Expectations surrounding the Cincinnati Reds were high coming into the 2013 season, and given the talent level on the roster, it's easy to see why.
The Reds returned largely the same team that won them an NL Central title in 2012, and to exceed expectations this year would be difficult.
However, when broken down into units—rotation, bullpen, lineup and bench—you can see that the Reds, in specific areas, are outperforming the expectations of fans and analysts alike.
Here's how it all breaks down.
The Cincinnati Reds rotation has been stellar this season, and is, once again, one of the best in Major League Baseball.
Johnny Cueto left his third start of the season with a strained lat, but the rest of the rotation has picked up the slack in his absence (per ESPN).
Mat Latos has continued evolving into one of the league's most dominant starters, and through his first four starts, he is averaging nearly 9.9 K/9 and a minuscule 1.4 BB/9. While Latos has been dominant, Bronson Arroyo has continued to turn back the hands of time and is off to one of the best starts of his career.
Beyond that, though, what's been most important to the Reds is the steady progression of Homer Bailey, and the rebounding Mike Leake.
Bailey has been progressing steadily since his major league debut, and, through his first four starts, is pitching as well as anyone could hope for. His 3.24 ERA would be significantly lower if not for one dreadful inning on April 10 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Leake has been equally important, and his 3.81 ERA represents a significant reduction from the 4.58 mark he posted just last season. Leake is keeping the team in games this season, and that's almost all you can ask for from a team's No. 5 starter.
tony Cingrani may not remain in the starting rotation once Cueto returns from the DL, but in his short time with the club, he's impressed fans and earned his first big league win against the Miami Marlins on April 18 (per Baseball-Reference.com).
Reds starters have combined for a 3.17 ERA—good for fifth in Major League Baseball—and are right around where you would expect them to be at this point in the year.
Given their top-five rankings in ERA, OBPa, WHIP, BB/9 and K/BB, it's safe to say that the Reds' starting rotation has exceeded all expectations as we near the end of the season's first month, especially with Johnny Cueto on the DL (per ESPN).
The Reds had arguably the best bullpen in baseball in 2012. In 2013, they returned the same group of pitchers and added Manny Parra.
The bullpen experienced a bit of misfortune early though when Sean Marshall was placed on the 15-day DL (per CBS Sports).
Even with the injury to Marshall, the Reds' bullpen has been somewhat underwhelming.
Outside of Aroldis Chapman, Sam LeCure, and to some extent, Logan Ondrusek, the Reds' bullpen has been lackluster.
Alfredo Simon, J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra have all struggled, and although Hoover seems to be turning things around—one earned run over his last 6.1 innings—it's clear that the team could really use Sean Marshall back in the fold.
Jonathan Broxton has actually pitched far better than his ERA indicates. That glaring 7.36 mark is courtesy of one poor outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates when he allowed all six of his earned runs over two-thirds of an inning (per Baseball-Reference.com).
Though the bullpen has yet to live up to the expectation of being one of the league's best, there are positives to be found, and the addition of Marshall should help greatly in righting the ship.
It's hard to exceed expectations when your team is looked at as one of the biggest offensive threats in baseball. However, when you consider the path the team has taken through these first 20 games, you could argue that the Reds have been better than advertised through the first 20 games of the season.
Despite an injury to Ryan Ludwick—a key component in last season's NL Central title run—and a struggling Ryan Hannigan—who also just went on the DL—the Reds have been arguably the best offensive team in the game.
The starting lineup has combined for an impressive OBP, 93 runs scored and 84 RBI.
The 93 runs scored by Reds' starters is greater than the run production of 24 entire teams and is a huge reason why the team is currently leading the league in runs scored with 111 (per ESPN).
The Reds' lineup is led by Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Shin-Soo Choo. These five players have accounted for a .302/.416/.504 with 16 HR, 42 XBH, 65 RBI and 77 runs scored.
The Reds have just two starters hitting below .268, and their 21 home runs are more than half the league's teams.
This torrid start by the nine regulars is one of the best in baseball and has firmly cemented their place as one of the league's dominant offenses through the season's first 20 games.
The Reds' bench was quite deep at the start of the season. The team was scheduled to use Chris Heisey, Devin Mesoraco, Jack Hannahan, Xavier Paul and Cesar Izturis off the bench until both Ludwick and Hanigan went down with injuries.
Those injuries forced the team to move both Heisey and Mesoraco into starting roles. The bench is now comprised of Hannahan, Paul, Izturis, Derrick Robinson and Corky Miller.
Miller has yet to play a game with the Reds this season, but the other four bench bats have had some success.
Until Hanigan and Ludwick return, the Reds' bench won't offer much pop. What it will offer, however, is a few steady bats capable of hitting in the clutch.
Additionally, the bench offers some speed. Robinson is an adept base stealer who has 314 stolen bases over parts of seven minor league seasons.
Izturis and Paul are also capable of stealing bases and, on the defensive side, all four players—and Miller when he does play—are adept fielders who have the ability to play solid defense in late-inning situations.
The Reds bench looks to have exceeded early-season expectations, given their near-.300 batting average and .352 OBP.
All stats are current through 4/22/13 and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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