Cincinnati Reds 2013 Team Preview

Jay+Bruce

If you want me to be 100% honest, I thought it was the Reds year last year. I truly thought after they won the first two games of the NLDS in San Francisco that this team was headed to the World Series. The Reds were going to do one better than my prediction I made before the season of just reaching the NLCS; they were actually going to win the NL pennant and give themselves a shot at the first Cincinnati World Title since 1990 when I was eight years old.

The Reds completely broke my heart when they collapsed. Truth be told, I’m still not recovered from it. While I’m excited for  baseball season, I don’t necessarily think that this team in this window will ever be any better positioned to win it all. You can tell me that I’m wrong, and you can tell me that they’re better for the experience they gained and all that. My opinion is the Reds missed a golden opportunity to win it all last year and will never have a better opportunity.

The American League as a whole was suspect last season and I knew at the time that the hot team from the National League would probably win it. At first glance that team looked to be the Reds. Then Johnny Cueto got hurt. Then the Reds couldn’t make a few plays when Homer Bailey threw the gem that should have ended the series. Then the Reds had to throw Leake and throw away game four. Then in game five, Buster Posey drove a stake in my heart that will never be removed.

With that, I decided that I’ll never again believe it’s going to happen until the moment actually arrives. I am forever skeptical; forever jaded. There is no such thing as ‘we’re going to win the whole damn thing’ before we do it as I declared last year on Opening Day. Not this year. You have to prove it to me now.

Major Off-Season Moves:

  • Signed Jack Hannahan
  • Traded for Shin-Soo Choo
  • Re-signed Ryan Ludwick
  • Re-signed Jonathan Broxton
  • Re-signed Manager Dusty Baker

I know this team so well it’s scary sometimes. When I wake up in the morning during the season and the Reds have a game on their schedule, I know if they’re going to win or lose 95% of the time before the game is even played. I still watch and see the results play out. But at the end of things when the final out is recorded, I usually had a pulse of how things were going to go. My wife sometimes asks me why I don’t just smell the roses when following this team. Why don’t I just enjoy things a little bit more? I wish it were that easy. When this much passion gets involved; when you want something so badly, you can’t help but expect the zenith.

I want that damn trophy at the end of the year. There’s no reason that this group in this era shouldn’t win a title. They’re as good as anyone in the league right now. Everyone has their breaks, their weak spots, their bad luck; it’s time to go out and get it done. Anything less is considered an absolute failure. And if and when that happens I can’t help but be completely exasperated, usually after an emotional explosion.

Here’s a look at yours and my 2013 Cincinnati Reds after the jump.

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The 2012 Reds scored 669 runs and won 97 games. What a season it was. I don’t think the Reds will win 97 games in 2013 because too much has to go right for it to happen, but I do think the thunder will be there to score more than 669 runs. I really love this lineup, especially in this ballpark. The Reds were an often streaky group in 2012, but when they found their grove the crooked numbers came in bunches. They are a veteran lineup that can punish good pitching and find a way on that guy’s best nights. They also shoot cripples and hit lefties, something that bad Reds teams of the past failed to do with any consistency.

I like the lineup construction as long as Dusty gives Todd Frazier his 140 or so games and doesn’t fall in love with Jack Hannahan. I think that two things could be done to make things better, though. Jay Bruce should hit clean-up day in, and day out. Dusty Law states that you can’t hit two lefties back to back in the middle of the order on the chance that those guys might have to face a LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy) out of the pen just once in a game. Forget the other three or four times in a game that they’ll have a chance at murdering the righty on the mound.  Dusty Law is what rules in Cincinnati. He probably loved getting to insert a center-fielder (if you want to call Choo that) in the lead-off spot. That’s another Dusty Law. That touches on the second thing I would like to see, which is Bruce in center every day. That’s not really worth wishing for either because it makes too much sense.

And one more point on our boy Bruce; this guy is our favorite player. Not just in baseball, but in any sport; ever. The sky really is the limit with him. One of these years he’s going to put it all together and it’s going to be a wild party all summer long. You know those hot streaks you see when Jay Bruce goes completely bat-shit and takes over the game for about 10 days and everything he hits is out of the park or in the gap? One of these days that guy is going to do it for most of the season. And when that happens you’re going to see crazy numbers from him. If that happens in a Reds uniform, he’s going to carry them through a season. You add that to a Joey Votto along with the other pieces you have and you’ve got the as scary of a lineup as anyone in baseball. When readers of this blog wonder why I get so frustrated and impatient with Jay Bruce, it’s because I know the vast potential he has inside him. And the truth is he hasn’t really reached it yet–not even close. The guy is better than a .252 hitter. For the time being, I’ve stopped hoping for more. If it happens, great. If not, I’m not going to jump off a bridge over it.

You can expect All-Star efforts from Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. Votto should be a perennial MVP contender for the next few seasons, and he’s putting up Hall of Fame numbers year over year right now. In my opinion, Votto is as good of a pure hitter as you can see in the game today.

I expect Ludwick to slide back; not so much in terms of production but the amount of time he’s able to stay on the field. He’s a year older and while he might be a better hitter at his current age, there’s a lot of mileage on this farm equipment.

I love this whole group. For all his faults and stuff I make fun of; I love Dusty Baker. I truly care about these guys like family members, yet I’ve never exchanged more than a sentence with any of them. Ryan Hanigan is a Punch & Judy hitter, he doesn’t do anything particularly great. Yet, I’m completely comfortable with him and would miss Ryan Hanigan if he was no longer a Red. I’m attached to this group. I think they’re full of likable guys. It’s just like when I was a kid and got attached to the Kal Daniels’, the Freddie Benavides, the Mariano Duncan’s, the Alex Ochoa’s, the Dmitri Young’s, the Chris Styne’s. A lot of these guys don’t mean anything to anyone outside of the Cincinnati fan base. Yet I still wake up every morning after I watched the game and often find myself analyzing their line in the box score; and analyzing their season statistics. Just like when I was a kid.

These guys have me pretty good. I have totally fallen for them. That’s why it’s going to hurt if they don’t deliver. I want to see this team win a title. With every passing year, the names will dwindle away like grains of sand on a beach. What is now will never be again except for now. I so badly want to see this group succeed so that they’re forever linked to greatness instead of easily forgotten. They have to find a way to be just a bit better when it counts if that’s going to happen.

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The Reds are set to have the best rotation that they’ve had in a number of years. It’s interesting that this post goes up now, because at press time Aroldis Chapman is lobbying to go back to the closer’s role. And would you believe me if I told you that this entire Cincinnati Reds season hinges on whether or not this guy not only starts but succeeds as a starter?

This team is never going to get over the top without Chapman as a starter. If this guy is a starter last season they finish the Giants off easily and get through the NLCS and probably win the World Series. I know, the argument can be made for how much he’s worth as a closer. He is phenomenal as a closer. He can be that phenomenal as a starter, and in fact he has to be. The Reds aren’t keeping Chapman past 2017. That’s the window in my mind for this group. That’s it. It might be shorter than that, but it certainly won’t be longer. This Reds team has until that time to win a championship, maximum. In the back of my mind, it’s always been about when Chapman progresses to the starting rotation and can become a Randy Johnson-type starting pitcher to give this team a shot in the arm that no other team can match.

You add a Chapman to the likes of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey? With some of the pen arms they have right now? Forget it, man. It’s all over. You can’t compete with four guys like that who can shut you down on a daily basis. Losing streaks will be non-existent and winning streaks will litter the schedule gone by.

But it all hinges on Chapman. The rest of the guys are going to be about the same as they were in 2012. I think that Homer Bailey has a chance to be a bit better statistically, but that depends on if his poor luck rebounds. I see Bailey as a guy who wins 16 or 17 games this season and keeps his ERA around 3.50 on the year.

In the past we would have been happy to have guys like Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo in the rotation. For a long time, Bunny Arroyo was known as the team’s stopper! How damn scary is that? The stakes have been raised, and gone are the days of Jimmy Haynes, Jose Acevedo, Brandon Claussen and other garbage-heap type starting pitchers. This team is big-time now. It’s time to take the next step and make Chapman a starter. You lay down your bet and you go for it all right now. Walt Jocketty knows it, Bryan Price knows it, and I know it. Inside yourself, you know it too.

If Chapman goes back to closing, and Jonathan Broxton is setting up, this team has little to no chance of bettering their result from last year. An early exit from the postseason or missing it entirely will be imminent. There’s one shot at this thing, and we’re dealing in a time-sensitive window. Sure, Broxton is going to blow some leads in big games. But a lot of nights the Reds won’t need Broxton. His final three outs he’ll be asked to get won’t be as important as the eight innings of aspirin tablets Chapman and the other big three fire four out of five nights a week.

Mevs’ Projected Record and Finish:

90-72, First Place in the NL Central

The Reds will win the division again, but that’s hardly anything to get excited about and the banner that will hang for that at Great American Ball Park should be thought of as more of a consolation prize at this point.

Heroes don’t get remembered for winning division titles–unless it’s one that ends an era of futility like when Jay Bruce hit the clinching home run in 2010 to walk off Houston and win the Reds first division title since my childhood.

The stakes have been raised and it’s time to find out if these guys are going to be something special or if Dusty Baker will forever be remembered as a guy who couldn’t win the big one. The eternal legacies of every guy on this roster (especially the cornerstones) will be linked to the end result of what this team does in 2013. The problem is the National league is LOADED this season. The Reds will have to come through a gauntlet to do this in 2013, unlike in 2012 when it came down to the hot team.

I like Washington, Atlanta, and Los Angeles as much as I like the Reds on paper in 2013 and I like St. Louis and San Francisco just behind the Reds. Someone in that mix is going to win the World Series. My gut tells me that the Reds fall short again this season with another NLDS exit in the playoffs. My gut has been wildly wrong before though.

I will plan on the Reds turning me away from the game in early October, thinking of ‘next year’ sometime in February when the days begin to get longer again like they did this past year. If I’m wrong I will be the happiest fan on the planet.

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