Oh, good. A first-place team.
The Padres are the surprise team of the year – in retrospect, gee, why couldn’t we have seen that Blanks/Gwynn/Venable outfield juggernaut coming? – but the Reds are a close second. The Reds hit like the Giants last year, but they did so with an average pitching staff instead of a great one. As you’d expect from that description, they finished several games under .500. They traded for Scott Rolen in a weird deadline deal, assuming a pretty substantial contract of a player who is usually hurt. Johnny Cueto regressed in 2009, Homer Bailey never gressed at all, Edinson Volquez was hurt and eventually suspended. The whole thing looked like a mess.
A year later, the Reds are in first. Joey Votto went from good to man-beast, and he’s a leading MVP candidate. Rolen was healthy for most of the year, and he was fantastic. The pitching staff is filled with young talent. And you know what? I kind of feel like the Reds deserve it. They had one of the all-time bizarro Giants teams in 2005 -- every hitter at an OPS+ of 100 or better, but they had a combined 83 starts from Eric Milton, Ramon Ortiz, and Luke Hudson. They also had over 220 innings from relievers who finished the season with an ERA over 6.00. Ye gods. Putting them on the same plane as the 2009 Giants would have disrupted the space-time continuum. You would never have been born. But Scott Hairston wouldn’t have been either, so it would have been for the best.
Of course, it’s not acceptable to feel any pity/admiration for them or their fans for the next three games. This is another almost-close-to-a-must-win-kind-of-if-you-squint series, and the Giants must win it. Kind of. If you squint.
So the Cody Ross era begins, and, lo, it was scintillating.
Hitter to watch
Brandon Phillips has been pretty fantastic for the Reds over the past few seasons. He’s on the cover of the pamphlet from Pueblo, Colorado titled "Why You Don’t Give Up On Toolsy Prospects Too Early, Even If They Can Be Jackasses At Times." I’d totally trade Freddy Sanchez for him.
Pitcher to watch
Johnny Cueto could shank a guy with some sharpened cleats, so you should always watch for that. But you should probably pay closer attention to Travis Wood, a rookie pitcher who relies on location and command. He should probably be on the Padres, actually. Bud Selig should look into that. Wood just got Freddy Sanchez to ground out as you were reading this.
Someone will bring up Dusty Baker giving the game ball to Russ Ortiz in Game Six, I’ll light a drifter on fire, and I’ll beat the charges because, hey, there are plenty more drifters where that came from, and also, hey, Game Six.