NL Central preview: Cincinnati Reds

NL Central preview: Cincinnati Reds
March 29, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

The Reds may not be the perennial powerhouse the Cardinals are in this division, but they're the best team in the NL Central and they got even better in the offseason. The question is, will they be able to actually build off their regular-season success in the postseason?

2012 retrospective

The Reds won 97 games last year, their highest total since they tallied 102 victories in 1976. But they had the unfortunate luck to draw the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, as the hottest team in October proved their worth by dispatching the Reds 3-2 en route to their second World Series title in three years.

[Related: NL Central Preview: Milwaukee Brewers]

Cincinnati beat out the Cardinals for the division title and spent most of the season in first place. The Reds teams of recent memory have been offense-heavy and struggled with pitching, especially in the starting rotation. But general manager Walt Jocketty addressed that weakness before 2012 by dealing four players for young right-hander Mat Latos and used three prospects to pry lefty setup man Sean Marshall from the Cubs.

It worked beautfully, as the Reds put up a sparkling 3.34 team ERA. Latos went 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP while Marshall made 73 appearances, saved nine games and struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings. Aroldis Chapman (1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 15.3 K/9) was simply dominant in his first year as the closer, headlining a bullpen that was phenomenal all season long and only got better with the midseason acquisition of Jonathan Broxton. Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) emerged as a Cy Young challenger while Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) finally took the step everybody had been waiting for from him.

[More: Looking back at the Sean Marshall trade]

Joey Votto missed more than 50 games due to injury, but still racked up a 1.041 OPS and an amazing 94:85 K:BB ratio. Brandon Phillips may not have won the Gold Glove, but he provided a steady veteran presence at second base while Jay Bruce (34 HR, 99 RBIs) continued to develop in his age-25 season. Ryan Ludwick (26 HR) and Todd Frazier (19 HR) offered power from the right side of the plate, emerging as legitimate options for the Reds moving forward.

Who’s leaving

RHP Ryan Madson, OF Drew Stubbs, 3B Scott Rolen

[Related: NL Central Preview: St. Louis Cardinals]

Madson didn't throw a pitch for the Reds last year after injuring his elbow early on. Stubbs always had the physical tools (14 HR, 30 SB) and played good defense in center field, but compiled just a .610 OPS and struck out 166 times in 544 at-bats.

Rolen only played 92 games as he battled injuries and struggled to stave off the up-and-coming Frazier, but his contributions were off the field as a veteran voice in the clubhouse. For that reason alone, he will be sorely missed. The Reds will need a leader to step up and replace him.

Who’s arriving

OF Shin-Soo Choo, Jack Hannahan

The Reds only added two players this winter, but they didn't need to do much tinkering with their roster. Their biggest weakness in 2012 was a lack of a leadoff hitter and Choo should fill that role admirably. The 2012 Reds only had three players with an OBP over .330 (catcher Ryan Hanigan, Votto, Ludwick), but Choo has never had an OBP below .344 and sits at .381 for his career.

He has only played 10 games in center field in his career, so that will be the biggest question mark. Choo was a decent, fundamentally-sound defender to start his career, but seemed to take a step back in that area last year. However, his offensive contributions atop the lineup should make up for any deficiences in center.

Hannahan provides depth and a left-handed bat as an option at third base.

[Related: NL Central Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates]

Season outlook

Is Choo enough to push them over the top? He just might be, assuming the Reds are able to stay healthy and key players don't regress.

Young up-and-comers like Bruce, Bailey, Frazier and Chapman should continue to improve while Latos and Cueto form a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Another duo of veterans -- Votto and Phillips -- will anchor the lineup and Ludwick could be added to that mix. The 34-year-old left fielder revived his career last year and turned in one of the best seasons of his MLB life. Can he do it again? The Reds are counting on it, but it's far from a guarantee.

The bullpen may be the second-best in the entire MLB, behind only Atlanta's. Chapman and Marshall are two of the best in the business while righties Broxton, Jose Arredondo, Alfredo Simon and Sam LeCure are reliable options in the middle and late innings.

The talent is there. Manager Dusty Baker is a seasoned veteran manning the ship in the dugout. They have depth. They have a Cy Young-caliber ace (Cueto) and a perennial MVP candidate (Votto). Can the Reds stay healthy enough to make a run to the World Series?