Reds Round Table: the NL Central

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Welcome to BRM’s inaugural Reds Round Table for Reds bloggers. I hope all Reds fans will enjoy the next few days as we gather some Reds bloggers and “chat” a little about baseball.

You might be wondering why I conceived this idea of gathering Reds bloggers onto one blog and talking a little baseball. Seems like a different concept, I know, but I do have two reasons for this. One is that I hope this event will be done by all Reds blogs in some form. The Reds blogging community is a tight one and this will only strengthen that.

Second is built on the first. There are readers of BRM that may not read Red Reporter. Readers of Big Red Redemption may not even know BRM exists. And those that peruse Rockin’ Redlegs may not be aware of the other mentioned. Believe it or not, these statements could all be true. This Round Table will hopefully provide all Reds fans a chance to experience those.

Now, on with the quick intros and Q&A…

We had three other blogs outside of the staff or BRM that were willing to participate. We have BK and JinAZ from Red Reporter, Ronnie Ginter from Big Red Redemption, and Tina Cisneros from Rockin’ Redlegs along for today’s ride.

The first questions isn’t really a question. I made the following statement: “I am of the opinion the the Pittsburgh Pirates are the division’s biggest surprise and that our Reds are the biggest disappointment. Would you agree or disagree?”

Well, it was no surprise that all of our esteemed panel agreed with the first half of my statement regarding the Pirates. The second part of my statement met with a little more resistance. In fact, with one exception, the panel felt the Chicago Cubs were actually the division’s biggest disappointment.

Batting leadoff is Ronnie Ginter from Big Red Redemption…

Pirates without a doubt have been the surprise of the division. I am a huge optimist and can’t fully agree that the Reds have been the biggest disappointment; that still goes to the Cubs hands down. There is always some big payroll signing that is going to improve the team yet it never happens. Most of the disappointment that you’re seeing from Reds fans boils down to the fact that we’re not running the table on the division. When you really look at the big picture most of the games that we’ve lost are 1 run ballgames that could go either way and the luck just hasn’t been on our side like it was last year.

But I also found the following answer beyond intriguing. I just had to give it a spotlight all its own. All I can say is…cue Tina of Rockin’ Redlegs!

The phrasing of this question, to me, is a little off. I think that more accurately, the Reds are the biggest surprise and the Pirates are the biggest disappointment. I’ll explain.

Remember when the Reds clinched the division last year, sending Cincinnati (and Reds fans everywhere) into a state of jubilant pandemonium? After watching the Reds come from behind all season and end up the NL Central Division Champs, everyone couldn’t wait to see what 2011 had in store for our Cincinnati Reds. We knew we had a team that could only go up from where they ended the 2010 season – or so we thought. After the 2010 season, the Reds finally started to get the recognition they deserved. Whether it was Joey Votto being named NL MVP, or the fact that we were finally getting adequate face time from all major media outlets, everyone thought the same thing – the Reds were for real and they weren’t going anywhere. Reds fans, for the first time in 15 years, were finally able to brag about their team. To say that expectations for the Cincinnati Reds 2011 season were high would be an understatement.

We started 2011 off hot, still riding the high of winning the division title. I remember the Reds’ first loss of 2011, and people practically had to talk me off a ledge. I honestly believed the Reds were going to win every single game of the season. Since then, however, things have only gone downhill. Sure, we got bumped out of first and managed to reclaim it in May, but once Interleague play began, every night was a different story. Now, here we are at the All-Star break, four games out of first and in fourth place behind the Pittsburgh Pirates who haven’t had a winning season since I thought N’Sync was the greatest band to ever exist. I don’t think I’m incorrect in saying that the fact that the Reds are having this type of season – and not the Pirates’ sudden “success” – is the biggest surprise in the NL Central. So many people, whether they be fans, analysts, players, or coaches, were expecting for the Reds to do something big this season and the fact that things aren’t going well for our boys in red is more shocking and surprising than anything.

Now, coming from the perspective of a Reds fan/blogger, the Pirates are the biggest disappointment of the season thus far. If you would have told me on Opening Day that the Pirates would be ahead of the Reds in the NL Central by the All-Star Break, I would have told you to lay off the crack. In all my years as a serious Reds fan, I could always count on one thing – we’d be better than the Pirates. Whenever the Reds would go on a bad run, I could say, “Hey, at least we’re not the Pirates.” I even used this as ammunition when the Steelers went to the Super Bowl – “At least Pittsburgh has a decent football team because their baseball team can’t do squat.” I thought I would always be able to count on the Pirates to be worse than the Reds. That is what is disappointing to me – the fact that we can no longer rely on the Pirates to cushion the blow of whatever ill-fate has befallen the Reds. Do I think the Pirates will actually be able to contend? Frankly, no.

On to #2….

This involved an informal poll. I asked all the participants about who they felt was the most underrated player in the NL Central. I wasn’t surprised at the results here. While we did see a handful of “nominees” (Bud Norris of the Astros, Cincy’s Drew Stubbs and Paul Janish, the Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday) the player most frequently named was Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Here’s BK from Red Reporter and his reasons why he says it’s McCutchen.

I’m going to go with Andrew McCutchen. He’s put up solid numbers at the plate every year, and has been even better this year, putting together a .289/.391/.495 line. Not only has he been excellent at the plate, but his putting up great defense in CF, and when factored together, is 2nd in the NL in Wins Above Replacement for position players, only behind Matt Kemp. The fact that he was left off the initial All-Star roster is an absolute joke, and he’s a big reason why the Pirates are where they are right now.

Not convinced? BRM’s Justin Hamilton weighs in for the Pirate, too.

I’ve got to go with the best player on the biggest surprise team in the Central as the most underrated NL Central player. The Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen is the most underrated player in the NL Central. A first time All-Star, McCutchen is on pace for a breakout year as he has already neared his 2010 totals in HR and RBI only halfway through the season. It’s good to see a homegrown talent make good for his team, and it won’t be long before McCutchen is no longer underrated.

Another poll was done for the divisional MVP. Was this ever a tight race. In fact, it was so tight that we had a tie between Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder and St. Louis’s Lance Berkman each receiving mention by three panelists. In explanation for the NL All-Star first baseman from the Brewers, we go to BRM’s Kerry Moss.

The first half MVP in the NL Central would have to be Prince Fielder. I’m not big on using RBI to measure a player’s ability, but the dude has 72 RBI in 91 games. He had only 83 RBI in 161 games last year. His OPS is .998 and he’s on pace for 40+ HR. For a team that isn’t pitching as well as they had hoped, he’s carried the load offensively.

And what about Berkman? Alex Apple of BRM presents his argument for the Cards right fielder.

Unfortunately for Reds fans, Lance Berkman has found new life in the Cardinals outfield. He has easily been the first half MVP in the NL Central. While Pujols was out and while he was struggling early in the season, Berkman was carrying the Red Birds’ offense. Berkman already has 24 HR, and he has not hit 30 HR since 2007, so Berkman has been the Red Birds ace in the hole. Lo and behold, even without Wainwright, the Cardinals are tied for first place at the All-Star break.

Onward we go to see about some arms now…

With all the stellar pitching the seems to reside in the NL East, I questioned my colleagues about of the NL Central has a viable Cy Young candidate. Most felt that there was not a legit contender for the award. Two of BRM’s writers, John Heitz and Kevin Geary, fell otherwise as they present their cases for the Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan. John’s up first.

For a Cy Young candidate I would pick Joel Hanrahan. Without him closing out games without fail, the Pirates are not in contention. He has been rock solid this season, a perfect 26-26 in save opportunities with a 1.34 ERA what more could you possibly ask for?

And now Kevin will try to convince you…

Nobody jumps out in my mind. How about Joel Hanrahan? 26-26 in save opportunities with a 1.34 ERA. He doesn’t possess anything impressive, but he’s certainly getting the job done for the Bucs this season.

Both seem to like being perfect in save opportunities and that excessively sick looking ERA. I gotta go with my guys here. If there is a hurler from the division that could win it, I’ll go Hanrahan, too.

On to today’s final question…

Simply put, who should be considered the favorite to win the NL Central? The answers may surprise you. In fact, of the top four teams, no one mentions the Pirates at all. Also, the rest are split between the Reds, Cards and Brewers. Look at these differing opinions as everyone gets a crack in here…

Ronnie for Big Red Redemption seems to like the Reds chances…

I still can’t help but say that the Reds are still the favorites to win the NL Central. This team has been handed tough break after tough break and are still hanging around. Great news for Reds fans but bad news for the others who think they’re going to run away with this division. There is way too much talent on this team for it not to be the top dog in this division.

Alex, Kevin and John all agree with Ronnie. Four voted for the good guys!

That leaves five other “votes”. Well, three of those were swayed the way of the Milwaukee Brewers. JinAZ of Red Reporter provides some analysis that he seems to be against…and that’s not a bad thing either.

There is no clear favorite. BPro’s playoff standings have the Cardinals odds to win the division at 46%, with the Brewers at 40%. The Reds, meanwhile, have division-winning odds of 11%. Interestingly, the Reds have the highest 3rd-order winning percentage in the NL Central (barely). But their current win deficit, coupled with the fact that they’re so close in quality level with those other teams, makes it pretty tough to compete.

I think the Brewers’ rotation is being underrated in those rankings. Greinke, in particular, is a major puzzle, and I think is likely to have a monster second half. I don’t see any team competing with that rotation, their offense is top drawer, and they even seem to be catching the ball better this year than in years past. That’s the team to beat, as I see it.

That said, I also think the Reds have a run left in them. Four games back is just not that big of a deficit, and Walt has done some interesting things at the trade deadline.

JinAZ’s cohort BK from Red Reporter agrees as does BRM’s Justin. That’s three more. Seven votes cast.

Yes, Cards fans, and we do get a few that read here, BRM’s Kerry Moss was the only one that felt the Cards held the upper hand how ever slight he fells it is.

There is no clear favorite to win the division at this point. If I were forced to pick a favorite, I’d begrudgingly pick the Cardinals. They seem to be the team with the most balance. Their offense is probably the best in the division, and I’d argue they have the best rotation as well. They’ve survived an unbelievable amount of injuries and managed to hold a share of first place at the break…

The last vote? If you’ve been keeping track of the names I’ve listed here, you realize that leaves Tina with hers…

The answer to this question is: I have no idea. The NL Central is a division full of ups and downs, slumps and winning streaks, and really, it’s anyone’s game. Except for the Astros and the Cubs. Honestly though, the Reds are a winning streak away from first place, and although I’m not confident that the Reds will see another winning streak this season, anything could happen. The All-Star Break marks the (semi) halfway point of the season, and the Reds still have 70 games to make something happen!

Needless to say that even though we all blog about the Reds, as most of you expected, our opinions all vary. That’s what makes undertaking this so much fun. You get a chance to experience that.

Some of you may be thinking about the other answers that weren’t published here. Don’t you worry. I have a special “best of” coming up in the near future. Some of those response may blow off your doors!