Great American Ballpark is a hitters' haven, and that's reflected in Cincy's stats. There's no problem scoring runs here, with Joey Votto having an MVP-caliber season at first base, and Scott Rolen providing veteran muscle from the other side of the plate. Furthermore, second baseman Brandon Phillips is having one of the best years of his career, giving Dusty Baker three complete offensive threats to build his attack around. And it doesn't stop there--Jay Bruce and Jonny Gomes are having good all-around years, and catcher Ramon Hernandez is getting on base consistently.
Pitching is going to be the long-term problem here. It's held up so far, but there are chinks in the armor. Mike Leake's emergence has been the big key, and we'll have to see if it can hold up an entire year. Johnny Cueto's pitching well, and Bronson Arroyo is an adequate #3. Aaron Harang, long the reliable innings-eater on the staff, is in decline, unfortunately, as the team desperately needs him to step it up if he's going to get the first postseason appearance of his career. The other thing Baker would benefit from is the healthy and strong return of Edinson Volquez next month. But even for a team on the Ohio River, that's a big riverboat gamble to rely on.
The rotation isn't bad and Cincinnati fans have certainly endured far worse in their 15-year absence from the postseason. But when you contrast it with St. Louis' trio of Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia, you see the problem once you ask if it's good enough for a division title. The bullpen is also on shaky ground. Nick Massett, after a brilliant '09 in setup, is showing what middle relievers always break your heart, as this season has been a disaster. While Arthur Rhodes has been extraordinary in setup, he needs help. And Francisco Cordero needs to be much more consistent in closing.
All in all, it's a good club, a well-managed club and maybe even a playoff club. But it would have to be the wild-card route because their weaknesses vis-à-vis St. Louis will show up eventually.
The Notebook concludes its All-Star review today with a check-in on National League closers. The aforementioned Cordero is one of the bigger names in this group, but he's also blown five saves. Matt Capps in Washington leads the league in saves, but the ERA's a little high. The best combination of saves, closing percentage and ERA comes out West, where San Francisco's Brian Wilson and San Diego's Heath Bell are both having big years. Wilson had a little scare last night before holding off Boston, but he still got #20. I give him the edge, thanks to his ERA being slightly lower than Bell's, although this is a classic race that could have a different leader every week. Honorable mention to Billy Wagner (Atlanta) and Carlos Marmol (Chicago) who have outstanding ERAs, and just need a few more saves.