Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
More Rain Delays Ahead
2005-06-03 18:13
by Mark T.R. Donohue

At some point this weekend, the Rockies will begin a series against Cincinnati, who are 21-32 overall, 6-18 on the road. The Reds have nearly the exact same net payroll as the Rockies do ($67 million), but a farm system that Baseball America ranks 23rd to Colorado's 6th. You have to like the Rockies' chances going forward better. Todd Helton earns superstar money to be merely great until 2011, while Ken Griffey is owed star money to be mediocre (or hurt) until 2024. No, really.

Griffey isn't the Reds' only problem, but he is symbolic of the imbalance, personnel misjudgements, and straight-up bad luck that have beset baseball's first pro franchise since they last won it all in 1990. (Remember when the Reds used to play the first game every season? Wasn't that a great tradition? Was there any reason to stop doing that other than allowing ESPN an excuse to televise yet another Yankees-Red Sox game?) The Reds' biggest problem is that all of their best players are outfielders/first basemen, and the one they have the least reason to have faith in going forward is the one they can't bench or trade.

The Reds' best hitter is Wily Mo Peña, who conveniently is out hurt at the moment, allowing Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn, Ryan Freel, and Griffey adequate at-bats. It helps that Dunn can sort of play first base and Freel can apparently play anywhere. At some point or another, they're going to have to figure out a way to play Peña every day while turning Kearns into an infielder (not literally -- they already tried that). A second baseman would be of particular utility, as Reds' second-sackers rank dead last in the NL in aggregate OPS. Felipe Lopez is making inroads towards making Queen City-ites forget about Barry Larkin at short, hitting eight homers and compiling a .295/.352/.555 line.

While you can't really fault the Reds for Ken Griffey's transformation into a .267 hitter made of bone china, you can blame them all you want for giving lots of money to bad pitchers. Eric Milton (3 years, $25.5 million) is on pace to obliterate Bert Blyleven's single-season home runs allowed record of 50. Of course, Blyleven's ERA in that historic 1986 was 4.01; Milton's presently stands at 7.05. Ramon Ortiz (2 years, $8.1 million) has a 1.72 WHIP and a 5.23 ERA. Opening Day starter Paul Wilson ($3.6 mil '05 salary) is at 1.83, 7.77. If it weren't for the marvelous year that Aaron Harang ($440,000 '05 salary) is having (2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 7.7 K/9), the Reds' starters would be the worst in the league. (They're 15th, a handful of points ahead of the Rockies' rotation, which has a much better excuse.)

While statistically their bullpen has been better than some, the Reds have been plagued by bizarre occurrences like the Cardinals' 7-run 9th-inning rally May 2nd and the release of detested (and highly compensated) "closer" Danny Graves. From where I see it, the Reds are having one of those "scary" bad years, while the Rockies are having a "positive, growth-oriented" bad year. OK, maybe I am drinking the Gen-R Kool-Aid. Assuming the rain doesn't play havoc with the scheduled starters, we'll see Milton-Jeff Francis tonight, Harang-Jamey Wright Saturday night, and Brandon Claussen-Jason Jennings Sunday afternoon. If the Rockies send Jeremy in there on Sunday, this is a series we win.

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