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Friday, October 24, 2014

MLB 2011 Preview: Can the Cincinnati Reds Defend Their NL Central Title?

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. Now we’re taking a look at the NL Central. Yesterday, the Cardinals. Today, the Reds

Reigning Division Champion: Cincinnati Reds

Off-Season Moves: The 2010 NL Central Champion Reds fortified what they had more than they changed it, re-signing MVP Joey Votto, promising youngster Jay Bruce and rotation fixtures in Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto to long-term contracts. They also added Edgar Renteria to bolster their bench play everyday for manager Dusty Baker.

Strengths: This team is very strong on the positional side, offensively and defensively. Between Votto, Bruce, Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips, they have five guys who can hit and field. Their starting lineup features big-time power, led by Votto, with six players hitting 18 home runs or more last season. Their biggest breakout candidate is Jay Bruce who is entering his age-24 season. Last season Bruce started slowly, but in the second half he hit .306/.376/.575 with 15 home runs. He may not hit for that much average over a full season as he is still a bit strikeout-prone, but 30 home runs and an .875 OPS is a very attainable goal.

The Reds’ pitching is good and reliable and gives them a chance to win every night. No pitcher personifies that last sentence more than Arroyo, who has won 15 or more games the past three seasons and logged over 200 innings the past six. Arroyo may be hittable and prone to the long ball, but he battles and works deep into games, despite a difficult pitching environment in Great American Ballpark. While their rotation may be composed of more number-three and four-starter-types, they have a few guys with the capability to step up. Edinson Volquez was promising in his return from Tommy John surgery; if he can return to his pre-injury form, he might be their guy. Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto both have good stuff, but Bailey’s inconsistency and Cueto’s lack of size likely keep them from taking the next step.

Weaknesses: Dusty Baker has a well-earned reputation for wearing pitchers out. This came into play last season as promising young pitcher Mike Leake (pictured) suffered from arm fatigue down the stretch and had to be shut down (although this was also due to hitting his innings cap) and Homer Bailey sat out much of the first half, likely due to the stress placed on him the year (Mark) prior. With a staff like the Reds’ that lacks a true ace, they need to be healthy and whole, if nothing else, to keep all their mid-level guys out there and pitching.

As good as Jay Bruce was in the second half, Scott Rolen was equally bad offensively, hitting.277/.352/.420 with only three home runs in the second half. If that is an indication of age or health catching up with Rolen, who will be 36 this season, the Reds will miss that right-handed protection for Votto and Bruce in the middle of the order.

Finally, the Reds got fantastic production out of their catching slot, between Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan. There is no way on earth those two can repeat that level of production. Having said that, top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco will be waiting in the wings.

Summary: The Reds have the most balanced team in the division, from a hitting, pitching and defensive standpoint. This makes them a good bet to win the division because they have no real, glaring weaknesses. I do believe their rotation lacks upside and high-end stability and this will keep them from beating the Cardinals. However, improvement from Bruce, Stubbs, Bailey and Volquez might give them enough to beat out the Cardinals, who may not hit enough to back up their pitchers. I predict 88 wins and a second-place finish within the division.



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