastball and knew how to put it where he wanted. But as long as he mixes in his offspeed stuff with the effectiveness he had this afternoon, he could have an even better year than last year. And that's saying something, especially for the Reds.
Funny to think that we were running Jimmy Haynes out there for Opening Day just a few years ago. My, how things change.

2) Adam Dunn
The guy's still got the same prodigious power. His second home run was a freaking cannon shot. You know what's funny? As soon as he hit that second home run, I started to think, "Could he break Barry Bonds' single-season home run record this year?" A little too early for that, I think. But if he keeps swinging for the fences like that, could he? Maybe?
Possibly. And he'd strike out 215 times in the process.
But just once, I'd like to see him shorten up his swing and smack it to the opposite field. I love home runs as much as the next guy, but all this talk about Brook Jacobi helping him find success as an all-around hitter during Spring Training didn't manifest itself during the game today. Not like that turned out to be an issue. A couple of home runs suffice, I suppose.

3) Plate Discipline
I really think Carlos Zambrano is one of the top pitchers in the National League. He's got a nasty fastball and a mean streak, to boot. But as the FSN guys noted at the beginning of their broadcast, if a team can get inside his head, it can exploit his weaknesses.
Zambrano didn't have good stuff today. This isn't the same Zambrano that normally terrorizes the Reds. His control wasn't there, and in the fifth inning, the Reds did just what they should have. He was all over the place with his pitches. His ball-strike ratio by the end of his five innings of work was 45-47. The Reds waited for him to make a mistake. Dunn walked. Phillips was hit by a pitch. Griffey singled after working the count to 2-0. After Encarnacion hit into a force-out, Hatteberg came to bat and, in probably the most crucial at-bat of the game, worked a six-pitch walk to force in a run.
I expect a guy like Dunn to have the plate discipline, but there were too many times last year that the Reds would either swing at bad balls or not come through in the clutch. Although they left a whopping 18 men on base, the fifth inning alone gives me hope that this team could at least work to hitting with men on base on a consistent basis.

Those three things said, there was one glaring disappointment this afternoon: David Ross. Yes, he made a nice throw to nail Derrek Lee in the first inning, but at the plate, he was downright awful. He went 0-for-4, leaving five men on base, and swung at too many bad pitches, especially those down-and-away. After his meltdown at the end of last season, I didn't think he could come back and produce with the same consistency he displayed at the beginning of last year, but if his mechanics and discipline at the plate don't improve from today, maybe it was right that we spent to keep three catchers.

But let's try to keep this positive. Arroyo starts this Wednesday against Ted Lilly. If only Glendon Rusch was pitching for the Cubs...

"Could Bronson Arroyo break Barry Bonds' single season home run record?"


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