Pitching still main chapter for Reds

Published 11:14 pm Friday, March 23, 2018

Cincinnati Reds 2017 the Sequel.
The script originally called for the new baseball season to be entitled the Cincinnati Reds 2018. But there were so many similarities in the plot that it was basically last year’s show just revised that make one think of abominations such as Home Alone 3, all the Police Academy movies and Blair Witch 2.
Um, actually the original Blair Witch was awful on its own.
The Reds have one of the best offenses and defenses in baseball, and it looks like they’ve improved the bullpen. That’s the good part of this script that carried over to the sequel.
But their success this season again hinges on the pitching, or rather starting pitching in particular.
Last season the Reds’ starting rotation was crippled from the start. First, Anthony DeSclafani – the best starter — went out with an oblique injury in spring training and missed the entire season.
This spring he had more problems and will miss at least the early part of the season but possibly more.
Brandon Finnegan began last season with the kind of success that made fans excited. That last about as long as an ice cream cone on a concrete street in Florida.
Guess what? Finnegan is having biceps problems, a precursor to an elbow injury. Go see the team doctor and report back sometime in the distant future.
Although he missed more than half of last season, Homer Bailey returned and was shaky at best. He looked better down the stretch but his prospects this season are a mystery.
That was $10 million a year well spent.
Luis Castillo came up toward the end of last season and gave the Reds and their fans some hope. He was excellent even though he wasn’t expected in the major league for at least another year.
Sal Romano got better the more he pitched and should be solid. Tyler Mahle got a quick look toward the end of the season and did well. Both could end up in the rotation and be effective.
Amir Garrett started well last season but digressed rapidly. He has been better this spring and could be a solid starter if he doesn’t revert to becoming a sequel of himself from last year.
Even Bailey could be one of the starters and…ah, who are we kidding. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that he doesn’t get hurt. We’ll know soon enough since he has been awarded the Opening Day starting job.
Speaking of the bullpen, the Reds’ have a bonafide closer in Raisel Iglesias who could return to the rotation if needed and two off-season additions perform as hoped.
The two pickups were free agents Jared Hughes who had a solid season with the Milwaukee Brewers and David Hernandez.
There’s also Michael Lorenzen who is being looked at as a starter but could return to the bullpen. Given the Reds’ luck regarding injuries, look for Lorenzen to be in the rotation.
Wandy Peralta was effective as a left-handed reliever but Austin Brice, Kevin Shackleford and Cody Reed are all too inconsistent.
The everyday lineup is much like the original script but with a few twists.
Pitching aside, the starting lineup has lost All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart to the Angels in free agency, but Jose Peraza will shift from second base to fill that role.
Peraza is good defensively but his offense took a hit last season and his confidence was flushed down the toilet in the process. If he falters again, top prospect Nick Senzel is only a phone call away.
The main offensive weapon continues to be All-Star first baseman Joey Votto who led the team and the National League in almost every offensive category. He batted .320 with 36 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
Votto led the majors with 134 walks and was second in the MVP voting to Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth closest voting in history.
At 34, Votto still appears to have some gas left in the tank and said he has no plans to be traded or test free agency.
Scooter Gennett was claimed off waivers from the Brewers and merely had a monster season as he hit .295 with 27 home runs and 97 RBI.
Meanwhile, the Brewers second base position became a dumpster fire.
I don’t think I would have like to have been in the meetings with Milwaukee’s general manager and owner. Well, actually I would.
Eugenio Suarez got a seven-year contract extension for good reason. He secured his third base job with excellent defense while hitting .260, slugging 26 home runs and driving in 82.
Tucker Barnhart won a Gold Glove and entrenched himself behind the plate as he threw out 44 percent of attempted base stealers. His offense improved but with a healthy Devin Mesoraco this season, there may be more platooning.
Mesoraco is good defensively but has been injured most of the last three seasons. If his offensive game returns, so will more playing time.
The outfield is strong and deep.
Adam Duvall had a second straight 30 home run season and will be in left. Billy Hamilton is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game but his weak offensive game was even worse last season and he was on the trading block during the winter months.
Scott Schebler hit 30 home runs in while batting sixth and was very good defensively. Although he doesn’t have Hamilton speed, he does have excellent speed that could allow him to move to centerfield if Hamilton struggles or gets traded.
Jesse Winker has proven he can hit and is adequate defensively. Winker could be a backup to Duval or Schebler or possibly take over in rightfield if Schebler moves to center.
Now for the surprise ending.
The Reds made the playoffs three of four seasons from 2010 to 2013. However, they have lost 94 or more games in the last three years.
Given that the Reds avoid any major injuries – which appears doubtful – this team will be better than any team in the past five years.
Now, don’t expect the Reds to win the division or even make the playoffs. But this team has the potential to be in the playoff hunt late into the season.
If the Reds can improve that much, the next sequel might be more like The Godfather 2 instead of The Blues Brothers 2000.
Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.

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