As Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker is fond of saying, “It is harder to repeat than it is to get there in the first place.”
Well, it took the Reds nine years to put together a winning season, but once they did it in 2010 they not only finished above .500 they leaped all the way to the top of the National League Central standings.
Can they do it again? Will they do it again? It all begins this afternoon in Great American Ball Park against a prime contender, the Milwaukee Brewers, on what is expected to be a festive day undaunted by gray skies and a football chill.
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Baker knows that when the rest of the NL Central looks at the backs of the Reds uniforms, they won’t see names and numbers. They’ll see large targets, something at which to shoot. No surprise this year, no sneaking up on the baseball world.
And Baker has impressed upon his team that repeating is a difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, if the Reds were wearing those mood rings from the 1970s, the stone would be bright violet, indicating that happiness and optimism permeates the clubhouse.
Bronson Arroyo, who played on some bad teams in Pittsburgh and some good teams in Boston, including a World Series winner, calls the 2011 Reds, “The best team I’ve ever played for. We have the right blend of veterans and young players and our good young players like Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are only going to get better. And we’ll be better.”
Even the temporary loss of two-fifths of the starting rotation to start the season — Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey — hasn’t tossed a wet Persian rug over the optimism.
The early schedule doesn’t have a high degree of difficulty because it is sprinkled with six early games against Arizona, plus three against Houston and four against Pittsburgh, expected to be inhabitants of the NL Central’s lower echelon.
The fact that starting pitching is probably the team’s strength prevented a pity party in the clubhouse when Cueto and Bailey went down. Plug-ins like Mike Leake and Sam LeCure are close to the same level as the guys they are replacing.
“That’s the pitching depth I’ve talked about all winter and all spring,” said Baker. “We have the guys who can step in and do the job.”
And there was concern in some quarters when Joey Votto, Jonny Gomes, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips spent the first few days of spring exhibition games searching eBay for some hits.
At one point, Votto was asked about it and he said succinctly, “Tell the fans not to worry about it.”
Then, as if on cue, they all began to hit as the last exhibition games unfolded and they head into the season prepared and in hitting mode and hitting mood.
If points were given for confidence and high expectations, the Reds would enter the season already champions.