Can They Surprise? by Eric Seidman April 2, 2009 With opening day literally right around the corner, fans in every major league city are beginning to feel that itch, that unwavering confidence that this year could be the year their team does some damage. Some of these fans have legitimate cases, as a few teams outside of the usual suspects–Cubs, Phillies, Mets, Dodgers, Yanks, Sox, and Angels–could conceivably play their way to a division title or wild card spot. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the Giants or Cardinals somehow snuck up on teams or if the Athletics find themselves playing meaningful games in August and September. One team being mentioned as a potential sleeper is the Cincinnati Reds, and while I do not consider them to have playoff-bound talent this season, I do agree with Jerry Crasnick in that their young nucleus is impressive. The familiar faces of the team are gone, with Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr finding new homes after mid-season trades, essentially leaving chief regression candidate (in a good way), Aaron Harang as the most recognizable player. He will be joined in the rotation by the consistently under the radar Bronson Arroyo, the PTBNL of the Dunn deal in Micah Owings, and their two young guns, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. Many forget that Cueto is younger than Volquez and potentially has more upside. This rotation might not wow the pants off of viewers but they certainly combine to be above average. Francisco Cordero heads the bullpen and while he is in no way worth the ridiculous terms of his contract, it isn’t like he lacks talent. The guy might not be worth all that money but he isn’t a bum. The rest of the bullpen, with names like David Weathers, Mike Lincoln, and Bill Bray, is not flashy but has the experience and skill to get the job done on most nights. This is essentially the perfect recipe for going unnoticed. Brandon Phillips, though no longer a spring chicken, is still a very solid second baseman combining pop with good glovework. Joey Votto had a better season last year than many realize. Edwin Encarnacion may not be the next Scott Rolen with the glove but he can definitely rake. And top prospect Jay Bruce projects very nicely. The team even has flexibility in certain areas as Jonny Gomes has shown a propensity for mashing lefties and Jerry Hairston Jr put up gaudy numbers in limited playing time last season. Combine both with Chris Dickerson and you get a pretty solid left-field situation. The lineup certainly has holes and question marks in the forms of Willy Taveras, Alex Gonzalez’s questionable health, and Ramon Hernandez, but the talent on the roster tends to get overlooked. Combine everything and you have a team with a decent enough rotation, a bullpen that doesn’t stink up a locker room, and a lineup primarily featuring players with broad skillsets as opposed to one undeniable ability. The Reds then are the posterchild for being ignored as they lack much flash. Despite the good things I’ve been writing about so far, I cannot see them doing any real damage with regards to the playoffs. Some talent is there, enough to not stink, but not enough to truly succeed.