Cincinnati Reds v Colorado Rockies

Springtime Storylines: Can the Reds do it again?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: Your Cincinnati Redlegs.

The Big Question: Can the Reds pull off back-to-back division titles?

Holding the top spot in the division for a total of 115 days last year, the Reds basically ran away with the National League Central crown — their first since 1995. The perennially relevant Cardinals hung around until early September and finished only five games back in the final standings, but Cincinnati did not let up down the stretch and turned in the organization’s first 90-plus win season since 1999, when a young Mike Cameron led an explosive offense to a second-place finish under manager Jack McKeon.

Cameron was traded to the Mariners after that stellar ’99 campaign for Ken Griffey Jr., who brought his hometown team an 85-77 record in 2000 before things turned really ugly in the Queen City. With Junior beginning a long battle against the injury bug, the 2001 Redlegs finished near the bottom of the Central with a putrid 66-96 record and did not top 80 wins for the next eight seasons.

Which brings us back to present day. How will sudden success greet this edition of the Cincinnati Reds and will the good times last longer than they did at the turn of the century?

The offense is there. It’s youthful and powerful, and the Reds are going to field a lineup this season that will rival any batting order in the National League Central division. First baseman Joey Votto beat out Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols for MVP honors in 2010 with a .324/.424/.600 batting line, 37 home runs and 116 RBI. He even stole 16 bases. Right fielder Jay Bruce was also explosive, registering a cool .846 OPS and 25 home runs. From top to bottom — with the only exceptions being shortstop and (maybe) catcher — the Reds are primed to put runs on the board with ease again this season.

But every great team needs pitching, and the rotation in Cincinnati is far from intimidating. Edinson Volquez is still regaining his arm strength from August 2009 Tommy John surgery, Johnny Cueto battles inconsistency on a near-nightly basis, Homer Bailey hasn’t proven capable of remaining effective for an entire big league season and Bronson Arroyo is sliding quickly into his mid-30s.

Every National League Central team has gaping holes, but Cincinnati’s can be found in the starting rotation and that’s a frightening situation for a club that calls Great American Ballpark home.

So what else is going on?

  • Where are the fans? Great American Ballpark drew just over two million people last year and the daily average attendance was only 25,438. The 101-loss Mariners drew better, as did the Astros, Tigers, Brewers, Mets and Padres. For a town that once hosted Opening Day annually and produced raucous crowds during the Big Red Machine era, last year’s showing was a disappointment. The stadium is new and the team is good. It’s time for the Skyline-devouring residents of southwestern Ohio to do their part.
  • The maturation of dynamic outfielder Drew Stubbs has begun. The eighth overall pick in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft, he slugged 22 home runs and stole 30 bases in 150 games last season for the Reds. If Stubbs can limit his strikeouts and show a little more patience at the plate, he could develop into a reliable long-term leadoff hitter. His on-base percentage in four minor league seasons was a healthy .364.
  • Rookie starters Travis Wood and Mike Leake deserve real credit for helping the Reds to their division crown last season, but what can we expect in 2011 out of the rising sophomores? They are both going to draw starts for the first couple weeks of April until Cueto recovers from shoulder inflammation. With Wood, it’s about continuing the momentum that he built up over the final few months of 2010. With Leake, it’s about proving that his hot start before the All-Star break was not a fluke.
  • The Reds handed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman a six-year, $30.25 million major league contract last winter in the hope that he might quickly became an ace of their starting rotation. He was fine last season in a setup role and will probably post dominant numbers again in 2011 as an eighth inning reliever behind closer Francisco Cordero, but it’s nothing short of a letdown that he is not yet making starts. Having a quality setup man is nice, but the Reds need rotation help and they’re clearly not confident yet that Chapman can provide it. A good starter is always more valuable than a good reliever.

So how are they gonna do?

Winning the National League Central isn’t going to be nearly as easy it was last season. The Brewers’ rotation is suddenly formidable, the Cubs made two smart offseason additions in Carlos Pena and Matt Garza, and the Cardinals have no plans of folding. But the Reds have a lineup that carries major upside and they’re going to be in the hunt all summer. If everything goes right, they can get to 90 wins for a second straight year. And that should net them either a consecutive division title or the National League wild card.

Matt Harvey’s struggles continue

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Starting pitcher Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets works the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Mets considered skipping Matt Harvey‘s start against the Nationals on Tuesday, but the right-hander said he wanted to make the start, so the club relented. Harvey has struggled mightily this season, entering the start with a 5.77 ERA and a 43/15 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings.

Harvey was slammed for nine runs (six earned) in 2 2/3 innings in his most recent start against the Nationals last Thursday. He failed to finish the sixth inning in six of nine starts.

Things didn’t get any better for Harvey against the Nationals on Tuesday. He yielded five runs on eight hits — including three home runs — with two walks and a strikeout in five innings. Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and former teammate Daniel Murphy each clubbed homers against him. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg continued to dominate.

One wonders, if there isn’t anything physically wrong with Harvey — and there’s reason to suspect there might be, particularly due to a decline across the board in velocity — the Mets might just put him on the disabled list to give him a couple of weeks to clear his head. Harvey was booed by the home crowd last week, and failing to live up to expectations in New York can put a lot of pressure on a person.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30:  Jackie Bradley Jr. #25 of the Boston Red Sox triples in a run in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on April 30, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. doubled to left field leading off the second inning against Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa on Tuesday night, extending his hitting streak to 28 games. That puts him in a tie with Wade Boggs for the fifth-longest hitting streak in club history, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. Dom DiMaggio has the longest streak at 34 games.

Here’s MLB.com video of Bradley’s hit to extend the streak.

The most recent hitting streaks of 30 games or longer belong to Dan Uggla and Andre Ethier, who compiled respective streaks of 33 and 30 games in 2011.

Bradley entered Tuesday’s action hitting .342/.413/.618. Pretty good.

Jose Bautista’s appeal hearing will be held in New York on Thursday

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 17: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a two-run home run in the first inning during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 17, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor had his appeal hearing on Tuesday. The next order of business is Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista‘s appeal hearing. That will be held in New York on Thursday, per Sportsnet’s Barry Davis.

Bautista was suspended one game for his actions during the mayhem on May 15 in Texas between the Rangers and Blue Jays. Bautista was hit in the ribs by a Matt Bush fastball. On an ensuing double play attempt, Bautista slid hard into Odor. Odor swung at and connected with Bautista, resulting in an eight-game suspension.

Bautista will be able to play until a decision is levied following the hearing. He enters play Tuesday hitting .230/.373/.497 with 10 home runs, 34 RBI, and a league-best walks total of 37.

Angel Pagan lands on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28:  Angel Pagan #16 of the San Francisco Giants poses for a portrait during spring training photo day at Scottsdale Stadium on February 28, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Giants outfielder Angel Pagan has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, the club announced on Tuesday. He has a strained left hamstring. Outfielder Jarret Parker has been recalled from Triple-A Sacramento.

Pagan strained his hamstring earlier this month and missed nearly two weeks while avoiding a trip to the DL. The club decided to play it safe this time around. Pagan aggravated the injury during Monday’s game against the Padres, exiting in the ninth inning.

Pagan is hitting .275/.338/.383 with a pair of home runs and 13 RBI on the year.