Know The Enemy: Cincinnati Reds


Aug 9, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds mascot Mr Red Legs during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

"I wouldn’t bet on the Reds in 2015, even if I were Pete Rose. Unless, of course, I were taking the under."

Bruce Wayne need not become Batman if the Joker isn’t lurking. Is Randall P. McMurphy truly a renegade without Nurse Ratchet threatening a lobotomy? What fun is the night if the dawn isn’t scheduled to arrive?

A hero is merely another tic on the census exchanging pleasantries in the common feeder line without an enemy to expose the contrast.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are heroes to the black and gold faithful, thanks to their enemies in the National League Central. For the past handful of years, the Cincinnati Reds have hung their portraits high in the PNC Park rogue gallery.

Recall Aroldis Chapman beaning Andrew McCutchen with a 101-mph fastball. Or the notorious dust-up between Brandon Phillips and Jared Hughes. Or this.

I miss Russell Martin already.

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The Reds strutted into the 2014 All-Star Break with a 51-44 record, only 1 1/2 games out of first place. However, they staggered to the end of September by going 25-42 in the second half of the season, and finishing 14 games out of first place with a 76-86 record. The team accomplished three 90-win seasons in the four years  prior to 2014, but since, the Big Red Machine has been leaking oil. To blame the dead weight of dysfunctional contracts, or recent crippling injuries, is somewhat fair.

Reds fans likely wished to turn amnesia rays on themselves after last season. The 2014 squad scored the fewest runs of any Reds team since 1982, a season that saw 101 loses. The offense has been gradually trailing-off since 2010, when they scored 790 runs. First baseman Joey Votto‘s miserable 2014 campaign compounded the mounting woes. Votto will be entering the 3rd year of a 10-year, $225 mil contract; the deal includes a club option in 2024, when he turns 41. Eek! Votto only managed 6 home runs in 2014, along with 23 RBI and a career-worse .799 OPS. Injuries were largely to blame, as the 2010 NL MVP missed the second half of the season due to a quadriceps injury, and knee problems.

Until recently, Joey Votto was a one of MLB’s brightest stars, having been on the MVP radar ever year from 2009-2013, and boasting a 35.6 WAR over eight seasons. Perhaps 2014 was an aberration. If Votto can remain healthy and recapture some of the vigor of his dominant years, Reds ticket holders may not be so quick to advertise their seats on Stub Hub.

The Reds other biggest piece of artillery is 2014 NL Cy Young runner-up Johnny Cueto. The right-hander led the league with 242 innings and 242 strikeouts last year. He posted a 20-9 record, with a 2.25 ERA. As a matter of fact, Cueto’s ERA has been in the 2.00’s the last four seasons. But the Reds ace is in the walk-year of his contract. If things fall apart in Cincy early, Cueto could be overnight mailed to a contender.

Behind Cueto in the staring rotation is Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, and a hodgepodge of possibilities that include Dylan Axelrod, Anthony DeSclafani, and Homer Bailey, assuming he remains healthy. Bailey offers another cautionary tale to small-revenues teams. He’s entering the second year of a 6-year, $105 mil contract, which he signed after going 11-2, with a 3.49 ERA in 2013. However, he underwent surgery last September for a torn flexor tendon near his elbow. Furthermore, Cingranni had a poor showing last year, eventually being demoted to AAA Louisville before being shutdown with a shoulder injury. The off-season trades of Mat Latos and 2014 All-Star Alfredo Simon dealt a blow to the staff, and the Reds chances in 2015.

Besides Joey Votto, the rest of the offense largely consists of veterans hoping to recapture their prime years, or squeeze the most out of their waning years.

A bounce-back year from second baseman Brandon Phillips would be warmly welcomed in the Queen City. Phillips — a four-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All Star — dealt with a torn thumb tendon that required surgery in last July. He played in only 121 games and finished with a slash line of .266/.306/.372 with 8 home runs and 58 RBI. Not a typical Phillips campaign. Shortstop Zack Cozart (.221/.268/.300) offers a steady glove. Third basement Todd Frazier was an All-Star last year. He boasts a 2014 slash line of .273/.336/.459, with 29 home runs and 80 RBI. A reboot of his offensive contributions will be sorely needed in 2015.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are heroes to the black and gold faithful, thanks to their enemies in the National League Central. For the past handful of years, the Cincinnati Reds have hung their portraits high in the PNC Park rogue gallery.

Catcher Devin Mesoraco, of Punxsutawney, PA, has Reds fans hoping for a Groundhog Day/Bill Murray do-over of his outstanding 2014 campaign — year after year after year after year. The teams’ record with him as backstop was 51-54, but without him it was 25-32. His slash line of .273/.359/.534, with 25 home runs and 80 RBI, look even better when one considers he lugs the tools of ignorance when not in the batter’s box. Another former All-Star and MVP vote candidate from years prior, right fielder Jay Bruce, underwhelmed in 2014. He underwent knee surgery early in the year. In 137 games, he finished with a slash line of .217/.281/.373, with 18 home runs and 66 RBI. Speedy plus-defender center fielder Billy Hamilton has been surrounded by buzz since his call-up in 2013. Yes, his station-to-station prowess can be eye-popping, as he stole 56 bags last year. However, he was caught stealing 23 times, and struck out 117 times in 2014, with a .292 OBP. Not ideal for a lead-off hitter. Right fielder Marlon Byrd was attained in the off-season, and should offer a geriatric power lift. The 37 -year-old has enjoyed career highs in home runs the prior two years, with 24 and 24 respectively.

Despite, taking a line-drive to the head in spring last year, left handed fire-baller Aroldis Chapman quickly rebounded to his staple role as dominant closer. In 2014, he surpassed 35 saves for the third year in a row. Wielding a fast ball that routinely tops 100 mph, and a high-80’s slider and change-up, Chapman posted a 0.89 FIP last year, best among pitchers with at least 50 innings. Moreover, he averaged 17.7 K/9, with a .121 BAA. Fellow bullpen mates include: RHP Sam LeCure, RHP Jumbo Diaz, LHP Sean Marshall, LHP Manny Parra, and RHP J.J. Hoover. LeCure controls left-handed hitters, though he too is a southpaw, with a high-80’s sinker, and back-breaking curve ball. Jumbo Diaz isn’t quite so Jumbo, having slimmed-down about 40 ponds, from 310 lbs. Marshall is penciled-in as a reliable set-up man, and Parra and Hoover throw in the mid-90’s.

Here you have it, the 2015 Reds in a nutshell.

Key Off-Season Departures: OF Chris Heisey, RHP Mat Latos, OF Ryan Ludwick, RHP Logan Ondrusek, RHP Alfredo Simon

Key Off-Season Arrivals: OF Marlon Byrd, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, SS Eugenio Suarez

Pirates vs. Reds Schedule: Pirates Opening Day 2015 takes place April, 6 in Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. How fitting that the Pirates commence their six-month battle for the NL Central against a long-time nemesis. The first visit for the Reds at PNC Park is 5/5. The teams  meet on the following days — (Away) 4/6, 4/8, 4/9 — (Home) 5/5, 5/6, 5/7 — (Home) 6/23, 6/24, 6/25 — (Away) 7/30, 7/31, 8/1, 8/2 — (Away) 8/7, 8/8, 8/9 —  (Home) 10/2, 10/3, 10/4

Parting Words: 2015 certainly has the look of a down year on the banks of the Ohio River. For the Reds to contend, much must break right, and that normally doesn’t happen in baseball. Talent is present, but key veterans must rekindle old flames, and stay upright. If players like Votto and Bailey continue to slog along, their bloated contracts might bespeak of much anguish to come.  GM Walt Jocketty’s farm system has strengthened in recent years. Good thing, because a major rebuild may already be afoot.

All the better for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I leave you with the following: