The Cincinnati Reds have been among the top teams in the National League since their glorious return to the playoffs in 2010. They’ve won the NL Central twice in the last four years and the playoffs three times. They won at least 90 games in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
But if the preseason Las Vegas lines hold true, this Reds team is about to take a big step back in 2014.
According to its latest odds, Bovada has the Reds at 22/1 to win the World Series are 22/1 and the over/under on total wins at just 84.5. That’s less than the Washington Nationals (88.5), Los Angeles Angels (86.5), New York Yankees (86.5) and San Francisco Giants (86.5) – each of whom won fewer games than Cincinnati last year.
For those of you counting, the 84.5 total is a whopping seven games worse than Bovada had the Reds last season (91.5 wins). The oft-injured 2013 club won 90 games en route to a Wild Card playoff berth.
So what’s the deal Sin City? What do you see that makes you believe that this year’s Cincinnati Reds will be so much worse – at least record-wise – than last year’s? My guess: the odds makers saw too many questions, the answers for which we won’t know until the season shakes out, to believe in a repeat performance.
Cincinnati has been criticized by many for their veritable lack of activity this offseason. Their biggest move this winter was the inking of reserve infielder Skip Schumacher, who will provide infield depth that the organization lacked a season ago but won’t compensate for some key departures.
The unknowns surrounding the 2014 Reds start at the helm. Dusty Baker has exited stage left. It’s now former pitching coach Bryan Price’s turn to call the shots. And no one has any idea what kind of manager he will be.
Price debuted with the Mariners in 2001 and quickly blossomed into one of the most well-respected pitching coaches in the league. He managed the Reds staff from 2010 through the 2013 season – the resurgent years in Cincinnati. But Price has never managed at the Big League level before. Or the minor league level, for that matter. There’s no point of reference to speculate whether he will be a hard-nosed or a player’s manager; whether he will manage by his gut or by the numbers; or how this crop of Reds players will respond to him.
The question marks don’t end there.
At lead off and in centerfield the Reds have said goodbye to reliable and will now have to rely on relative uncertainty.
Shin-Soo Choo was the model of consistency at lead-off for the Reds. His .426 on-base percentage ranked second in the National League. He swiped 20 bags and scored 107 runs. But Choo has been lost to free agency, signing with the Texas Rangers for seven years and $130 million – a number Cincinnati couldn’t possibly match.
Ready or not, the lead-off role is now Billy Hamilton’s. Price has already named the young speedster his Opening Day centerfielder. Hamilton is already must-see TV once on base. Reds fans watched in September as he single handedly turned games around with his prolific speed – as a pinch runner. But will he be able to actually get on base against Major League pitching? In a full season at AAA Louisville, Hamilton only managed a .308 on-base percentage, so the jury is still out.
And then there’s the starting rotation, arguably the strongest facet of Cincinnati’s game a season ago. Mainstay Bronson Arroyo is now an Arizona Diamondback, another casualty of free agency. The rubber-armed right hander had been nothing but quality for the Reds since 2006. But maybe more important than his on-field influence was the leadership and mentorship he was able to provide for younger, developing guys like Homer Bailey and Mike Leake.
With Arroyo gone, the Reds will turn to second-year man Tony Cingrani to anchor the fifth spot in the rotation. Cingrani showed a penchant for missing bats while filling in for the injured Johnny Cueto last season, but his repertoire consisted of 80 percent fastballs. Make no mistake, Cingrani’s fastball is a special pitch. But no matter how great a fastball is, Major League hitters will eventually catch up to it. Cingrani’s success will depend on the progress and effectiveness of his secondary pitches.
Without Arroyo, the Reds also lack depth at the starting pitching position. From what we’ve seen to date, there does not appear to be any more arms in the minor leagues that are close to Major League ready. If someone on Cincinnati’s staff goes down with an injury, the Reds could find themselves in a really tough spot.
The makeup of the 2014 Cincinnati Reds is remarkably similar to the makeup of the Reds teams from recent seasons past. There are certainly questions that we do not have answers to, and it seems like Vegas is fading toward the negative on each of them. But as a fan, I can’t help but feel greater excitement than worry.
Sure, Price could fall flat on his face as a manager. Hamilton could fail to get on base, and thus be unable to utilize his incredible speed. Cingrani could suffer a sophomore slump, or the rotation could suffer some sort of setback.
But on the other hand, Price could prove a more effective motivator for this group than Baker. Price could get more out of this obvious talent than his predecessor. Hamilton could figure out how to get on base at a reasonable clip (and if so, watch out). And Cingrani could mix in just a tad more off-speed stuff, keep hitters off balance, and continue to grow and thrive in the Majors. Those things could happen just as easily as not.
I was shocked when I saw 22/1 odds for the World Series. I was appalled when I saw an over/under line at 84.5 wins.
Call me a homer, but I’m taking the over all day.
02 The Lonesome Middle Relief Pitcher 2.mp3