Since that 2012 season ended and the Reds lost to the Giants in game five of the NLDS in Cincinnati after being up two games to zero on the eventual World Champion Giants, I have really been in a deep and dark depression as a Reds fan.
Some people might get really down on me for saying that – they’ll point to when the Reds were running out Jose Acevedo or Jimmy Haynes or Brandon Claussen as starting pitchers and were a losing team and tell me how good we have it now. How we’ve ‘made the playoffs’ three out of the last four years.
But there’s something that kills you about watching a team evolve from the abyss into what you know is a core’s window – and make no mistake – the last two seasons were the peak of this current group’s window. It didn’t ever hurt like that (like this) back when we were so horrible. It has taken me the entire offseason just to get some feeling back in me after the way we went out. To be fully honest, I’m still not over that 2012 afternoon that Buster Posey hit the grandslam off Mat Latos. I’ve never felt anything like that in a lifetime of watching sports. I don’t know if I’ll ever really get over it. It was like dealing with a death.
It’s made it increasingly tough to write about the Reds. Their passive offseason this year really did nothing to dispel that. If anything, it just made me a little bit apathetic towards their upcoming season. You look at their lineup, and there’s still some thunder. There are things you can find a positive in. If their pitching staff doesn’t have any injury, it features some phenomenal arms.
But this is largely the same group that couldn’t get it done the last few seasons. Something is missing. If I could tell you what that something was I would be doing a lot more than just writing about the Reds; it’s like the million-dollar question. I think the Reds needed Aroldis Chapman to develop into a top of the rotation starter that they could roll out in a must win game in the playoffs. A Randy Johnson type figure who the opposition knows is simply going to always beat them. Someone to get Mike Leake out of there. A lot of guys could close for this team. Few guys in the league strike fear into a lineup like Chapman could as a starter. But that’s never going to happen now.
Maybe that something is a real heart and soul leader. Someone who keeps Brandon Phillips in line. As much as I like Phililps, I’m starting to wonder if he’s not a little bit of a cancer in the locker room. I wouldn’t have cared if the Reds decided to part with him – but almost sheepishly they made the choice to bring him back. And along with that, they brought back the entire group that has failed to win the big one year after year. That’s concerning. You keep banging your head against the same wall long enough, all you’re going to get is a headache. The only thing different is the manager, and Bryan Price isn’t even a new voice. It’s not a shake-up. Everyone else got better, and at best the Reds stayed the same.
Projected Starting Lineup:
I actually think that Billy Hamilton is going to hit a lot more than most people are anticipating. In fact, I’m sure of it. Pencil him in for a .270 average with the big question being how much can he walk? Speed like his just doesn’t slump for long in the game. I would like to see him bunt until the opposing manager gets crazy trying to defend him. When they change the way he’s defended, pull it back and slap it past them. A lot of Hamilton ground balls will end up infield singles. Look for around 70 stolen bases. The Reds will finally find their true leadoff man, something that has been absent for so many years.
I think Phillips and Votto will be about what they were last year. Which, if they are; that’s pretty damn good. Votto was phenomenal last year. He just wasn’t the power version of Joey Votto we saw in 2010. His legs still were back underneath him yet. He was very efficient. Brandon Phillips was a good run producer with his 103 RBI, but he’s a statue on the basepaths now, he hit .261 which meant a decent amount of slumping, and he ran his mouth and disrupted any semblance of chemistry. I’ll take a less productive Phillips who is a good teammate, if there is such a version.
Jay Bruce enters the magical age-27 season which is talked about in baseball lore. There’s absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t be the best year on the back of Bruce’s baseball card when he decides to hang up his cleats someday. I always thought he would have some 40 home runs seasons. I always thought he could hit close enough to .300 that his average would be a strength. I feel like Jay Bruce wants a nice legacy in this game. I feel like he quietly goes about his business like a great professional and I appreciate it beyond words in writing. I’m done declaring him an MVP or anything like that. But one of these years he’s going to stay hot all year long instead of just a few months or a few weeks at a time. If this is that year, it would be ironic that it comes at a time when the Reds will just be adequate and not great.
The rest of the lineup is full of question marks. Ryan Ludwick returns from injury. He’s really aging, so I don’t expect much. I think the Reds will get less than people want to see out of Ludwick and Cozart and they’ll be pleasantly surprised with how much Mesoraco and Todd Frazier hit. Frazier is one of my breakout player candidates in all of baseball. He has an ugly swing but I think he’s simply too talented to flop completely and that park will aid his numbers in a great way.
Parts of the Reds bench I like: Chris Heisey, Jack Hannahan and Chris Nelson. Parts of the Reds bench I don’t like: Skip Schumaker, Brayan Pena, and Roger Bernadina.
Projected Pitching Rotation:
I’m really ecstatic that the Reds committed to Homer Bailey long-term. He’s going to go down a bit iconic in Reds-lore no matter what happens from here because of the two no-hitters, but I think he can be a lot better than he’s ever been for the Reds and he really is improving every year. It’s only fitting that Homer Bailey gets to see this thing through as a Red and have some seasons wearing their colors in which he competes for Cy Young Awards. To actually bring home that hardware he’s just going to have to be more consistent, but I see signs of it from him all the time. It’s been a pleasure to watch him evolve, and I’ve always really rooted hard for Homer. He went from first rounder highly touted, to a guy who wouldn’t listen to coaches, to a guy who started listening, and a guy who found success. If he was a wrestler he would have went from legendary heel to super sweet babyface. You have to love guys like that.
Johnny Cueto scares the Hell out of me. He’s talented but he’s not really a number one, and only threw 60 innings last year. What in God’s name was the organization thinking throwing him out there against Pittsburgh in such a huge game and rabid atmosphere when you could have went with Bailey who has balls of steel and is a guy who has OWNED the Pirates? I don’t get it. Absolute stupidity and no one called them on it. Cueto isn’t really a true number one, but more of a high end number two if we’re all honest with ourselves here.
And if you want to lie to your wife, and I’ll lie to mine; that’s fine and dandy. But if we’re being honest, Mat Latos is really a high end number two as well. The 3.16 ERA was nice but he had the same win-loss record as Mike Leake last season. I saw every one of his starts and watched him closely. It is my belief that he can not and will not ever be any better than he was last season over the course of a full year. He was very good but he strikes out less than eight hitters per nine, and his control is not quite elite (2.5 BB/9 IP).
Cingrani was so awesome last season and figures only to get better. In 104 innings and change, he averaged 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. His 2.92 ERA shows how dominant he was as a rookie. As all of his pitches develop further, and as he develops more of a repertoire, he will be borderline dominant. It’s nice to have a quality left-handed starter in the rotation. I don’t worry too much about Cingrani regressing, as he showed a lot of resolve being bounced from rotation to the pen back to the rotation several times last year, solid and dependable in whatever role he was called upon.
The main pen arms I like are of course Chapman (you should be starting you flake), Sam LeCure (never thought I would say that years ago, but the sucker competes), and Jonathan Broxton (he’s either done or he’ll rebound in a big way).
Alfredo Simon, Manny Parra, and Logan Ondrusek should comprise the rest of the pen, which won’t be a liability. At least we don’t think it will be.
Predicted Record & Finish:
84-78, Third Place in the NL Central
Sorry folks, but it’s going to be a lot like 2011. They’re going to be just good enough all year that you question at times if they’re good at all or if they completely suck. There will be times when you think they’re in the driver’s seat and times when you wonder what the team’s identity is.
While I don’t think Bryan Price is the boom hire to put the team over the top, he also knows this roster well enough to not let it completely fall apart. We’ll hope a career monster year from Jay Bruce is the bright spot, and it will be exciting to see Billy Hamilton stealing bags every night. The Reds have more semi-stars than a lot of teams around baseball. There’s plenty to be thankful for. We just fear that the sacred window has almost closed.