It’s ok to admit it. Dusty Baker’s success with the Cincinnati Reds last year kind of roiled you. Sure, the success wasn’t much different than he saw with the Cubs, but he did it with a whole lot less payroll, and it looked like a lot more fun. It bugged me. I’m a small man.

But 2011 is a new year, and Dusty has plenty of young arms to destroy. Surely the Reds can’t repeat their surprise in the Central, not after they held firm while the teams around them improved, right? Well, that’s Dusty’s position, anyway.

“Our division is tougher,” Dusty¬†told the Tribune Tuesday.¬†“The Cubs are better, they have picked up some pitching, and they’ve got some healthy pitching coming back, and they have some new players.”

Dusty went on to compliment his successor’s successor, new Cubs manager, Mike Quade.

“I know Quade,” Dusty said. “He’s a good guy. He did a good job for them when Lou (Piniella) stepped down at the end of the year. I mean, they played well under him. It’s a long year, man, and a lot of things can happen.”

Of course, Dusty is simply doing what all good managers do – deflecting praise, and raising the spectre of regression (under the cloak of praise for opponents). I doubt he’s actually concerned with the Cubs any more than he’s concerned with, say, the Cardinals.

“You look at the Cardinals and they’ve got (Ryan) Theriot and they added (Lance) Berkman. That’s a powerful bat right there. And they already have a very good team,” Dusty said. When a guy compliments the Cardinals by discussing Lance Berkman and Ryan (freaking) Theriot – not Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright or Carpenter – you know he’s stretching to sound like a solid dude.

Dusty went on to say that the rest of the division looks good, with particular attention to the admittedly improved Brewers. He sees a long, hard fight for his Reds.

Sure, he’s just playing the part. But I choose to believe he’s afraid of the Cubs. Terrified. His toothpick is shaking.



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