2013 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Cincinnati Reds.

The Big Question: Is this the Reds’ year?

It certainly has that feel. The Reds tallied 97 wins in 2012 and made a massive roster upgrade this winter, acquiring outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians as part of a three-team, nine-player trade that also involved the Diamondbacks. Shoo boasts a shiny .289/.381/.465 career batting line and will finally bring some stability to Cincinnati’s leadoff spot. Reds leadoff men hit .208/.254/.327 last season.

First baseman Joey Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage for three straight years, Brandon Phillips is probably the best defensive second baseman in the bigs and has averaged 21 homers per season since 2006. Ryan Ludwick, who was re-signed to a two-year, $15 million free agent contract in December, posted an .877 OPS, 26 home runs and 80 RBI in 125 games last summer. Right fielder Jay Bruce carries MVP upside, Todd Frazier brings the thunder at third base and Zack Cozart has flashed good power potential while playing a fine shortstop. Then there’s catcher Ryan Hanigan, who owns a .370 career OBP and draws rave reviews from those in the know for the way he handles the Cincinnati pitching staff.

The Reds also have decent depth in young backup catcher Devin Mesoraco and outfielder Chris Heisey. Utility infielder Jason Donald came over in the Choo trade and Jack Hannahan was signed as a free agent.

This is a team with ample big bats and a home stadium that caters well to raw power. Boom, suckas.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The outfield defense is iffy. Choo has started only 10 games in center field in his eight-year major league career, but that’s where he’ll play the majority of the time in 2013. Ludwick has good instincts, but he turns 35 years old in July and isn’t suddenly going to gain more defensive range. Bruce possesses a big arm but can’t be considered speedy. The group should do fine at Great American Ball Park — where the dimensions are tight — but there might be some unintentional comedy this year on the road.
  • The Reds’ top-five starters only missed one total outing in 2012 — and it was the nightcap of a mid-August doubleheader. That crew carries good health into 2013 and should again be one of the better rotations in the National League. Johnny Cueto finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting last year after posting a 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 170/49 K/BB ratio across 217 innings. Mat Latos was also excellent, posting a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 185/64 K/BB ratio in 209 1/3 frames. Bronson Arroyo continued his inning-eating ways, Homer Bailey took a leap forward and Mike Leake was solid in bringing up the rear.
  • Aroldis Chapman was expected to finally make the transition from reliever to starter this spring, but the Reds cut the chord on that plan earlier this month. The flame-throwing lefty expressed a desire to remain in the bullpen and it’s what manager Dusty Baker wanted. Chapman’s value can be better maximized when he’s throwing more innings, but feeling comfortable is important too and he should again excel in the ninth-inning role. Setting him up this year will be Jonathan Broxton, who was signed to a three-year, $21 million contract this winter, and Sean Marshall, one of the steadiest middle relievers in the game.
  • Start stocking up on popcorn for the Billy Hamilton show. The 22-year-old speedster is converting from shortstop to center field and is scheduled to make his MLB debut at some point in 2013. He stole a record 155 bases in 132 games last season between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola while managing to hit .311/.410/.420. Baseball America ranks him the 11th-best prospect in the sport.

Prediction: First place in the National League Central, surpassing 100 victories.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 11, Nationals 5: The Mets were down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth and all they did was put up a nine-spot. The damage: a two-run Todd Frazier single, a two-run Juan Lagares double, a bases-loaded walk to Michael Conforto and then a grand freakin’ slam by Yoenis Cespedes. Ryan Madson was the most victimized in terms of runs allowed that frame with six, Sammy Solis put two on with walks, one which forced in the run, and both of the guys he walked scored, and  A.J. Cole gave up the salami. Anyone get the number of the bus that hit the Nats?

Athletics 12, White Sox 11: Who doesn’t want to watch nearly six hours of the White Sox and Athletics? At least this one was kinda exciting, with the A’s trailing 6-1, 9-4 and 10-8, before taking the lead and then giving up a tying run in the ninth before Matt Olson singled in Marcus Semien with two outs in the 14th for the win. There were 33 hits and 18 walks in this game, issued by 18 — EIGHTEEN — pitchers. James freakin’ Shields got the loss, pitching in relief. A total of 556 pitches were thrown. Lost in this was Yoan Moncada hitting his first career grand slam, scoring three times and driving in four, Olson finishing with four hits and three RBI, and Jed Lowrie driving in three. This wasn’t baseball. It was test cricket. They were stopping for tea on the field and should’ve broken the thing up over three or four days.

Braves 7, Phillies 3: One of the reasons the Braves signed Jose Bautista to play third base yesterday was the seemingly reasonable belief that Ryan Flaherty‘s hot start to the season is not sustainable. Perhaps he took some personal umbrage at that because last night he drove in four, three of which came on a three-run homer that put the Braves up 3-1 in the fifth and the fourth of which came via an RBI single to extend their lead in the eighth. Dansby Swanson homered, backing Brandon McCarthy‘s one-run ball into the sixth.

Twins 2, Indians 1: When you’re playing on backup generators you probably want to conserve energy, but hey, sometimes games go 16 innings and you need to keep the lights on for five hours and thirteen minutes of play. That’s baseball. Jose Berrios and Carlos Carrasco dueled for seven scoreless innings and the teams’ relief corps fired bullets for six more before each team broke through for a single run in the fourteenth. Two innings later the Twins got to Josh Tomlin, a starter pressed into service, with an Eddie Rosario single, a Jason Kipnis error that allowed the runner to make it to third and and then a walkoff single from Ryan LaMarre, scoring Rosario. Following Francisco Lindor‘s homer on Tuesday night, Rosario getting to celebrate the winning run made it a couple of great games for Puerto Rico natives.

Pirates 10, Rockies 2Josh Bell drove in three runs and the Pirates rattled off 13 hits in all. The Rockies are last in the NL in hitting. Which is totally what you expect from the Rockies, right?

Tigers 6, Orioles 5: Machado hit a walkoff homer to win a game in which the Orioles played. Unfortunately for O’s fans it was Dixon, not Manny, and Dixon plays for Detroit. That came after a wild eighth and ninth, in which each team scored three and Luis Sardinas tied it with a solo shot off Shane Greene before Machado’s heroics. Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario and John Hicks also homered for Detroit. The O’s have lost five straight.

Rays 4, Rangers 2: Jake Faria allowed one run over six innings to get his first win since last July and the Rays rode a three-run sixth inning, powered by Daniel Robertson’s RBI double, C.J Cron’s RBI single and an Adeiny Hechavarria‘s sacrifice to victory. Play of the game, though, came from this Rays fan, who reached over the railing to grab a ball, interfering with a ball in play, and then reached into his pocket to throw back a different ball:

I’m struggling to think of what, exactly, his plan was when coming to the ballpark yesterday. Did he think he’d catch some historic ball in a rando Wednesday Rangers-Rays game and had the decoy to throw off the people he expected to mob him? What was going on in this dude’s head? Either way, the play was called a double due to fan interference and the fan was moved to a different section and given a warning. To be fair, it probably would’ve been a double anyway. He now has a super valuable, I’m sure *looks at the box score* Renato Nunez ball to call his own. He can probably retire off of that bit of swag now. Or something.

Brewers 2, Reds 0: Zach Davies tossed six and a third three-hit shutout innings and Eric Thames hit a two-run homer for all of the game’s scoring. Thames has abused the Reds recently, having hit a two-run shot off of them the day before. He has 58 homers in his career. Eleven of those have come against Cincinnati. He didn’t have the play of the day, though. Christian Yelich did, snagging a ball that first hit off of Hernan Perez‘s glove:

 

Blue Jays 15, Royals 5: Teoscar Hernandez had four hits, including a two-run home run, finishing a double short of the cycle and Curtis Granderson hit a grand slam and the Jays swept the Royals and sent them to their eighth straight defeat. Toronto, meanwhile, is off to its best start since 2009.

Giants 4, Diamondbacks 3: Arizona came back from a 2-0 deficit in the eighth and ninth to force extras but Brandon Belt‘s two-run homer — his 100th career dong — broke the tie in the tenth and the Giants held on to break their four-game winning streak.

Red Sox 9, Angels 0: Boston continues its scorching hot start, moving to 15-2 on the season. Rick Porcello continues his own personal hot start, moving to 4-0 and dropping his ERA to 1.40 with six shutout innings. Mitch Moreland and Rafael Devers each drove in four, Devers via a grand slam and Moreland via two RBI singles and a homer of his own. J.D. Martinez went 4-for-5 and knocked one over the fence as well. The Angels, who came into this series pretty hot themselves, have been outscored 19-1 through the first two games of the series.

Astros 7, Mariners 1: Gerrit Cole allowed only an unearned run in seven innings of work and the Astros’ bats woke up with a six-run seventh inning. George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez each drove in a couple, Carlos Correa and Brian McCann each knocked in a run and the seventh scored on an error.

Dodgers 13, Padres 4: The Dodgers sweep the Padres behind a ten strikeout night from Kenta Maeda and a shellacking of Padres starter Luis Perdomo. Corey Seager went 4-for-5 with three driven in. Max Muncy, who I am not convinced is an actual baseball player as opposed to a character played by, I dunno, Peter Falk in a light Neil Simon-esque comedy from the 1970s, hit a homer.

Cardinals vs. Cubs — POSTPONED:

In the twilight glow I see them
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain
When we kissed goodbye and parted
I knew we’d never meet again
Love is like a dyin’ ember
Only memories remain
Through the ages I’ll remember
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain