CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Reds opened their season with the weight of a single word pressing into every nook and cranny of Great American Ball Park: "Should." It is a dangerous word, packed with an electrical current of expectation that contains the duality of pressure and promise. From the stadium beer vendor to the fan waiting in line for a Big Red Smokie, should is the term of endearment - and endangerment - that will define the season.
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds opened their season with the weight of a single word pressing into every nook and cranny of Great American Ball Park:
It is a dangerous word, packed with an electrical current of expectation that contains the duality of pressure and promise. From the stadium beer vendor to the fan waiting in line for a Big Red Smokie, should is the term of endearment — and endangerment — that will define the season.
Especially when preceded by easily.
As in, the Reds easily should win the National League Central.
And they should. But there I go, adding to the expectancy that holds our interest even while it holds the players hostage. Anything less than a division title; no, anything less than an NL pennant, and 2013 will be a disappointment.
The “S” word drifted into the Cincinnati clubhouse after the Reds lost to the Los Angeles Angels 3-1 in 13 innings yesterday.
“Is it fair (to say) we should win the division? No, it’s not fair,” second baseman Brandon Phillips said. “Yes, on paper, we’re supposed to. But on the field, anything can happen.”
What is fair is for players to place the burden to win on themselves, Phillips said.
“ We should be saying should,” he said. “Every team should think it can win its division.”
In-house, then, the Reds are playing the should game.
Third baseman Todd Frazier even wondered if yesterday’s game might be a World Series preview.
The Reds and Angels have 13 former All-Stars (six for Cincinnati and seven for Los Angeles). The Reds return intact a pitching staff that tied for second in the NL with a 3.34 ERA last season and led the majors with a 3.18 ERA on the road. The staff’s 1,248 strikeouts set a single-season team record, and Cincinnati had four pitchers with at least 200 innings for the first time since 1943.
The good news has picked up where it left off: Starter Johnny Cueto allowed one run — on a homer — in seven innings against the Angels.
The bullpen also was top-shelf last season, leading the majors in ERA (2.65) and saves (56). Closer Aroldis Chapman converted 27 consecutive save chances at one point and averaged 15.32 strikeouts per nine innings.
“We’ve filled in some spots,” Phillips said, presumably meaning the addition of leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo, who was 2 for 5 yesterday and scored the Reds’ only run on a wild pitch.
So, yes, this team should.
Reds owner Bob Castellini sees no reason why his team should not challenge for a championship.
Check that: Castellini mentioned one potential roadblock to winning a ring.
“We don’t have the depth of some of the bigger-market teams,” so one big injury could spell trouble, Castellini said before the game.
Castellini might as well have cursed his luck, because two hours after he uttered “injury,” left fielder Ryan Ludwick suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the third inning while sliding headfirst into third base. Ludwick is scheduled to have an MRI today, but the results only are a matter of degree. He will miss games, and losing him dents the Reds’ shot at should.
“Just a temporary setback,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Chris Heisey will take over in left, but he does not possess Ludwick’s power. Last season, Ludwick led the Reds in hitting (.340), home runs (12) and RBI (36) while Joey Votto was disabled for 48 games.
But even without Ludwick, this team is constructed for real success, not the artificial variety that led to the chorus of shoulds entering the 2011 season, when the Reds were coming off 91 wins. But 2011 was a disappointment — a shoulda — with 79 wins and no playoffs.
This season’s expectations are based on a more legitimate foundation. Last year’s 97 wins were no fluke. These Reds are for real. Or at least they should be.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.