Must/Avoid for the Cincinnati Reds

Edinson Volquez (left) and Johnny Cueto must avoid sophomore slumps if the Reds look to improve in '09.

Edinson Volquez (left) and Johnny Cueto must avoid sophomore slumps if the Reds look to improve in

The first pitch of the 2009 Major League Baseball season was thrown Sunday, April 5. The sound of Jon Miller’s voice turned baseball fans across the country into butter.

Baseball is finally back.

The Cincinnati Reds posted a familiar and disappointing record of 74-88 in 2008. New general manager Walt Jocketty made a handful of moves—signing centerfielder Willy Taveras and trading for catcher Ramon Hernandez—that shouldn’t inch the Reds any closer to their first postseason appearance since 1995.

If Cincinnati is going to make a push, a lot of good needs to happen.

Must — Pitcher Edinson Volquez has to dominate like he portrayed before last year’s All-Star break. Volquez rode a 2.29 ERA into the midsummer classic, then saw the number double to 4.60 after the break and his batting average against jumped 38 points. Volquez has to avoid the sophomore slump in order for the Reds to reach respectability.

Avoid — Edwin Encarnacion needs to stay away from locking in on left field. The third baseman has the tools to be an elite corner infielder. Can he become a great middle-of-the-order bat? He’s got to learn to hit the ball to all fields. Encarnacion hasn’t put it all together and, depending on 2009, his time in Cincinnati may be running out.

Must — The Reds bullpen spent 2008 near the top of the National League in bullpen ERA. It might prove tough to match last season’s performance. Closer Francisco Cordero is coming off ankle surgery and had a rough spring. David Weathers is 39 years old and continues to shrink the average lifespan of every Reds fan in America. Cincinnati’s bullpen needs to match its number from last year if it has any hope of making a splash in the National League.

Avoid — The sophomore slump seems to be hovering around Great American Ball Park. Volquez shouldn’t be the only mentioned. The Reds have potential victims up and down the clubhouse. Likely candidates to endure the season-killing slump are first baseman Joey Votto and outfielder Jay Bruce. Pitcher Johnny Cueto is at risk, as well.

Cincinnati’s postseason hopes ride predominately on the shoulders of its young, talented core. Can the young men respond and improve on their impressive first seasons? It’s a must.

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