This past weekend, I watched my current and former city's teams duke it out at the GAB in Cincinnati. The Brewers ended up taking 2 of 3 from the Reds and going 5-4 on a roadtrip that seemed to last a year. On Friday, Ben Sheets had another dominant start and made Reds hitters look foolish for 5 innings, and then Neddy finally decided to shut him down with tightness in his right tricep. Saturday was an extra-inning affair in which Jeff Suppan looked pretty outstanding in the Crew's eventual 10th inning win on a fine all-around game by Bill Hall. Sunday the Brewers should have locked up the sweep, with Reds ace Aaron Harang battling the first start of the season by Yovani Gallardo since coming off the DL following offseason knee surgery. But, Eric Gagne gave up a couple of gopher balls in an attempt at his 7th save, and Salomon Torres eventually gave up the GW single to Ken Griffey Jr in the bottom of the 10th, allowing the Reds to salvage some dignity in the series. Gagne seems to be pretty lights-out this year aside from his first start in Chicago, so if I had to make an excuse for his poor performance, it would be that it was his 5th consecutive day pitching. The jury is still out on this guy, who coming into the season had the highest career save percentage in major league history (min. 175 attempts) at just over 96%, but is 1-1 this year with an ERA over 7, saving 6 of 9. I feel that he will right the ship, based solely on what I've seen the last 3 Brewer closers of Turnbow, Kolb, and Cordero struggle through before eventually succeeding. (I'm also a little biased because I've been told by at least 5 people now that I look like him...what is THAT all a-boot?)
The Brewers are in an interesting situation now, as they temporarily have to carry a league-high 14 pitchers (staffs normally have 11-12) due to the ambiguity of Sheets' latest injury. Utilityman Joe Dillon was optioned to AAA to make room for Yo-Go, and it appears right now that a day after being removed from the rotation, Dave Bush will start for Sheets on Wednesday, but it is unclear right now whether Big Ben is just moving a day or two back in the rotation or a full turn. Sheets is 3-0 with a sub-1 ERA and 24 Ks this year, and losing him for any length of time will dramatically hurt this ballclub, whose bullpen is struggling to find an identity, whose bench is reduced to three players, and who is anxiously awaiting the returns of Tony Gwynn Jr and Mike Cameron to the lineup next week.
As for the Reds, I feel from the three games I've seen them play this season that they could put together a .500 club this year if they stay healthy and continue to get quality starts from their youngsters Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, and eventually Homer Bailey. Back that up with Aaron Harang dominating the league and Arroyo and Josh Fogg at least keeping their team in the game, there's no question this offense can put up 5-6 runs a game when running on all cylinders. Griffey looks as agile and focused this year as I've seen in awhile, and Edwin Encarnacion may be taking a page out of Pat Burrell's book by attempting to look less embarasssing at the major league level this year. Most importantly to any Reds fan of the past decade, the bullpen actually seems respectable and not just a hodgepodge of has-beens, with CoCo of course being the major offseason acquisition - even though it does look like David Weathers will be out for a bit with elbow problems, I think they have enough talent at Louisville to hold it together. Offensively, the Reds really only lost J-Ham in the offseason, but Joey Votto and Jeff Keppinger have definitely emerged to at least be adequate substitute bats in the lineup.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 04.21:
Brewers 11-7 (2 v. Cardinals, 2 v. Phillies, 3 v. Marlins)
Reds 8-11 (2 v. Dodgers, 2 v. Astros, 3 @ Giants)
Twins 9-10 (3 @ Athletics, 3 @ Rangers)
RACE FOR 2008 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 7
Peter - 6