Reds want to write best-seller for 2021 season
Never judge a book by its cover, especially if it was written by the Cincinnati Reds.
Yes, the Reds made the playoffs for the first time since 2013. However, the playoffs were expanded due to pandemic season of 2020 that had teams play just 60 games and the Reds were just 31-29 and squeezed in during the final weekend of the season.
So, what should be a positive outlook heading into 2021 is just another season that has a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.
The first answer needed is the $25,000-a-year question of a 37-year-old first baseman and if he can perform well enough to be a factor or start looking at retirement homes.
Future Hall of Fame candidate Joey Votto must improve on last season’s numbers of a .226 batting average with 11 home runs and 22 runs batted in. It is the third straight season of declining numbers for the former 2010 National League Most Valuable Player.
Votto says he is going to change his approach this season — again — and quite worrying about putting the ball in play and return to being more of a power hitter.
In 2017, Votto was the runner-up by one point for the National League MVP with a .320 batting average, 36 HRs and 100 RBIs. But the was followed by .284, 12 and 67 in 2018 and .261, 15 HRs and 47 RBIs in 2019.
Votto began the spring camp strong but was sidelined when he tested positive for COVID-19 and was on the IL for 10 days.
The biggest bat in the lineup is third baseman Eugenio Suarez who struggled last season coming off an injury that required surgery. Suarez hit 49 home runs the previous season but hit 15 HRs with 38 HRs while batting .202 in the shortened season.
Suarez has lost some weight and hopefully will be the answer to the shortstop position. Suarez has played third base in the past but his original position was shortstop.
The acquisitions last season of Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama didn’t exactly light up the scorecard which was a part of the reason the Reds’ team batting average of .212 was the worst in the major leagues.
Moustakas — who is known for offense and not defense — hit just .230 last season with 8 home runs and 27 runs batted in. He will shift from second base to his original position of third base.
Akiyama was supposed to bring a big bat to the lineup but only batted .245with no HRs and 9 RBI. He is expected to share the center field duties with Nick Senzel who has battled through injuries the past two seasons.
Last season, Senzel batted an anemic .186 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs as he continued to battle injuries.
Nick Castellanos — a free agent acquisition last season — hit. .230 with 14 homers and 34 RBI and will be back in right field. Left field will go to Jesse Winker who hit .255 with 12 HRs and 23 RBI.
The emergence of non-roster rookie Jonathan India has enabled Moustakas to return to third base. India had a very strong spring and will get the start at second base.
Utility man Kyle Farmer can play catcher, outfield and infield and expressed his desire to have a chance to play shortstop this season. He proved himself in the field last season and has a better bat (.266 BA) than any other option. He dropped some weight to become more mobile and was impressive during the Reds’ training camp making him the leading candidate at shortstop.
Two sleepers to make the team are Max Schrock and Jonathan India who pounded the ball during the spring. Schrock can play second base while India can play third and second.
The Reds chose not to re-sign Curt Casali leaving the catching duties to former Gold Glove award winner Tucker Barnhart (.204, 5 HR, 13 RBI). But the Reds are high on Tyler Stephenson who play in just eight games last season but hit .294 with 2 HRs and 6 RBI.
And, there’s always Farmer who can be part of the mix.
Off the bench will be versatile Alex Blandino, outfielders Aristedis Aquino and Tyler Naquin and infielder Max Schrock.
The loss of Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to free agency leaves a hole in the rotation but the Reds shouldn’t be devastated by the loss.
The starting rotation is expected to be Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Wade Miley and Jeff Hoffman who was acquired in a trade. Jose De Leon is another option but will start in the bullpen.
Michael Lorenzen was expected to take a rotation spot but he bulked up over the offseason and lost some velocity off his 98-mile an hour fastball. When he began to loosen up and regain some of his speed, he suffered a slight injury and will start the season in the bullpen.
Another starting pitcher option could be budding star Tejay Antone who will start the season in the bullpen.
“He’s looked very locked in. He has had the best fastball I’ve seen — that’s saying a lot because it was so good last year — him throw. He is throwing it right where he wanted to in the upper 90s. We become accustomed to him being very focused and determined,” said Bell.
Former first-round draft pick Hunter Greene is another candidate but he came off Tommy John surgery but he will start the season in the minors.
Gray was 5-3 last season with a 3.70 earned run average. Bauer — who won the first Cy Young Award by a Reds’ pitcher — had an ERA of 1.73. Castillo was 4-6 and had a 3.21 ERA.
Offensively, the Reds scored an average of 5.5 runs a game for Gray but just 2.8 for Castillo which was the third lowest total in the league for 69 pitchers who had at least seven starts.
Reds’ pitchers led the National League with pitchers throwing 100 pitches in 20 games including six games with 110 or more pitches. With younger arms in the rotation, the Reds may be more likely to repeat that trend this season and the totals will rise considering there will be 162 games instead of 60.
Lorenzen is still an option in center field and to pinch-hit on his days off if he gets back in the rotation. Two years ago, he became the first player since Babe Ruth to have a game in which he was the winning pitcher, played the outfield and hit a home run.
Last season, Lornezen played just four innings in center field and was a pinch runner four times while only getting one plate appearance and it ended with him getting hit by a pitch.
The Reds traded closer Raisel Iglesias who had more blown saves than actual saves. The leading candidate to take over the closer role is Amir Garrett but Lucas Sims has been strong in the spring and could make for a two-headed monster as the closer.
The Reds signed free agent Sean Doolittle but the left-hander hasn’t been as sharp as the Reds have hoped coming off an injury that sidelined him for most of last season.
Also, in the bullpen will be Cionel Perez, Sal Romano and Cam Bedrosian should make up the rest of the bullpen.
There has been a lot of talk about whether to allow or ban the infield shift against batters and the Reds would probably be on the side of a ban.
Last season, the Reds lost 74 hits to the shift while getting 40 hits. The net loss of 30 hits was the most in the major leagues. That loss of hits cost the team 16 points off the team batting average.