March 31, 2011

Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds begin defense of their National League Central title this afternoon, when they kick off the 2011 campaign against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park.

Led by NL MVP Joey Votto, the Reds surprised the baseball world last season, as they won 91 games and claimed their first division title since 1995. Their playoff stint was short-lived, though, as they were swept in the NLDS by the Philadelphia Phillies, highlighted of course by Roy Halladay's no-hitter in Game 1.

Votto, who will be honored for his award in pregame festivities, flirted with a Triple Crown last season before ending with 37 home runs (third in the league), 113 runs batted in (third) and a .324 batting average (second).

The 27-year-old has improved in both homers and average in each of his three big-league seasons and bumped up his RBI total from the 84 he'd recorded in 2008 and 2009. For his efforts, the Reds rewarded him with a three-year, $38 million contract extension this winter.

Heading to the hill for the Reds this afternoon will be right-hander Edinson Volquez, who missed most of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. The former 17-game winner also had to serve a 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Volquez has started just 21 games since going 17-6 in 2008 and last year was 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 12 starts. He's healthy now and ready to assume the role of staff ace.

"He's capable of facing the tough opposition," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "If you're going to match up with No. 1's, you're going to have to throw shutouts and low-run games."

Milwaukee, meanwhile, could be the biggest threat to the Reds' crown, as they enter the year as one of the trendy picks in the National League, similar to way people felt about Cincinnati a year ago.

Three years removed from its last playoff appearance, Milwaukee opens the 2011 campaign under a new skipper in Ron Roenicke, but optimism is bursting through the roof at Miller Park for this year's Brewers team.

A lot of those hopes hinge on the offseason deals that saw the Brewers obtain former American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke as well as talented right-hander Shaun Marcum.

Those two pitchers, along with Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf, give the Brewers as deep a rotation as there is in the NL. Couple that with a lineup that includes Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, and people in the Badger State are thinking about their first division title since Milwaukee won the American League East back in 1982.

"For us, [the goal is] obviously to make the postseason," Gallardo said. "Coming into camp, since Day 1, I think all the guys would agree with me. Yet again, we all know there are other teams in our division thinking the same thing. It's not going to be easy."

With Greinke starting the year on the disabled list, it will be Gallardo going for the Brewers this afternoon. Gallardo was tremendous for the team last season, going 14-7 with a 3.84 ERA while striking out at least 200 batters for the second straight season.

The Reds were 11-3 against the Brewers last season, going 7-1 against them in Cincy.

These teams last faced each other on Opening Day in 2000, when they played the first season-opening tie in 35 years. That game was called because of rain following a three-hour delay, with the score 3-3 in the sixth inning.

No comments:

Google Search

powered by Blogger | WordPress by Newwpthemes