WILL THIS BE CINCINNATI'S SEASON?
March 20, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
Generally when a manager takes a team to the playoffs year after year, he keeps his job. Not in Cincinnati. The Reds qualified for the second wild-card playoff spot in 2013, only to be ousted by the Pirates. The result was Dusty Baker being replaced by pitching Coach Bryan Price.
Baker did a good job of getting the Reds to the playoffs (three out of four years), he just couldn’t find a way to get Cincinnati over the hump once they got there. Price is expected to bring continuity to the team and at the same time bring the Reds a championship.
The Reds have the makings of a championship team…good starting pitching, a strong bullpen, veteran run producers and now speed at the top of the batting order. If Brandon Phillips is happy, the Reds have a great chance to winning more than the division.
STARTING PITCHING: Cincinnati’s starting pitching in 2013 was solid even without the services of Johnny Cueto for much of the season. Mat Latos has become the work-horse of the staff averaging over 200 innings the past four seasons. Latos went 14-7 with an ERA of 3.16 in 32 starts. Latos will be joined by Homer Bailey who signed a big contract this past winter. Bailey may have turned the corner in his career after going 11-12 with an ERA of 3.49 and a strikeout ratio of 8.57 per nine-innings. Mike Leake had a solid 2013 after winning 14 games with an ERA of 3.37. Leake threw over 190 innings last season. Tony Cingrani was a huge plus for the Reds after posting a 7-4 record in 18 starts. Cingrani had an ERA of 2.92 and a strike out rate of 10.32 per nine innings. If Johnny Cueto can come back from shoulder issues, the Reds may have the deepest staff in baseball even without Veteran Bronson Arroyo (free agent).
RELIEF PITCHING: The Reds got some bad news when Aroldis Chapman was hit by a line-drive this spring that will keep him out of action for up to two months. He suffered broken bones above his left eye. Chapman’s name keeps coming up as a possible starter, but how hard is it to find a left-handed closer who can throw over 100 mph and can strike out hitters the way Chapman can? Chapman struck-out 112 hitters in only 63.2 innings in 2013. The bullpen is deep with former closer Jonathan Broxton taking over until Chapman returns. Broxton will be joined by J.J. Hoover (1.11 WHIP in 69 games), Alfredo Simon (1.07 WHIP in 63 games), Sean Marshall, Manny Parra, Sam LeCure and Logan Ondrusek. LeCure had an ERA of 2.66 in 63 appearances.
INFIELD: Joey Votto has set the bar very high and despite hitting .305 with 24 HR’s, it was a down year for the Reds’ first baseman. When healthy, Votto is one of the best hitters in baseball (.435 OBP and .926 OPS). Votto will be joined by veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips (103 RBI) who has seen his batting average drop by 20 points over the last two seasons. Phillips was trade bait in the off-season and that has made Phillips upset with management. At 33, Phillips is starting to show signs of decline. Shortstop Zach Cozart is an excellent fielder but his bat needs some work. Cozart had a terrible .284 OBP and only 26 walks in 2013. Todd Frazier took over at third base last season and managed to hit 19 HR’s and drive in 73 but his batting average needs to improve (.234). Catcher Ryan Hanigan was traded to Tampa in the off-season which elevated Devin Mesoraco to the starting job. Mesoraco isn’t as good defensively but the Reds like his bat better. His back-up will be Brayan Pena, a switch-hitter, who is a better hitter from the left-side.
OUTFIELD: Reds fans are excited because they will see Billy Hamilton take over in centerfield. Hamilton has torched the minor leagues with his base-stealing ability (243 in the last two seasons) and had 13 in a brief stint with the Reds at the end of last season. Hamilton will take over for Shin-Soo Choo who signed with Texas in the off-season. If Hamilton doesn’t get the job done, Cincinnati will turn to Chris Heisey. Heisey has been a disappointment since he hit 18 HR’s in 2011. Ryan Ludwick missed all but 38 games in 2013 because of a shoulder injury. The Reds are hoping he can return to his 2012 numbers (26 HR 80 RBI). RF Jay Bruce has become one of the top power hitters in the National League (30 HR, 109 RBI) and has a very strong arm in right field. The Reds are hoping Bruce will become more consistent at the plate and cut down on long slumps.
HOW WE SEE 2014: Cincinnati has the pitching to win the division and make a deep run in the playoffs. Johnny Cueto can’t be counted on in 2014 but if he does come back, that will be a huge plus for the Reds. Joey Votto needs to look to drive the ball more instead of looking for more walks. His RBI numbers must improve. If Billy Hamilton can be an everyday player, he will steal the NL blind. Jay Bruce can be an MVP type player if he can be a more consistent hitter. Finally, will Brandon Phillips be a problem in the locker room after his name was brought up in trade talks this winter? New Manager Bryan Price may find Phillips to be a problem if he is still in Cincinnati opening day.