What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
Watching a baseball team come together over a span of several years is a beautiful thing. When Walt Jocketty came to the Reds an advisor to Wayne Krivsky in 2008, the Reds were slowly digging out of a deep hole that they’d been mired in since the Jim Bowden era. Brandon Phillips was at second base, Joey Votto was at first base, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto were knocking down the door in the minors and would make their debuts later that season, and Krivsky had just flipped Josh Hamilton to Texas for Edinson Volquez. When Krivsky was fired early in the season to turn the team over to Jocketty, the task ahead of Jocketty was simple in theory and difficult in execution: take this core of young players and turn it into a contender.
And so Jocketty worked at it. He drafted quick-rising college players like Mike Leake and Yonder Alonso with his first round picks to help bolster what he already had in the Majors. He brought in veterans like Scott Rolen and Ramon Hernandez and Orlando Cabrera, and that was good enough for a 2010 NL Central division championship, especially after more of talented drafted by Krivsky and Dave O’Brien (Homer Bailey, Drew Stubbs, Travis Wood) made its way to the Majors.
In 2011, though, the Reds fell a beat behind the other slugging teams in the division. Their pitching, lead by veteran Bronson Arroyo, collapsed in on itself and they fell to 12th in the National League in runs allowed. So Jocketty went out and traded Alonso and Volquez and some other prospects to San Diego for Mat Latos. He added Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson to a bullpen that needed help without Francisco Cordero. And now, in October, he’s holding up a World Series trophy.
It’s easy to give credit to Krivsky for the moves that he made to put this team over the top, but the reality is that the core players that just lead the Reds to the World Series were part of the Cincinnati’s system long before Jocketty got there. With Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols in the American League, Joey Votto was the best first baseman by a country mile in 2012. That wasn’t unexpected, though; at this point it’s old hat when Votto hits 30 homers and 39 doubles and gets on base at a .400 clip. That’s what Joey Votto does. The difference maker at the plate in 2012 was Jay Bruce. In 2010 and 2011, Bruce teetered on the edge of stardom by averaging 28 homers with an .829 OPS, but his huge strikeout rate and middling walk rate held him back. In 2012, Bruce broke through at the age of 25. He whacked 39 homers and he upped his on-base percentage to .380, finally doing all the things at the age of 25 that made him baseball’s best prospect in 2008.
On the pitching side, it’d be unfair to say that Mat Latos was the difference-maker. Latos was solid, just like Johnny Cueto was solid and Homer Bailey was solid. The Reds offense mashed away, the Reds’ rotation did a good enough job to give the offense a chance and the bullpen was there to close things out. In a lot of ways, the 2012 Reds resembled the late-season 2011 Cardinal team that surged to a World Series title: built on offense, but with good enough pitching to make everything possible.
Even stacked with the talent that they have, the Reds didn’t sprint away with the NL Central. The Cardinals took an early lead in the division, but faltered as their veteran-laden lineup ran out of gas and ended up on the disabled list. The Brewers surged when Ryan Braun returned from his PED suspension, but just couldn’t sustain a full-season run for the same reason that their post-season run in 2011 faltered: their pitching staff wasn’t up to the task. The Reds reached first place for the first time in July 2nd and stayed there there the rest of the way.
This Reds’ core has been together for a long time, but it finally all happened in 2012. Bruce made the leap. Zack Cozart finally gave the club a real shortstop. Brandon Phillips kept on being Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto kept on being Joey Votto. Latos and Cueto and Bailey gave the Reds plenty of rotation depth. Madson and Marshall and Chapman held down the close games. Everything finally came together when it needed to, and for the first time in 22 years the Cincinnati Reds are World Champions.