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10 Semi-Bold Predictions

By Reed Domer-Shank - Founder of the J O U R N E Y M E N blog

For the longest time, the Cincinnati Reds were just terrible. As an organization, they were plagued by questionable philosophies in management (Jim “I like outfielders almost as much as I love my leather pants” Bowden) and ownership (Marge “I am a Nazi” Schott). And as a result, they’d often sputter to 4th and 5th-place finishes, dragged down by giant contracts (Ken Griffey Jr.) and subpar play out of role players (pretty much everyone else.)

Yes, for fans, the last decade has been brutal in almost every way. From the first pitch of Opening Day (where we realize our “ace” is Paul Wilson or Jimmy Haynes or the Bearded Lady from the circus) to mid-July, where the Reds are nine games back, yet “standing pat” at the trade deadline because nobody wanted any of their players. It’s been the same miserable charade, year after tiresome year.

Recently, however, all of that changed. Under the careful leadership of general manager Walt Jocketty (the architect of so many winning Cardinals clubs), the Reds have gotten back to the business of winning. Division titles in 2010 and 2012, as well as a talented and diverse core of players like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce (who are locked up contractually for the foreseeable future) have combined to transform Cincinnati from National League also-ran to World Series contender, in a matter of just four or five years.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade that transformation for anything. It was long, LONG overdue. It was something I was beginning to think I’d never see. However, if there’s any downside to rooting for a strong team, top to bottom, it’s that spring training becomes a pointless grind.

In a typical March in the “2000’s”, the Reds would bring something like 10 starting pitchers to spring training, all of whom had an equal shot to win a job. Translated, that meant “ We don’t have any guys who inspire any confidence whatsoever, so WHAT THE HELL LET’S JUST SEE WHAT HAPPENS.” This “strategy”, which was mirrored to a lesser degree amongst position players, almost always made for a putrid regular season. However, it did provide us fans some excitement during the preseason, because we never knew what the heck the roster was going to look like when it was all said and done.

It’s the little things, I guess.

As it turns out, when you’ve got a good team, finalizing your roster doesn’t take much guesswork. That’s why, for the last four weeks or so, Reds fans have been restlessly twiddling their thumbs. Checking box scores casually, but basically just waiting for the games that count. The only real storyline of the spring was whether or not Aroldis Chapman would actually break camp as a starting pitcher, and even that wasn’t necessarily must-see TV, mainly because it always felt like it had less to do with his performance and more to do with behind-closed-doors organizational politics.

Finally, I’m happy to say that the drudgery has come to an end. In years past, the most exciting weeks of the year would be coming to a close, and I’d be writing something like “WELP WE HAD A GOOD RUN, SEEYA WHEN I SEEYA.” However, these are the new Reds. Big things are happening in Cincy. Starting today.

In honor of Opening Day (a national holiday, in my book), here are the official JOURNEYMEN semi-bold predictions for the 2013 season...

1. Joey Votto will win a batting title. To anyone outside of Cincinnati, this one may seem semi-bold. To all of us in the know, I may as well have just said “I HEREBY DECLARE THAT PIZZA IS DELICIOUS.” When healthy, Joey Votto, aka Joey Baseball, aka J.V. Dreamboat, is as close to a lock as you can get. When he has all his faculties (mental and physical), there is not a better pure hitter in the game. Combine his .347 average in an injury-shortened season 2012 with the fact that the lineup around him is improving (the addition of Shin-Soo Choo, the evolution of Jay Bruce, the re-emergence of Ryan Ludwick), and you’ve got number one on the short list of “dudes who could approach .400.” Plus, everything I’ve read this spring says he looks “locked in.” Plus, I mean look at him. (Swoon).

2. Jay Bruce will ALMOST hit 40 home runs. If I had to describe my man-love for Joey Votto, it’d be something like “Joey...I’m in awe of your talent, you make me feel safe and warm, and goshDARNIT if I don’t respect the hell out of you.” If I had to do the same for Jay Bruce, it’d probably be more of a “I don’t know why, but all I want to do is drive around with you in a pickup truck, share a large resealable bag of Swedish Fish, and maybe knock down a mailbox or two.” Now, I realize that probably doesn’t make any sense to anyone but me, but hear me out. Where Votto is a cold-blooded killer, a cool, calculating hitting machine, I see Bruce as your boy next door. Your uber-talented aw-shucks guy who can’t help but smile while he plays. A kid playing a game. A game that, for whatever reason, has allowed him to increase his impressive home run totals in each successive season he’s played. Bruce clubbed 34 last year (after hitting 32 the year before and 25 the year before that). In 2013, I say he maintains that upward trend, but falls two short of the elusive 40. Barring injury, 38 is the number. Bank on it.

3. Billy Hamilton will not make a significant impact. I’m big fantasy baseball guy, and I always have to chuckle when I see people drafting Billy Hamilton this year. Nevermind that he probably plays a better centerfield right now than Choo. Nevermind that his OBP has been steadily rising. Nevermind that he could beat my 1993 Toyota pickup in the 40-yard dash and still have time to run to 7-11. The Reds are not a desperate team. They aren’t a rebuilding team. They’re a team that is championship caliber WITHOUT Hamilton, and they will see no need to rush him into action this year. A September call-up is possible, but between Choo, Bruce, Ludwick, Chris Heisey, and Todd Frazier, the Reds have more than enough guys who can play the outfield. Hamilton stays in the minors this year - where he belongs.

4. That being said, Choo does just fine in centerfield. Will the Reds new centerfielder get to as many balls as Drew Stubbs did? No. However, I will guarantee you this: at no point will any of us be sitting home on our couches, cursing the Reds for making that move. Honestly, i think Choo will do fine. For every ball that finds a gap, I say there’s another that he fields cleanly and rockets to the plate for an 8-2 putout. Analysts need something to analyze, so much as been made of Choo’s position-change. Much ado about nothing, I say.

5. Mat Latos will win at least 17 games. It’s time. For three seasons, Latos has been plagued with “starting slow” - meaning he’s gotten shelled in the first month or so of the season. However, he always rebounds, enough that his end of season numbers have looked remarkably consistent:

Year : ERA - WHIP - K/9

2010: 2.92 - 1.083 - 9.2
2011: 3.47 - 1.184 - 8.6
2012: 3.48 - 1.161 - 8.0

This year, at age 25, I say it’s time that Latos turns the corner. Aided by a decent April and May, I say Latos builds on 2012’s 14 wins - by at least three. Doesn’t hurt that he plays on a team that got better. Starting pitcher wins are fickle, but I see this happening.

6. Meanwhile, Mike Leake will get shelled. Remember when Leake started real strong as a rookie a few years back? When he busted out that crazy arsenal of off-speed crap and pinpoint control that made everyone in the back alleys whisper about the next coming of Greg Maddux? Yeah...about that. Leake made 30 starts last year, so I suppose that works for a 5th starter. But when the other options are guys like Chapman or super-prospect Tony Cingrani, I feel like Leake’s five-ish ERA and propensity for laser light shows in the second inning will start to get old. My semi-bold prediction is that by the middle of the summer, fans everywhere will be clamoring for someone else. My not-bold-at-all prediction? Leake will never, ever (ever ever ever) get close to Maddux. (I know, stop the presses.)

7. Tony Cingrani will step up. I hesitate to say that Dusty Baker et. al will replace Mike Leake this year, even if he gets pounded like a drum. After all, Leake is a first round draft pick and has had success in the past, and the other options are either needed in the bullpen (Sam Lecure), unproven at the big league level (Cingrani), or being reserved in case World War III breaks out (Chapman). Still,  as I describe above, I think a time will come this season where Leake’s poor performance will force the organization’s hand to a degree. Maybe to the tune of a brief move to the pen. Or maybe in favor of one of those disabled list stints labeled “fatigue” that everyone knows is just a bad case of “I currently blow.” That being said, Cingrani will step in admirably. Enough to Wally Pipp the struggling Leake? Maybe not. But enough to make every Reds fan feel good about their options.

8. The Reds will have the National League’s best bullpen...again. Last season, Reds relievers led the league in ERA (2.65). They also led the league in saves (56), and in batting average against (.219). There are plenty of ways to judge bullpens, and we can usually pick and choose stats to prove any given point, but I’d say those are three pretty good ones right there. This season, I say the Reds ‘pen regresses a bit (they won’t get great seasons from Logan Ondrusek and Alfredo Simon, for instance) but the the fact that Chapman will be closing from the start, and Broxton will be there for a full season means they’ll get damn close to their success last year. Also, if what we’ve seen out of JJ Hoover this spring (1.74 ERA, 19 Ks, 2 BBs) translates, this group could be downright dominant.

9. Ryan Hanigan will fend off Devin Mesoraco. Sports fans love prospects. They symbolize unlimited potential. Endless possibilities. Really, really green grass. So it’s understandable that former first-round draftee catcher Devin Mesoraco’s .326 average this spring has everyone all aflutter. Mez has been around for awhile, so a breakout would surely be a welcome thing, especially since he’s rumored to have middle-of-the-order power potential. But, don’t sleep on Ryan Hanigan just yet. There’s a reason he was able to entrench himself as the Reds’ starting  catcher. The man can straight up catch. And when I say catch, I mean catch the balla nd throw out base-stealers, sure. But more importantly, he handles a pitching staff better than any Reds catcher in recent memory. Reds hurlers ERA is ALWAYS better when Hanigan catches, and usually to a significant degree. So yes, I am excited about Mesoraco’s potential at the plate. But when you’ve got a lineup that sports power and production one through six, I’ll sacrifice a few ding-dongs here and there if it means my pitching staff performs at an optimum level. Not to mention, Hanigan had the second-highest OBP amongst all Reds regulars last season, so it’s not like he’s walking to the plate with a wet noodle.

10. The Reds will finish with 94 wins, and another NL Central title. At first blush, it would seem the Reds are poised to match, or even top their 97-win total from a year before. They’ve added a leadoff hitter, strengthened their bench, and lost no one at all. However, the Reds were a bit lucky. They won a ton of one and two-run games, which means (no matter how good their bullpen was) a lot of balls bounced their way. More importantly, this year, for the first time in a while, the Reds won’t have the luxury of pounding the league’s step-children (the Astros) 18 times a year. Houston was forced to take their clown show to the AL West, so it will be on the Reds to find another team to bonk over the head with a rolling pin over and over again. Still, with the virtual retirement of Chris Carpenter and the loss of Lance Berkman, the St. Louis Voldemorts look to be slowing, meaning the path to a division title is clear. Bonus prediction? Not only do the Redlegs win the Central, they also win at least one playoff series as well.

Get excited, my countrymen. All of that and more begins today.

Play ball.

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