Posted on March 18, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Cincinnati Reds have endured three straight last-place finishes in the NL Central while going through a rebuilding process. However, they did show some signs of life last season despite being ravaged by injuries. Can the Reds make 2018 their breakout year or do they have more work to do in order to become competitive?
Injuries were a huge problem for Cincinnati’s rotation in 2017. No pitcher made more than 21 starts for the Reds, and as a result, their rotation had the highest ERA in the National League. The trio of Anthony DeSclafani, Homer Bailey, and Brandon Finnegan was supposed to give them a fighting chance. But in the end, those three combined for just 18 starts, with DeClafani missing the entire season.
When healthy, DeSclafani, Bailey, and Finnegan have all proven to be quality big league starters, but the odds are slim the Reds will get the best out of all three this season. Bailey made the most starts of the group last year with 18, but he also posted an ERA of 6.43. He hasn’t been healthy and effective since 2014. Meanwhile, DeSclafani dealt with elbow trouble last year and Finnegan was limited to four starts with shoulder problems in 2017.
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In all likelihood, the Reds will have to lean on their contingent of young pitchers to fill out their rotation. Luis Castillo is the most intriguing. He posted a 3.12 ERA in 15 big league starts last year. Tyler Mahle was also quite impressive in the four starts he made late in the year. Based on his 16 starts last year, Sal Romano should at least be a reliable back-end starter. Those three could help give the Reds some semblance of stability in their rotation. Pitchers like Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett are also high on talent and worth watching closely in 2018 despite poor results last year.
With the Cincinnati rotation still unsettled, the bullpen remains a work in progress as well. However, the Reds should have at least three relievers they can count on this year. Raisel Iglesias grew into the closer’s role last year, converting 28 of 30 save opportunities, so at least that part of the bullpen is settled. Michael Lorenzen and Sandy Peralta were also solid last year and should continue to serve as the team’s top setup men.
Beyond those three, what the Reds get out of their bullpen is anybody’s guess. The free agent signings of Jared Hughes and David Hernandez should give the Reds some much-needed experience and a little more depth, but neither should move the meter that much. Meanwhile, the rest of the Cincinnati bullpen will be made up of pitchers with limited big league experience who are yet to distinguish themselves as bonafide major league pitchers.
Rather quietly, the Reds were a middle-of-the-pack offensive team last season. Joey Votto remains the team’s best hitter and showed no signs of slowing down after having one of his most productive seasons in 2017. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez will join Votto in the middle of the order after a breakout season in 2017, hitting 26 home runs and posting an OPS of .828. Corner outfielders Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler add to the power in Cincinnati’s lineup after combining for 61 home runs in 27.
Of course, the most intriguing player the Reds have is Scooter Gennett, who contributed 27 home runs and 97 RBI’s. However, Gennett’s numbers last year were a far cry from his track record, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to replicate that kind of productivity. But if Gennett proves last year wasn’t an aberration, the Reds should be one of the top home run hitting teams in baseball and a potential nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Meanwhile, the Reds will also have to replace shortstop Zack Cozart, who was an all-star last season but left in free agency. It’ll most likely be up to Jose Peraza to take Cozart’s spot at shortstop. The 23-year old has flashed his potential the past couple of years but hasn’t put it altogether yet. If he does, he and Billy Hamilton give the Reds game-changing speed at the top of the lineup, something that should blend well with all the power in the middle of the order.
On paper, the Reds certainly look better than the team that has gone 68-94 the past two seasons. In fact, if everything clicks, they could find themselves in the hunt for a wild-card spot in September. However, with questions about the health and experience of their starting rotation, as well as the depth of the bullpen, it’ll be tough for Cincinnati to stay in the playoff race all season. Look for the Reds to finish 76-88 in 2018, which is at least a step in the right direction.