What follows is the first of a series of four articles providing a look at the Pirate’s NL Central Rivals going into 2017:
As we get ready for what should hopefully be an exciting and successful season, I’m going to be examining the outlook of other NL Central teams. Almost half the Pirates’ schedule is composed of these teams so we’re going to be seeing a lot of them. Because of this, I think it’s worth getting to know them better and getting an idea of what to expect. Before the season starts I’m going to give a look at each, going in reverse order of their 2016 finish. That means first up are the Cincinnati Reds, who finished last season at the bottom of the division.
2016 Record: 68-94
Pirates Record vs. Reds in 2016: 10-9
- Catcher: Devin Mesoraco
- First Base: Joey Votto
- Second Base: Jose Peraza
- Third Base: Eugenio Suarez
- Shortstop: Zack Cozart
- Left Field: Adam Duvall
- Center Field: Billy Hamilton
- Right Field: Scott Schebler
Games vs. Pirates
- At Pittsburgh: April 10-12, August 1-3, September 1-3 (9 games)
- At Cincinnati: May 1-4, August 25-27, September 15-17 (10 games)
Reds 2017 Outlook
The Reds have fallen on tough times since losing to the Pirates in the 2013 Wild Card Game. Last year they began a rebuild in earnest. As a result, 2016 was generally a long and difficult year for the Reds. Not only did they finish in the last place in the division, but they tied for last in the National League with San Diego. Only the Minnesota Twins, with their abysmal 59-103 record, had a worse season than Reds. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, things are unlikely to significantly improve this season. The Reds’ front office spent the offseason getting rid of a couple of veterans while building up their farm system. The Reds aren’t close to contending again and they will likely finish 2017 at the bottom of the division again.
The most notable move that the Reds made this offseason was trading away Brandon Phillips. Their longtime Second Baseman is with Atlanta now and Cincinnati will have someone else there for the first time since 2005.
That person will likely be Jose Peraza, who impressed with a .324/.352/.411 slash line in 256 plate appearances last season. However, a high BABIP in 2016 (.361) means he will be unlikely to replicate those numbers over a full season. 2017 will likely be Peraza’s first full season as the Red’s permanent Second Basemen. How he does in his first full campaign and his continued development will be something to watch this season.
Also gone from the Reds is Pitcher Dan Straily, who they traded to Miami this offseason. Straily only spent one season with the Reds after bouncing around a few teams beforehand. However, he was a solid innings-eater (191.1 in 2016), which are hard to come by on bad teams like the Reds. However, Straily is unlikely to replicate his 2016 as his FIP and xFIP were both significantly higher than his ERA (4.88 and 5.02 vs. 3.76) and he benefitted from an abnormally low BABIP (.239). Additionally, his 14-8 record may have jumped out to the Marlins, but that metric is pretty meaningless. The Reds shrewdly sold high on Straily and flipped him for 3 prospects (Luis Castillo, Isaiah White, and Austin Brice).
Despite this prospect haul that the Reds received for Straily, his departure is a significant subtraction from an already lackluster rotation. Normally their rotation could be considered serviceable with Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani at the top. Unfortunately, neither of them will likely be available when the season opens next month.
DeSclafani shouldn’t be sidelined long, but Bailey was placed on the 60-Day Disabled List after undergoing elbow surgery this month. He is hoping to return by June 1, but he will be sorely missed from the Reds rotation for a sizable chunk of the season. 23-year-old Brandon Finnegan will likely get the Opening Day start for the Reds with DeSclafani and Bailey out. How he does in what will be his second full season will go a long way towards determining whether the Reds finish in last place or not.
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Still with the Reds is Joey Votto. The Reds, who have him under contract through 2023, are likely hoping that he’ll still be a productive player when they emerge from this current rebuild. However, the former MVP hasn’t made an All-Star team since 2013 and saw his fWAR dip by 2.5 from 2015 to 2016. Granted that was from an already sky-high 7.5 down to 5.0. However, Votto is 33 and his fielding performance had a marked downturn in 2016. Votto had consistently had a positive UZR/150 throughout his career and had posted between 2.0 and 2.5 from 2013-2015. In 2016 though it plummeted down to -6.6. Given this and his age, one wonders if Votto has enough left in the tank to see the other side of this rebuild.
So how can we expect the Pirates to do against the Reds in 2017? Though the Pirates went 10-9 against the Reds last season, this has to be considered a disappointment given their putrid record. In fact, a recurring theme you will see in these articles is that the Pirates underperformed against NL Central foes in 2016.
Needless to say the Pirates the Pirates need to rack up wins against the Reds since they are unlikely to do much better than .500 against either the Cardinals or Cubs. The schedule-makers seemed to have helped the Pirates out here as they get 12 of their 19 games in August and September. The Reds will likely have little to play for by then and the Pirates should hopefully rack up vital wins during the season’s stretch run.
Overall, the Reds are going to be right around as bad as they were last year, while the Pirates should be better. That alone would be worth a few games. Couple that with the timing of many of their matchups and I could see the Pirates going 13-4 or 14-5 against the Reds this year. If you want to check out the Reds, they’re coming to PNC Park during the first homestand April 10-12.
*Offseason Additions and Departures courtesy of espn.com
*Stats courtesy of baseball reference and FanGraphs