Reds enter ‘18 looking to get over the 90-loss hump

JARED MACDONALD AND EVAN DENNISON - [email protected] and [email protected]
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Three straight years of 90-plus loss seasons doesn’t provide much positivity around the Greater Cincinnati area.

The Cincinnati Reds made minimal moves in free agency and decided to stick with the process of adding pieces here or there while they wait on their youth to start impacting.

The Reds return the bulk of a lineup from a team that went just 68-94 last season. Cincinnati’s 753 runs scored during the season were the 14th-most in the majors last year. Last season was the third straight year the Reds lost at least 90 games and finished last in the NL Central, the worst stretch since a five-year stretch from 1930-1935.

Here’s a glimpse at what the lineup will likely look like when the Reds open the season against reigning NL Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals at 4:10 p.m. on Friday at Great American Ball Park.

1. BILLY HAMILTON – CF

Hamilton’s numbers dropped off last year after hitting .260 and recording a .321 on base percentage during the 2016 season. Last season, the center fielder hit .247 and his on base percentage fell under .300. Hamilton’s number of stolen bases has risen by one every year since 2014 when he stole 56 to 59 in 2017, but he was caught 13 times last year, as opposed to eight each of the two previous seasons. Despite his speed, if Hamilton continues to struggle to reach base, expect him to drop in the lineup.

2. EUGENIO SUAREZ – 3B

Suarez continued to improve last season, raising his batting average to .260 and his on base percentage to .367, which will be important hitting in front of Joey Votto. The righty, who signed a seven-year extension in March, also saw an increase in power last season, blasting 26 home runs and driving in 82 runs, both of which were improvements from the 2016 campaign. Suarez appeared in 156 games last season and spent most of his time at third. He only had nine errors in 379 total chances.

3. JOEY VOTTO – 1B

Votto returns after finishing second in the NL MVP voting to Giancarlo Stanton by two points last season. The first baseman played in all 162 games last year, recording a .320 batting average and a .454 on base percentage while hitting 36 home runs and racking up 100 RBIs. His on base percentage was the best in the majors and his batting average was sixth. He walked 134 times, the highest amount in the MLB and seven more than Aaron Judge’s 127. Votto was one of 23 players to record at least 100 RBIs last year. The Reds top hitter also provides stability on defense with a .997 fielding percentage last season, an improvement from .994 the previous year.

4. SCOOTER GENNETT – 2B

With the departure of Zack Cozart, Jose Peraza moves to full-time duty at short and Gennett will be at second base. Gennett played five different positions last season – right field, left field, third base, second base, and pitcher – with 87 of those games coming at second. He recorded a .981 fielding percentage playing there last year. Gennett hit .295 and provided some pop with 27 home runs – four of which came in a 13-1 rout of St. Louis in June. He was the first player in Reds history to hit four homers in a game and only the 17th in MLB history to do it. He also tied a team record with 10 RBIs in the win. He ended the season with 97 RBIs.

5. ADAM DUVALL – LF

Duvall appeared in 157 games, the second-most on the team behind Votto. In his second full season, he hit .249 with a .301 on base percentage – both improvements from 2016. He hit two less home runs than he did in 2016, finishing 2017 with 31, which was the second-most on the team, and he also finished second on the team with 99 RBIs – one shy of Votto’s 100. The outfielder did also lead the team in strikeouts with 170, which was tied with Jose Bautista for 13th-most in the MLB. Duvall showed improvement in left field, going from eight assists in 2016 to 15 last year and going from eight errors to six.

6. SCOTT SCHEBLER – RF

Schebler’s average dropped from .265 in 2016 to .233 last year. The right fielder appeared in 59 more games and had 216 more at bats last year than he did the previous season, so the Reds will look for the 27-year-old left-handed hitter to increase his consistency. He did show power last season, knocking out 30 homers. In addition to 120 games in right field, he also appeared in center field 15 times and had a combined .979 fielding percentage between the two outfield spots.

7. JOSE PERAZA – SS

Peraza will be sliding over in the infield to shortstop after spending most of his time at second last year. He appeared in 77 games at second in 2017 with a .990 fielding percentage, while playing in 55 games at short with a .972 fielding percentage. After showing promise at the plate with a .324 average over 72 games in 2016, Peraza hit .259 last season with only 18 of his 126 hits going for extra bases.

8. TUCKER BARNHART – C

With Devin Mesoraco’s inability to stay healthy, Barnhart has gotten time behind the plate and taken advantage. He excels defensively, something that will be important for a catcher on a team with a poor pitching staff. He claimed a gold glove last year, catching 32 runners attempting to steal and recording a .999 fielding percentage. His average at the plate has improved from .257 in 2016 to .270 last year and he hasn’t shown much power, hitting seven home runs each of the last two seasons.

9. HOMER BAILEY – P

The nine-hole is typically reserved for the pitcher, which will be Homer Bailey on Opening Day. Of the pitchers on the team last season, Bailey’s seven hits were the most. He hit .250 on the season, but Cincinnati’s pitchers combined to hit just .108 last year.

PITCHING

The Cincinnati Reds enter the 2018 season needing one key attribute to their season.

Health.

That’s not off to a good start.

What was a revolving door in the starting rotation as well as the bullpen in 2017, looks like it will be a similar case in 2018. The club needed 16 different starters in 2017, tied for second most in the Majors. The staff’s 5.55 ERA ranked last in the National League.

As the 25-man roster was finalized on Thursday, the club announced five pitchers will start the season on the Disabled List..Anthony DeSclafani (oblique), Brandon Finnegan (biceps strain), David Hernandez (shoulder inflammation), Michael Lorenzen (shoulder strain) and Kevin Shackelford (forearm strain). That’s in addition to Rookie Davis, whose been on the 60-day DL since before Spring Training started.

The good news out of that is four of the five are on the 10-day DL, DeSclafani is on the 60-day DL.

Henceforth, here’s a look at the Reds rotation and bullpen spots as they enter Opening Day (kind of) on Friday against the Washington Nationals.

THE ROTATION (for now):

Homer Bailey- Oddly enough, Bailey will be making his first ever Opening Day start. He ‘s getting paid like an ace and needs to start showing it. Health has derailed him the last few years with three elbow surgeries since 2014, all this happened after signing a 6-year, $105 million-dollar deal after the 2013 season. During that stretch, Bailey has thrown just 125.1 innings, going 8-13 with a 6.21 ERA, yikes…

Luis Castillo- Castillo is intriguing. As a rookie who skipped Triple-A ball and went to the Majors, he showed he has potential ace-like stuff. He consistently throws in the high 90s and at 25, has a four-pitch arsenal. In his rookie season, Castillo went 3-7 with a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts with 32 walks and 98 strikeouts. In Spring Training, Castillo had four starts, throwing 13.1 innings, giving up 18 hits, seven earned runs and posting a 4.73 ERA.

Sal Romano- Slated to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, injuries to DeSclafani and Finnegan thrust him into the third spot in the rotation currently. Romano initially struggled in the big leagues, but posted a 3.17 ERA over his final eight starts of the season in ‘17. He throws a wicked fastball that was rated best in the system in 2016.

Tyler Mahle- Another one with minimal experience in the Big Leagues with just four starts under his belt. Mahle has been up and down since being drafted by the Reds in 2013. In 2015, he was selected as the Reds’ Minor League Player of the Year but didn’t produce the way the organization wanted him to in 2016. He bounced back in 2017, posting a 2.06 ERA in the minors before getting the late season call-up, going 1-2 in four starts with a 2.70 ERA.

Cody Reed- Coming over from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto trade, not sure if the Reds know what to do with the lefty yet. He’s struggled as a starter, going 1-8 with a 6.75 ERA. As a reliever, he’s fared much better with 12 appearances last season out of the ‘pen, posting a 1.72 ERA over 15.2 innings. Imagine that’s where he’ll end back up once some players return from injury, but for now he’s in the rotation, most likely for the short time being.

THE BULLPEN:

Austin Brice- Relies on getting the ground ball with his sinker and slight sidearm action. Brice will be relied upon when runners are on base and they’re thinking double play to either minimize damage in an inning or to get out of one.

Jared Hughes- Comes over via free agency from Milwaukee. Hughes has been able to specialize in keeping opposing hitters from hitting fly balls, similar to Brice. He’ll be relied upon to keep the ball in the park, a feat Reds’ relievers haven’t fared well with in the past couple of seasons.

Kevin Quackenbush- What a last name. Quackenbush comes over from San Diego, appearing in 20 games last year, throwing 26.1 innings with a porous 7.86 ERA. If that holds up, his stay in Cincinnati won’t be long.

Jackson Stephens- A wildcard who will probably have a short stay once more arms are healthy.

Zack Weiss- See Jackson Stephens.

Amir Garrett- Interesting to note that the Reds chose Mahle and Reed over Garrett for a Tuesday start against the Cubs. Garrett will be relied upon for long relief for the time being, but could easily be thrust into the rotation at any sign of struggle from one or a couple of the starters. Positive note for him was putting together a great spring with six earned runs allowed and a 21:4 K:BB in 17 Cactus League innings.

Wandy Peralta- Appeared in 69 games last year, tops among rookies in the Majors last year. Assume he’ll be the horse in the pen again this year.

Raisel Iglesias (will start on the 3-day paternity list)- Will be the no doubt closer upon return. Iglesias is one of the rare closers in baseball that can go multiple innings to get the job done. Manager Bryan Price showed no fear going to Iglesias in the eighth inning last season, as he registered eight of his 28 saves with two or more innings pitched.

BENCH

JESSE WINKER – OF

Winker is expected to be part of a regular rotation of Reds outfielders this season, after appearing in 47 games last year and posting a .298 average. He’s expected to start at least one game of the Reds first series of the season. In 2017, he hit seven homers and drove in 15 runs in 121 at bats. The 24-year-old lefty has had a strong spring, hitting .347 with 10 RBIs.

PHILLIP ERVIN – OF

In 58 at bats last season, the righty recorded 15 hits, including three home runs, and drove in 10 runs. He’s expected to be the Cincinnati’s fifth outfielder and spent time at all three outfield spots last year, with half of the time spent in center field and the other half split between right and left field.

DEVIN MESORACO – C

Mesoraco’s main goal will likely be to make it through the 2018 season healthy, after being plagued by injuries in past years. He’ll back up Barnhart after appearing in 56 games last year and a combined 39 in the two seasons before that. Mesoraco hit .213 in 141 at bats last season, after recording only seven hits in 2016 and eight in 2015 in a combined 95 at bats.

PHIL GOSSELIN – INF/OF

After stops in Atlanta, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Texas, Gosselin has landed in Cincinnati. He appeared in a combined 40 games last season with the Pirates and Rangers and posted just a .146 average. In 256 major league games, Gosselin has recorded a .270 batting average with six home runs and 33 RBIs. He provides versatility where it may be needed, playing first base, second base, third base, shortstop, right field and left field at different points in his career, with the majority of the time coming at second.

CLIFF PENNINGTON – INF/OF

Pennington prepares for a return to the National League after spending the last two years with the Angels and part of 2015 with Toronto. Prior to that, he spent parts of three seasons in Arizona. Like Gosselin, Pennington has appeared at multiple positions – left field, shortstop, third base, second base and first base – with the most coming at short. He’s a career .243 hitter and is coming off a season where he hit .253 in 87 games.

PREDICTIONS:

Evan Dennison- Reds go 74-88, finish 4th in NL Central

Jared MacDonald- Reds go 78-84, finish 4th in NL Central

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A potent lineup paired with an inexperienced pitching staff creates optimism, skepticism

JARED MACDONALD AND EVAN DENNISON

[email protected] and [email protected]