After the first month of the season, are the Reds still the team to beat in the NL Central Division? They have most of the same faces from their division-winning 2010 season.

Gone is Orlando Cabrera, but his spot is taken by Janish being promoted to a starter and Edgar Renteria filling in. No huge loss there.

Also gone is Laynce Nix. A reserve outfielder who contributed quite frequently, he will not be missed as Chris Heisey’s fills in more than adquately now as the fourth outfielder. Throw in outfielders Fred Lewis and Jeremy Hermida and it makes you wonder if Nix would play much if he were still here.

After several seasons as the “ace” of the staff, Aaron Harang’s option was not picked up and he was taken by San Diego. He is doing quite well with them, and I am glad for him.

The Reds have talent and plenty of it. Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Jonny Gomes provide a powerful outfield. A starting infield of Scott Rolen at third, Janish at short, Brandon Phillips at second and NL MVP Joey Votto at first is one of the best in the league, certainly in the division.

Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez are a catching tandem that is probably tops in baseball.

The pitching is where the water has become murky. They began the season with only 60% of their starting rotation intact. They have done poorly when looking at the complete body of work. Their ERA is one of the highest in the league. Now that Edinson Volquez has left the first inning scoreless twice in a row, good things are beginning to happen.

Homer Bailey pitched six strong innings Thursday in his first start of the year. Jonny Cueto will start his first game against the Cubs on Sunday.

Their chief rivalry will come from the St. Louis Cardinals who came on strong after a dismal first week or so. Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday are among the league leaders in all offensive categories and Albert Pujols is beginning to make some noise.

The Cards pitching rotation has been better than most people thought they would, given the fact that Adam Wainwright was lost for the year before it started. Second-year man Jaime Garcia has been impressive, tossing a two-hit shutout Friday. Their Achilles heel thus far has been the deep part of the bullpen. Blown saves are the only thing that keeps them from being in a virtual cakewalk right now.

Many thought that the Milwaukee Brewers would win the division since they acquired starting pitchers Shawn Marcum and Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Both were hurt at the start of the season, and they started a little slow.

After being swept in the first season series by the Reds, the Brewers came on strong and were just a half-game off the pace. They have lost six straight and eight out of their last 10 to fall within one game of the cellar.

The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros are attempting to keep their heads above water. One is as bad as the other at this point, so I do not see them being major factors in the pennant race.

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