The Cincinnati Reds were on the brink of reaching the National League Championship Series in 2012. Dusty Baker's team is looking to take the next step in 2013 after acquiring some major pieces in the offseason.
Cincinnati won the NL Central and finished with the second-best record in the majors with 97 wins.
97 wins was the most Cincinnati has had since the Big Red Machine days. Making the accomplishment even more impressive was the team's 32-16 record without All-Star and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto.
Cincinnati was one win away from defeating the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 NLDS. Now the team has to use that heartbreak to try and bring the World Series back to Cincinatti.
In the offseason, the team went out and addressed its need for a leadoff hitter and then re-signed power-hitting left fielder Ryan Ludwick. On paper, the Reds are one of the favorites to win the NL pennant.
With a balanced lineup and strong pitching staff this gives the team its best chance to win it all since the 1990 season.
Here's a preview of the how Cincinnati stacks up in 2013.
2012 Record: 97-65 (lost 3-2 to Giants in NLDS)
Key Departures: 3B Scott Rolen (retirement), CF Drew Stubbs (to Cleveland), SS Didi Gregorius (to Arizona), UT Miguel Cairo (retirement), UT Wilson Valdez (FA), C Dioner Navarro (FA), RHP Ryan Madson (FA).
Projected Rotation (courtesy of Reds.com)
1. Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 217 IP)
2. Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 209.1 IP)
3. Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 202 IP)
4. Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 208 IP)
5. Aroldis Chapman (1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 71.2 IP, 38 SV)*
6. Mike Leake (8-9, 4.58 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 179 IP)*
*Depends on spring training and how the team controls Chapman's innings
Closer: RHP Jonathan Broxton (R) (25 G, 3-3, 4 SV, 2 BLSV, 10 HLD, 2.82 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)
LHP Sean Marshall (73 G, 5-5, 9 SV, 4 BLSV, 22 HLD, 2.51 ERA, 1.61 WHIP)
RHP Sam LeCure (48 G, 3-3, 1 BLSV, 7 HLD, 3.14 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)
RHP Logan Ondrusek (63 G, 5-2, 2 SV, 4 BLSV, 13 HLD, 3.46 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)
RHP Alfredo Simon (36 G, 3-2, 1 SV, 1 HLD, 2.66 ERA, 1.43 WHIP)
RHP Jose Arredondo (66 G, 6-2, 1 SV, 1 BLSV, 12 HLD, 2.95 ERA,1.38 WHIP)
LHP Manny Parra (62 G, 2-3, 2 BLSV, 9 HLD, 5.06 ERA, 1.65 WHIP)
Projected Starting Lineup
CF Shin-Soo Choo (.283 AVG/.373 OBP, 16 HR/67 RBI)
2B Brandon Phillips (.281/.321, 18/77)
1B Joey Votto (.337/.474, 14/56)
LF Ryan Ludwick (.275/.346, 26/80)
RF Jay Bruce (.252/.327, 34/99)
3B Todd Frazier (.273/.331, 19/67)
SS Zack Cozart (.246/.288, 15/35)
C Ryan Hanigan (.274/.365, 2/24)
OF Chris Heisey (.265/.315, 7/31)
OF Xavier Paul (.314/.379, 2/7)
3B Jack Hannahan (.244/.312, 4/29)
C Devin Mesoraco (.212/.288, 2/14)
UT Cesar Izturis (.241/.254, 2/11)*
*Battle will come down to Izturis, a non-roster invitee, and Jason Donald
Scouting the Starting Pitching
The biggest surprise in Cincinnati in 2012 was the starting pitching depth. It will be tough to duplicate last season's success while the starting rotation is extremely young. 2013 will prove how valuable playoff experience really is for young players.
Bronson Arroyo is the only starter who is older than 27 years old (Johnny Cueto just turned 27 last week).
It's tough to find an area that the starters struggled in. Cincinnati was the only team in the majors to not have a starter miss a start due to injury, and they were the only team to have all five starters throw at least one complete game.
The rotation finished fifth in the majors with a 3.64 ERA despite pitching in Great American Ball Park. It finished only behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the most innings thrown in baseball and tied the Detroit Tigers with nine complete games.
Barring injuries, the rotation should be even better in 2013.
Johnny Cueto entered September with a 17-6 record and a 2.48 ERA. He was among the leaders in the NL Cy Young race, but he fell off in September in which he went a pedestrian 2-3 with a 4.33 ERA.
The 27-year-old pitched phenomenally during day games over the 2012 season. He compiled an impressive 12-2 record and 1.99 ERA in 17 starts.
Cueto is no longer just a strikeout pitcher.
He has learned how to let his defense back him up as he progresses. He added a twist in his throwing rotation, which helps him hide the ball from hitters.
In 217 innings, Cueto walked only 49 hitters while, holding right-handed batters to a .220 average.
Unfortunately he left Game 1 of the NLDS after only eight pitches with an oblique injury, and the Reds had trouble filling his spot later in the series. A full offseason to recover should be enough time for the injury to heal and have him ready to go for the start of 2013.
He got off to a rocky April, but finished the year strong. Although, April has always been a rough month for him, the right-hander has been able to turn it around as the season goes on. He went 14-2 after the first month of the season and didn't allow opponents to hit over .236.
Latos threw back-to-back complete games, June 25 and 30. Then threw seven shutout innings in his following start. In 11 of his final 13 starts (not including his final start), he went at least seven innings.
He showed that he has what it takes to be a great No. 2 workhorse .
Consistency is the key for every team. Bronson Arroyo has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball since joining the Reds in 2006.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old rebounded from an off-year in 2011 and regained his regular form. Arroyo again threw over 200 innings and cut down on his allowed home runs.
Fans questioned why Baker went with Arroyo in Game 2 of the NLDS, and the veteran responded by throwing seven innings of one-hit baseball against San Fransisco.
In what could be his final year with the Reds, Arroyo should have no shortage of motivation to go out strong. He has never had to miss a start with the team, so expect him to put up his usual numbers in 2013.
The biggest surprise of 2012 was Homer Bailey. The right-hander took a giant leap into stardom.
He got off to a little bit of a rough start, but he caught fire in the middle of the season and ended the season as one of the team's hottest pitcher.
With Ryan Hanigan behind the plate, Bailey allowed less than two runs in a start in seven of his final eight starts of the year. On September 28, he threw a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates .
Bailey led the majors with a 2.32 road ERA, and he began to pitch well at home down the stretch.
The 26-year-old has turned into a great big-game pitcher, and he will continue to turn himself into a legitimate No. 2 for the future in Cincinnati.
The major question heading into spring training: What will Aroldis Chapman's role be?
For the second straight spring, he will get a chance to make the starting rotation. Unless Jonathan Broxton gets hurt, Chapman will likely be in the rotation at some point this season.
It took until Chapman made over two dozen appearances before he allowed his first earned run last year. He had a rough stretch of about two weeks following that, but once he regained his form, he was untouchable through August.
He battled fatigue in September, so it will be interesting to see how his arm holds up if he is a starter all year.
The southpaw has a nasty fastball-slider combination, but he will need to develop his changeup more as a starter.
It's not realistic to expect him to have a WHIP of 0.81 or a strikeouts per nine innings rate of 15.32 as a starter. He put those numbers up as a reliever in 2012, but moving to the rotation will be a learning experience.
Control will be the key for Chapman. He won't be able to throw 95-100 MPH every pitch, so he will need to spot his pitches consistently.
If Chapman struggles or gets injured, Mike Leake will likely be called upon to be the No. 5 starter.
Leake was more than adequate as a No. 5 starter last year. He took a step back from his 2011 season, but everyone else in the rotation made him look like a weak link.
The 25-year-old had a 5.54 ERA at home last season. On the road, he had an ERA of 3.65 and allowed nearly half as many home runs on the road than he did at home.
Most teams would be thrilled with having a No. 5 starter like Leake, but the Reds are looking to make this great rotation even better. The Chapman experiment will be interesting to watch, and it will have an impact on the bullpen.
Scouting the Bullpen
The Reds had the best bullpen in baseball last season, and the battle for spots will be tight in the spring.
Cincinnati's bullpen had a 2.65 ERA in 2012 and led the league with 56 saves. The combination of Sean Marshall, Broxton and Chapman in the final three innings made it tough for teams to get anything going.
The Cincinnati bullpen led the NL with a .219 average against and finished second in the league with a 1.22 WHIP.
The bullpen will depend on what the team decides to do with Chapman.
Broxton will enter the spring as the closer. He was phenomenal at home after he came over from Kansas City in July as he posted a 1.57 ERA. He was also dominant against lefties and held them to a .219 average.
The 28-year-old had a 1.25 ground ball to fly ball ratio, which comes in handy at GABP. His strikeouts per nine innings ratio and strikeout to walks ratio improved after the trade as well.
Southpaw Sean Marshall started 2012 as the closer but moved to the setup role in May. He went through two stretches of being very stingy with runs last season. During a stretch from May to beginning of July, he allowed one run in 19 appearances. Starting with his final appearance in August, he did not allow an earned run in any of his final 18 appearances, including the playoffs.
He posted a career-high 10.92 strikeouts per nine innings. He owned lefties by holding them a .173 average. Marshall was phenomenal all year and thrived in the setup role.
Sam LeCure also posted a career-high of 9.58 strikeouts per nine and was used to get the team out of tough jams. Like many of the other relievers, he thrived against left-handed hitters. He held them to a .208 average.
Like Chapman, Logan Ondrusek was unbelievable to start the year, posting 17 straight scoreless appearances.
He didn't have an ERA below 3.00 in any month for the rest of the season. He held lefties to a .190 average, but it wasn't enough to help him avoid getting demoted to Louisville in August.
Alfredo Simon was picked up right before Opening Day last year and had a rough first few outings.
He is often overlooked because he doesn't have dominant stuff or pitch when the team is winning. Simon would come into games when the starter got knocked out early. He was able to go multiple innings and save the rest of the bullpen for other games.
Despite going 3-0 at home and 0-2 on the road, he was one of the few relievers who pitched better on the road.
Jose Arredondo pitched mainly when the Reds were losing, but he was very effective against lefties. He held them to a .165 average, which was over 100 points lower than it was against right-handed hitters.
He was last on the team by allowing 36 percent of inherited runners to score, so learning how to get out of jams will be key.
The final spot will be the toughest to hand out. There are three potential competitors: Chapman/Leake, Parra and Hoover. Leake needs to get work on a consistent basis, so he should either be in the rotation in Cincinnati or in Louisville. Parra will make it if Chapman goes to the rotation because it gives the team a second southpaw. Hoover was great as a rookie, but he has options still.
Parra was a late signing, but he is likely to earn the final bullpen spot because he is a left-hander. Marshall is the only other projected left-hander, but he will serves as a setup man.
It was an odd signing because he hasn't had an ERA below 5.00 in three years and the bullpen was the best in baseball.
Scouting the Hitting
The Reds took a step back on offense in 2012, but it should be a strength in 2013. They had the worst production out of the leadoff spot and the lowest run production out of their catchers.
Shin-Soo Choo was brought in to be the leadoff hitter. He will strike out (155 times in 2012).. The left-handed hitter hit .310 and had an OBP of .389 while hitting in the top spot last year. He added 12 home runs and 42 RBI as the leadoff man in Cleveland.
While hitting in the top spot, Brandon Phillips hit only .202 last season. He hit .301 outside of the top spot, and that's without having Joey Votto behind him.
Phillips will hit No. 2 and have Votto behind him, so he should see plenty of pitches.
The second baseman loves to swing early in the count, and he hit .308 in at-bats that lasted two pitches or less. Pitchers will be forced to give him fastballs early and avoid pitching from behind.
Choo was brought in so the Reds could have runners on base for Votto. The first baseman led the league with 36 doubles before he got hurt, and he kept hitting after he returned from the disabled list. He didn't have any home runs after returning to the lineup, so that will be a concern.
Despite the lack of power after returning, he got on base in half of his plate appearances. He got on base for the hitters behind him, but the Reds need him to hit for power.
Left fielder Ryan Ludwick had a good 2012 season, and he will need to repeat the performance to give Votto some protection.
Fans should know what Jay Bruce brings to the table. He has increased his home run and RBI totals every year since he made it to the big leagues. The only part of his game that is unknown is his ability to hit for average. He has hit .280 in a season before, but he needs to be more consistent throughout the season.
Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart had good rookie seasons last year, but they won't be expected to play as big of a role this season. Frazier was expected to fill in for Votto and did a great job. He hit 10 home runs and knocked in 38 after the All-Star break. Cozart hit .324 in the second spot but saw his average drop 100 points as he was moved to the leadoff spot. He will likely be the No. 7 or No. 8 hitter, so there won't be as much pressure on him.
Cincinnati needs more out of its catchers, but Ryan Hanigan has the ability to get on base. He will continue to see the majority of the playing time this season. The veteran will need to drive in more runs to keep rallies going.
Overall, this may be the most balanced lineup in the National League. The Reds have the ability to hit the ball out of the park from the leadoff man to the seventh spot. This team has guys who can get on base.
The offense was inconsistent last season and had to deal with injuries. Look for the Reds to improve on offense this season.
After falling out of the Cy Young race in September, Johnny Cueto will be out to prove he is the best pitcher in the league.
In 2011, he was a handful of innings away from being eligible for the ERA title. His 2.31 ERA would've finished second behind Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Cueto missed the beginning of the season with an injury.
Since he returned to the rotation that season, his numbers are arguably the best in the NL outside of Kershaw.
When the ballparks are taken into consideration, Cueto led the NL in adjusted ERA (via baseball-reference.com).
Of the pitchers who finished in the top 30 in innings pitched last season, only Felix Hernandez (14) allowed fewer home runs than Cueto (15).
The right-hander got as many ground balls as he had fly balls last year, so he has figured out how to get outs in different ways.
Cueto's twist makes it tough for hitters to pick up the ball, especially during the day. He has turned into an ace and should contend for the Cy Young this season.
The numbers just keep getting better for Bruce.
Even before Votto got hurt, Bruce was leading the team in home runs and RBI. He ended up leading the team with 34 homers and drove in 99 runs.
Since coming to the majors in 2008, he has hit at least 20 long balls; he has also increased his home run and RBI total in every season.
Yes, he went through multiple droughts last year. If he can get rid of those, or at least limit those prolonged slumps, his average will start to climb.
Bruce finished fourth in the NL in extra-base hits last year. He managed to do all that despite having numerous cold streaks.
Todd Frazier should give him a little more protection, but Bruce will still need to make pitchers throw strikes.
The 25-year-old has made two consecutive All-Star teams and added Silver Slugger last year. He is still growing as a hitter and has the potential to hit 40 home runs and get past the 100 RBI mark.
Bruce finished No. 10 in the NL Most Valuable Player voting, which means the rest of the league has started paying attention to him. Once he cuts down on the prolonged slumps, he should be in the MVP race for years to come.
An argument can be made to flip-flop the "hitting stud" and the "X-factor," but Joey Votto will be the X-factor for the Reds.
Although the Reds went on a tear, including a 10-game winning streak, without Votto, they need him healthy in order to make a deep run in the postseason.
He was able to hit 36 doubles before hurting his knee and eight after, but he really didn't come close to hitting a home run after coming off the disabled list. He will have more opportunities to drive in runs with Choo and Phillips hitting ahead of him, but he needs to be able to some homers.
John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer has kept track of Votto's progress, and it appears Votto is getting back to form.
Cincinnati can compete for the division title even if Votto isn't hitting 25 to 30 home runs, but if he gets back to that form, the Reds will run away with the NL Central and make a deep run in the playoffs.
Prospect to Watch
Of course it's Billy Hamilton.
The speedster shattered the minor league stolen base record by swiping 155 bags. He managed to raise his average to .311 and have a .410 OBP.
He came up as a shortstop, but he is transitioning to center field so he has a spot in the majors. Choo is only under contract for this year, so Hamilton may be only a year away from the big leagues.
Hamilton will start the season in Louisville and could be a September call-up.
The expectations for this kid are going to be tough to meet, but the future looks bright for the Reds.
What the Reds Will Do Well
There are so many things to choose from.
Cincinnati's pitching staff should be strong again. The starting rotation should only get better now that the young starters are beginning to blossom, and Chapman should only add to the talent.
If Chapman goes to the rotation for most of the season, it's hard to see the bullpen not taking a step back. It won't be the same as having him pitch in the ninth.
Defense has been a strength of this team for the past few years, and it should continue to be solid. The Reds finished second in the NL in defense last year. The infield is getting Votto back and an improved Frazier at third. Votto and Phillips have Golden Gloves already.
The offense will be much improved and more consistent. With guys getting on base for Votto, they will put up runs.
What the Reds Won't Do Well
There aren't many things this team won't be able to do well, but they lack speed on the bases now. The Reds can take the extra base on balls in play, but they won't steal many bases.
Trading away Drew Stubbs left the team without a legitimate threat on the bases.
Choo and Phillips can steal 15 to 20 bases, but there is nobody else who can push the running game. Bruce and Cozart will steal occasionally but not often.
More balls will fall in the gaps in center with Choo learning the position. It may be an experiment out there, but the offense should pick up the slack.
Cincinnati is the clear favorite to win the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals haven't re-signed Kyle Lohse and are without Chris Carpenter this year. Cincinnati has the better team on paper and should be fighting for the top seed in September.
Where will the Cincinnati Reds finish in the NL Central in 2013?
If anyone in the bullpen struggles, there will be arms ready to replace them. The Chapman experiment will be the main attraction, and the Reds will be the favorites to win the pennant if he transitions seamlessly.
There is a lot of young talent on this team. Only one starting pitcher is older than 28 years old, and there are only two position players in the starting lineup who are at least 30 years old.
The Reds have a roster capable of contending for years to come. The regular season will be a repeat of 2012, but Cincinnati will make a deeper run in the postseason this year.
Projected Record: 94-68, 1st in NL Central