Friday, March 30, 2012

Best case scenario for the season

The Reds come out like gangbusters in April and never look back. By mid-May they boast the best record in the National League and hold a comfortable lead over the rest of the Central Division. The GABP seats are full on a nightly basis, the weather is consistently good, and Cincinnati’s play on the diamond is even better.

Johnny Cueto picks up right where he left off last season – frustrating hitters with his sneaky fastball, tantalizing curve, and unpredictable change-up. After earning a nod to his first ever Midsummer Classic, many begin to tab Cueto as a serious contender for the NL Cy Young Award.

However, not to be outdone by his ace-caliber counterpart, Mat Latos turns in a stellar campaign as well. The right-hander benefits from being on a team that actually provides run support and the change of scenery doesn’t hurt him either. By August, even Charlie Manuel and the Phillies cringe at the thought of facing the 1-2 punch of Cueto and Latos in the postseason. Both right-handers finish in the top five of the Cy Young voting.

Bronson Arroyo puts the disastrous ‘11 season behind him and posts a much better line in 2012, Homer Bailey stays healthy en route to posting double-digit wins, and Mike Leake continues to look more and more like Greg Maddux.

Newcomer Sean Marshall is better than advertised – proving to be nothing short of dominant while filling in for the injured Ryan Madson. Aroldis Chapman re-assumes the setup role and promptly lights up scoreboards everywhere with 100+ MPH heaters. Even the much-maligned Nick Masset provides reliability at the backend of the ‘pen as well.

Joey Votto is well, Joey Votto. A season removed from winning the league’s Most Valuable Player Award the left-handed slugger threatens to win it again. He ranks near the top (or leads) in every major offensive category and has fantasy league owners wondering why he slipped past the Top 10 in most Drafts. By September he has put together one of the finest statistical seasons in franchise history. He’s rewarded with his second MVP award in three years.

Meanwhile, Brandon Phillips plays with a huge chip on his shoulder after failing to receive the contract extension he desired over the winter. SportsCenter finally wises up and dedicates a whole section of their Top 10 Plays to BP by June. Jay Bruce drives in over 100 runs and clubs close to 40 dingers while Drew Stubbs cuts down on his strikeouts, but increases both his average and power numbers.

Veteran Scott Rolen manages to dodge the disabled list and repeats the success he had in 2010. Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick prove to be a productive duo in left. Rookies Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco exceed everyone’s expectations and push each other in a 2-way race for NL Rookie of the Year honors. And skipper Dusty Baker caps off a spectacular regular season by winning NL Manager of the Year in a landslide.

Adding to the magical season is relishing in the demise of their rivals. The defending WS Champion Cardinals struggle mightily without the likes of Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa at the helm. Yadier Molina is hit with a lengthy suspension in response to a violent outrage that arises after an opposing hitter politely taps his shin guard before an at-bat. Lance Berkman can’t duplicate last year’s comeback season, Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal show their age, and Budweiser sales at Busch Stadium plummet as fans stop showing up to games.

The Brewers turn out to be no obstacle in Cincy’s pursuit of a division crown either. The Prince-less beermakers are unable to manufacture runs and their highly-touted pitching staff proves to be overrated. Without the protection of Fielder in the lineup, and perhaps another substance, Ryan Braun can’t repeat his MVP-type year in 2011. Things become even worse when Nyjer Morgan, err I mean “Tony Plush”, resorts strictly to Twitter and refuses to patrol center field once the team falls out of contention. Unlike the predicament in St. Louis, fans in Milwaukee jam the Miller Park concession lines in hopes of drowning away their sorrows caused by the team. The silver lining in the Brewers’ season is the franchise rakes in record profits in alcohol sales. (Just for the record, beer sales at Coors Field remain unchanged as the Rockies record another mediocre season).

The Redlegs roll into the postseason as division winners and avoid potential elimination in the winner-take-all Wild Card round. After steamrolling their first opponent in the NLDS, the team follows it up with an even better performance in the NLCS to claim the league pennant.

This ultimately sets up an epic battle against the New York Yankees for baseball’s most coveted prize. In one of the most thrilling Series’ in modern memory, the Reds edge out the Yanks in seven games. It’s Joey Votto’s walk-off blast in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, two strikes, three men on base and the club trailing by three that sends the GABP crowd into an absolute frenzy. Champagne flows like the Ohio River as players, coaches, team personnel and fans alike celebrate the organization’s first World Championship in 22 years. All is right in the baseball universe; all is right in the world. The Cincinnati Reds are World Champions.

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