What defined their 2019 campaign?
The Cincinnati Reds failed to reach the MLB postseason yet again but there were some very encouraging signs in their 2019 performance, which is hard to find in many other 75-87 teams. The Reds achieved an 11-win year-to-year improvement behind a solid first year for manager David Bell and behind a historic season to their starting rotation, which had the fifth-best ERA in the NL.
What pushed them back was one of the worst and least consistent batting lineups in all of baseball. Eugenio Suarez finished second in homeruns behind rookie sensation Pete Alonso, but what that took was sacrificing his ability to hit for batting average. All in all, the Reds scored just 701 runs and were out of it by August, despite being just 6 games behind first place in NL Central at the All-Star break.
Coming off a 4th-place finish in 2019, general manager Nick Kroll had lots of work ahead. After another busy winter, the task seems to have been successfully accomplished.
The Reds had a strong offseason that saw them complete multiple star signings. Mike Moustakas, one of 15 players with 100+ homers since 2017, and Castellanos, who had 1.002 OPS after being traded to the Cubs from the Tigers last year, could be the perfect additions to address the struggling batting line-up. That statement could become a certainty if Akiyama’s powerful NPB bat translates well into the majors.
Moustakas and Suarez, two of the best power hitters in the game, could be a scary sight for opposing pitchers. Castellanos brings the much-needed consistent hitter that could be a problem as Eugenio continues to swing for the fences at an even bigger rate than in his 49-homerun season.
Wade Miley effectively replaces Tanner Roark as the only change to the rotation at the start of the 2019 campaign. Miley’s 3.98 ERA and 14-6 record in 33 starts made for one of the most prolific seasons in his career. As his stats suggest, Miley was very solid for the Astros in 2019, with his .254 allowed batting average best a career-best (min. 30 starts).
Strengths and weaknesses
There’s no question that Castillo, with the run support the 2020 lineup could give him, is capable of ending up in the NL Cy Young conversation. Sonny Gray had an impressive 2.98 ERA with 11 wins on the mound during a big 2019 campaign. Miley and DeSclafani resemble a solid 4-5 duo, with both of them being able to thrive and take the next step. They, as well as all five of the Cincy starters, are durable on the mound, which could be a positive sign for a new-look bullpen.
Trevor Bauer had more to be frustrated about last year. The second half definitely wasn’t kind to him – just three starters had a higher ERA than Bauer’s 5.89. For one of the most talented starters in the league, that shouldn’t be a concern as much as it should be an indication of him making a comeback this upcoming MLB season.
Heart of the batting order
Possible one-through-four: Akiyama, Castellanos, Suarez, Moustakas
Rumors have been one-sided in stating that Akiyama is closer to a starting outfield job than Nick Senzel, and that, in such a case, the Japanese hitter could be the leadoff batter for the team. Considering that both him and Castellanos have no troubles getting knocks and reaching base, Suarez’s unbelievable OPS and four dozen homers will be more meaningful than ever. He needs to increase a career-low groundball percentage of 38.2% but, until he manages to do that, he’s got reinforcements in Moustakas, who had one of the best seasons he’s had in terms of driving in runs in Milwaukee.
Raisel Iglesias, despite dropping behind in the second half last season with 4.30 ERA, is in line for another 30-plus-save season. He’s got the middle-relieving group behind him to be effective on an everyday basis.
The Reds recently added former Chicago Cub Pedro Strop on a one-year deal to bring his talents to Great American Ball Park, where he’ll join Michael Lorenzen, coming off 1.91 ERA after the All-Star break, and the 13th-best bullpen in MLB, which also includes the likes of Amir Garret and Robert Stephenson.
Bottom of the batting order
As good of a job the Reds did to fill their holes on the field and in the lineup, which included bringing in Moustakas as a second baseman, they still have the lowly Freddy Galvis at shortstop and Tucker Barnhart at catcher, and that’s going to stay that way unless they don’t work out a last-minute trade for Francisco Lindor, which seems to be falling through by the day as Cleveland move closer to extending him.
Nick Senzel and Aristides Aquino, the young stars of the highlight-less Reds offensive production, surely can’t suffer from a hangover, right? They had momentum last year and started off hot. Now one of them will start in rightfield and second-year woes could create yet another questionable bat that needs quick answers.
The 2020 Reds provide the most hope and ambition Cincy fans will get to see in a long time. The 5-time World Series champions last won the NL Central in 2012 and last played an offseason clash the next year when they lost at Pittsburgh in the Wildcard game.
Two aggressive and smart years of offseason business for the Reds front office have established a contender in a declining division. PECOTA is projecting the Reds to win 86 games and the NL Central title, and rightfully so: the Brewers have lost depth in an already lacking rotation, the Cardinals once again lost a power bat, the Cubs seems poised to underachieve again and the Pirates will be watching from the couch at least a couple more years.
Best case: To say that Cincinnati can reach the top of the baseball world for the first time since 1990 would be a huge overreaction. However, they are, now more than ever in recent memory, a real contender and among the favourites to be crowned NL Central champions and even go on a respectable postseason run.
Worst case: The nightmare could look like this – Castellanos or Moustakas miss the year due to an injury, Suarez swings big, can’t hit and has a bad year, and everyone else in the lineup underperforms, even a good pitching staff across the board can’t save that. Also, if Luis Castillo doesn’t have another breakout year, it’d be difficult to foresee the rotation being anywhere as good as 2019.
Prediction: 89-73, 1st in NL Central, 3rd seed in National League