Major League Baseball's schedule makers threw down the gauntlet for the Cincinnati Reds in the first week of the 2013 season. Though featuring a potent lineup of their own, they opened against a Los Angeles Angels offense featuring Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, the ever-underrated Mark Trumbo and the ascendant Mike Trout.
Add squaring off against Jered "I'd Rather Be Dirt Biking with Jeff" Weaver and C.J. Wilson in the first two games and it was manifest the opening series wasn't going to be a picnic.
After four days and a pair of one-run wins, the Reds looked okay enough. The state of the offense was concerning with seven of their 11 runs manufactured by home runs and none of the remainder the product of extra base hits or extended rallies.
The starting pitching was good enough to keep the team in each game but the bullpen made the games closer than they had to be and outright lost one. Shin-Soo Choo and Todd Frazier were tearing the cover off the ball, but Jay Bruce and Joey Votto were disconcertingly quiet.
Four days later, the Reds are 4-2 after facing two of the most highly-regarded teams in baseball and appear both confident and capable of beating any team on any day. As the team embarks on its first road trip, it's worth a look back to gather some takeaway thoughts from the preliminary homestand.
First, Todd Frazier is good. Really, really good. The Todfather opened the year with a pair of 1-for-4 games before going Michael Corleone on the Reds' opponents. The following four games resulted in a line of 10-for-18, 3 HR, 8 RBI with a .625/1.167/.667 slash line.
His .608 BABIP may decry this run as aided by some good luck, but for anyone who watched the Reds third baseman these first few games—especially in person—knows his hits have been far from bloops and seeing-eye singles.
Evidence of this can be seen most profoundly in his first homer of game four. Sabermetrics disciples and those more partial to the eye test can agree, Frazier is squaring up pitches and slashing them in a way befitting a potential anchor at third base.
Whether this is the exception or the norm remains to be seen (those eye test fans probably lean toward the latter, with good reason), but the timing of his hot streak is exceptional with Bruce and Votto not quite themselves at the outset.
Additionally, Shin-Soo Choo is everything Reds fans have wanted and more. Most can vouch for the fact that when Choo was with the Cleveland Indians he seemed to find a way on base every plate appearance.
Now that he's doing it at the top of the Cincinnati lineup, RBI opportunities are all the more plentiful and opposing pitchers are finding themselves in the stretch far sooner than they may have expected.
His presence on the basepaths has been more than fruitful, as Choo is second in baseball with eight runs scored as of this writing, including the game-winning run on April 3.
Johnny Cueto is truly an ace. A somewhat tired maxim is that aces pitch well even when they don't have their best stuff. Cueto hasn't looked electric thus far in the season and Sunday's game could have been an abbreviated outing for any other pitcher, but in both games he has buckled down and gotten outs to keep the Reds within striking distance.
Against two vaunted lineups, Cueto has a 1.15 WHIP and .204 BAA so far. When the best aren't on their game, they still find a way to get it done and Cueto has achieved that.
Last, welcome to the year of Homer Bailey. In what is sure to be the most sensationalist, presumptive, and non-statistic driven observation of this article, Bailey seems poised to have a complete and potentially dominating season.
Though the overwhelming run support might mitigate his impressive outing, Bailey's first start was a gem, as he spun a two-hit, six strikeout performance over six innings. His control was still a bit suspect as he piled up 98 pitches in those six frames, with just 56 hitting the zone.
Reds fans are well familiar with Bailey's flashes of brilliance and an equal number of frustrating outings, but the latter have become less frequent in recent years for the soon-to-be 27-year-old. A couple more starts like this and it may be irrefutable that Homer Bailey is the best fourth starter in baseball.