Complete Cincinnati Reds 2014 Season Preview

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

Complete Cincinnati Reds 2014 Season Preview

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The final week of spring training has arrived, so Cincinnati Reds fans should be thrilled that the season is about to begin.

    No team has had to deal with the amount of key injuries that the Reds have dealt with this spring. Key players underwent surgery shortly after last season ended, and the injury bug hit as soon as pitchers and catchers reported to camp in February.

    Cincinnati's roster was nearly set entering spring training. There was a bench spot up for grabs, but every other roster spot looked like it was set. After a slew of injuries, the roster is going to be pieced together early in the season.

    Unfortunately for the Reds, they will be tested throughout the first month of the season. Championships aren't won in April, but the injuries this team is dealing with could make it tough to keep pace with the St. Louis Cardinals. Luckily, the Reds have a strong pitching staff and a solid core of position players.  

    Opening Day is less than a week away, so let's check out how the Reds look entering the 2014 season. 

     

    *All stats via MLB.com

Spring Training Recap

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    This has been a spring to forget for Reds fans. 

    Cincinnati got off to a bad start in terms of wins and losses, although record doesn't mean much during the spring. However, the amount of injuries this team piled up is concerning.

    There were a few pleasant surprises this spring, but there weren't any notable poor performances by impact players. Prospect Daniel Corcino, who had a rough 2013 season at Triple-A, was roughed up repeatedly. This is a critical year for him, but it doesn't look like he will be called upon this season by the Reds unless there are an incredible amount of injuries.  

    Here are a few players who had strong showings in the spring.

     

    CF Billy Hamilton

    All eyes have been on Billy Hamilton this spring, and the youngster has done more than live up to the hype.

    Last September, he hit .368/.429/.474 and stole 13 bases. Those are pretty strong numbers for a player's first month in the majors, but now it's time for him to show that he can continue to hit. 

    If the spring is any indication, the switch-hitter is going to do just fine this season. Hamilton was hitting .325/.413/.450 with six walks and six strikeouts through his first 40 at-bats of the spring. He hit only .192 with nine strikeouts and two walks in 26 at-bats last spring.

    The speedster has also stolen nine bases without being thrown out this year. His ability to work the count and put pressure on the opponent on the bases is a great sign.

    In the field, Hamilton has shown off a nice arm and the ability to track down balls. He should be a nice upgrade over Shin-Soo Choo in the field.

    Spring numbers don't always translate to the regular season, but Reds fans should be optimistic given that Hamilton has been superb at the plate in spring training. 

     

    OF Roger Bernadina

    Easily the biggest surprise of the spring for the Reds has been Roger Bernadina. The veteran was a non-roster invitee, but he has almost assuredly worked his way onto the 25-man roster. Through 40 at-bats, he was hitting .455 with three home runs and 10 RBI. He also has seven strikeouts to seven walks.

    Bernadina has shown off a pretty good arm in the outfield this spring, but he has struggled at times in the outfield. However, it has been a good signing thus far. With the amount of injuries the club has suffered, he will be on the roster on Opening Day.

    It was just two years ago that Bernadina hit .291/.372/.405 for the Washington Nationals. He is a career .239 hitter, but he is showing signs of getting his swing back.

    Bernadina's versatility has also been on display recently. He can play any of the outfield positions, and he provides a nice bat off the bench. The left-handed hitter has hit some no-doubters this spring, so his solid hitting has the potential to carry over to the regular season. 

     

    OF Chris Heisey

    Although he has nothing to prove, Chris Heisey has been outstanding at the plate in spring training.

    The reserve outfielder has many Reds fans clamoring for him to get shot at playing left field every day after he crushed the ball this spring. Heisey's new batting stance has helped him club six home runs this spring, which has him tied atop the majors in that department.

    If Ryan Ludwick starts off slow, it will be tough to keep Heisey’s bat and glove on the bench. It looks like whatever adjustments he made in the offseason helped him.

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    ***WARNING: Video shows scary injury.***

     

    Players expected to start season on disabled list

    • RHP Mat Latos (Arm and knee surgery this offseason)
    • LHP Aroldis Chapman (Facial fracture—expected to miss four to eight weeks, via Mark Sheldon of MLB.com)
    • RHP Jonathan Broxton (Right forearm, via Sheldon)
    • LHP Sean Marshall (Left shoulder, via Sheldon)
    • INF/OF Skip Schumaker (Dislocated left shoulder-expected to miss a month, via Sheldon)
    • INF Jack Hannahan (Surgery in October to repair torn labrum, via Sheldon)
    • RHP Brett Marshall (Finger)

     

    Players who dealt with injuries during spring

    • RHP Johnny Cueto (Right scapula, via Sheldon)
    • RHP Homer Bailey (Strained right groin)
    • RHP Mike Leake (Abdominal injury)
    • C Devin Mesoraco (Strained left oblique muscle, via Sheldon)

     

    Reds fans, set some time aside to read this slide. There’s a lot to talk about, unfortunately.

    Mat Latos missed the National League Wild Card Game due to bone chips in his elbow. He had that issue taken care of shortly after the season ended. It looked like he’d be ready for the start of the season, but he tore his meniscus while throwing after showing up to spring training a few days early. Now, he is rehabbing and is likely to start the season on the disabled list.

    Latos’ injury has overshadowed the spring, but he is hardly the only starter dealing with an injury.

    Cueto was recently scratched from a start due to irritation in his scapula. Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105 million deal this offseason, continues to work his way back from a groin strain. Mike Leake has made his past few starts, but he missed a start earlier this spring because of an abdominal injury. Tony Cingrani was dealing with a “dead arm” after a recent start. The dead arm shouldn’t be much of an issue as he continues to build his arm strength back up.

    For a team that doesn’t have much depth in the minors, the health of the rotation couldn’t be more of a concern than it is right now.

    Unfortunately, we are just getting started with injuries.

    The three highest-paid members of the bullpen are all expected to start the season on the disabled list.

    Closer Aroldis Chapman suffered the scariest injury of any player in baseball during the spring after his 99-mph fastball was lined right back at him last week. He suffered facial fractures and had to have a plate inserted in his head. He is expected to start throwing in a couple of weeks, and he is expected to begin throwing in game conditions in four to eight weeks.

    It’s a difficult situation to handle. The doctors can clear him to throw, but the southpaw will have to overcome the mental part of the injury as well. When you throw as hard as he does, something like this has the potential to have serious ramifications. It looks like Chapman may have lucked out, if you can say that, by suffering only fractures and a mild concussion. However, it will be a slow process to get the electric pitcher back on the mound.

    The Reds have three proven closers in the bullpen, so Chapman’s scare wouldn’t typically be much to worry about on the field. This season, though, it’s not a good situation now that Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton aren’t expected to be ready on Opening Day.

    Marshall is looking for a way to stay healthy throughout the season, and the Reds were able to do well without him for the majority of last season. The club needs to take it slow with him and make sure that he is ready to go down the stretch.

    Broxton is throwing in spring training games, but he still has to build up his strength after having forearm surgery last season.

    It looks like Broxton and Marshall may only be out for a short period of time, but it’s not known when they are expected to return.

    Even the offense has been hit by the injury bug.

    Catcher Devin Mesoraco recently suffered an oblique injury. This season was his time to shine, but this injury could impact his performance if it doesn’t get better. Cincinnati has a tough choice to make as to what to do with Mesoraco to start the season.

    The bench is also banged up. Jack Hannahan had surgery to repair a torn labrum back in October, but he will start the season on the disabled list. He was Todd Frazier’s main backup. Utility man Skip Schumaker, who was having a strong spring at the plate, suffered a dislocated should while diving for a ball during a game. He is expected to miss about a month, but he is optimistic that he will return sooner.

    Here’s what the Reds could potentially be missing on Opening Day: No. 1 starter, closer, two setup men, starting catcher and two bench players. That list could grow if either Cueto or Bailey suffers a setback. Yikes.

Lineup Preview

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    Lineup

    1. CF Billy Hamilton (S)
    2. 2B Brandon Phillips (R)
    3. 1B Joey Votto (L)
    4. RF Jay Bruce (L)
    5. LF Ryan Ludwick (R)
    6. 3B Todd Frazier (R)
    7. C Devin Mesoraco (R)
    8. SS Zack Cozart (R)
    9. Pitcher

     

    Bench

    • OF Chris Heisey (R)
    • C Brayan Pena (S)
    • OF Roger Bernadina (R)
    • SS Ramon Santiago (S)
    • 1B/3B Neftali Soto (R)

     

    Luckily for the Reds, the starting eight has been able to avoid being hit by the injury bug this spring. Catcher Mesoraco is dealing with an oblique injury, but nobody else in the lineup is dealing with anything serious.

    The lineup, especially on the infield, is the one area in which the Reds can't afford injuries. Cincinnati is fairly thin at each infield position, so there is a lot of pressure on the starters to stay healthy.

    Hamilton will have to do his best to replace Shin-Soo Choo, who finished second in the National League last season in on-base percentage at the top of the lineup. It's not realistic to expect Hamilton have a .400 OBP, but if he can steal 50 bases or so, it will be just as good.

    With Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce following Hamilton, the speedster's job will be to get on base and distract the pitcher. Having a guy with blazing speed on base can cause pitchers to make mistakes, which is not something that the heart of this lineup lets a hurler get away with. Hamilton needs to be able to get on base, but it's what he does once he gets on—not the amount of times he reaches—that will define his season.

    Cincinnati knows what it is getting from its three cornerstones. However, the rest of the lineup is no sure thing.

    Zack Cozart came on strong down the stretch last season. Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick carried the offense in the second half of the season back in 2012. Mesoraco is finally getting a chance to play every day. All of those players have the potential to hit 15 home runs or more, but the Reds need them to hit for a decent average in the bottom half of the lineup.

    There is no question what the lineup will look like—barring any more injuries.

    Cincinnati's bench did suffer a few injuries that will make for a few interesting decisions.

    Outfielder Chris Heisey and catcher Brayan Pena will make the roster. Outfielder Roger Bernadina is a virtual lock to make the roster after all of the injuries this spring. That leaves two spots on the bench up in the air.

    Ramon Santiago is likely going to make the Opening Day roster, considering he is a natural shortstop, over utility man Chris Nelson. Keeping Santiago will give the Reds the opportunity to rest Cozart on occasion.

    Nelson looks like he could be the victim of being a non-roster invitee. All of Cincinnati's injuries means that the club may have to mess with the 40-man roster, and it doesn't make a lot of sense to mess with it too much. Nelson isn't currently on the 40-man roster, but Neftali Soto is.

    Cincinnati can justify giving Soto a shot after the spring the infielder had. He was hitting .366 with three home runs and five doubles through March 23. His ability to play the corner infield positions makes it easy to replace Jack Hannahan, and he would give the team a power bat off the bench.

    The bench will be pieced together early in the season. Each player will have the opportunity to earn a spot once the season starts, but the bench should have a different look once Hannahan and Skip Schumaker return from the disabled list at some point. 

Rotation Preview

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    Rotation

    1. RHP Johnny Cueto
    2. LHP Tony Cingrani
    3. RHP Homer Bailey
    4. RHP Mike Leake
    5. RHP Alfredo Simon

     

    The Reds also can’t afford injuries to the rotation. Unfortunately, that’s the area that has been banged up more than anything else this spring.

    Back in 2012, the Reds were the only team in the majors to make it all year without losing a starter to injury. The starters were also able to stay healthy, for the most part, last season. Cueto did miss time while dealing with an injury to his side, and Tony Cingrani missed a couple of starts with a back injury.

    But other than that, health wasn’t much of a concern for the rotation—until it mattered.  Now, injuries in spring training could derail the team’s season early on.

    When healthy, this rotation is as deep as any in the majors. From Cueto to Cingrani, the Reds don’t have a weak spot. The order of the rotation is unsettled. Bailey's injury pushed him back a spot in the rotation, and now it's a mystery as to who will pitch between Cueto and Bailey. 

    Cincinnati is banking on Cueto staying healthy with his shortened windup. He was a National League Cy Young Award candidate two seasons ago when he went 19-9. The veteran is still on that level when healthy.

    Bailey’s earned run average has improved each season to a career-best 3.49 last season. The right-hander has topped the 200-inning mark in each of the past two seasons, which makes him as durable as it gets.

    Bailey’s success can be attributed to his ability to pitch efficiently. Instead of blowing hitters away with a 96 mph fastball to start the game, he saves the heat for the late innings. His secondary pitches nicely complement his heater, which makes him a candidate to continue to improve his numbers.

    The back of the rotation was incredible last season. Mike Leake went 14-7 with a 3.41 ERA in 192.1 innings as a No. 5 starter. His innings continue to go up, and his earned run average continues to drop. That’s a great combination. Leake hasn’t been able to put up two strong seasons in a row through this point in his career, but his strong 2013 season bodes well for this year.

    Cingrani’s outstanding performance last year was a big reason why the Reds were able to stay in contention without Cueto. The southpaw will benefit as he learns to mix in his breaking balls and become more pitch efficient. Last year, he relied mainly on his fastball and ran up a high pitch count by the fifth inning of games. Pitch efficiency will be the key for Cingrani in 2014.

    With Latos starting the season on the disabled list, Alfredo Simon be the man who will fill the fifth spot. His first start would come against the New York Mets, which should make things a little bit easier for the Reds. 

    Cincinnati has won with pitching in recent years. This team isn’t built to overcome injuries for more than two or three starts at a time. If the Reds can get healthy quickly, they have four guys who will throw around 200 innings this season. Cueto, Latos and Bailey should all have earned run averages below 3.50, and they can match up with any rotation in baseball.

    Cincinnati shouldn’t rush any pitchers back from injury, but it certainly can’t afford to go without a starter for too long.

     

    *Note: Rotation was updated after Brett Marshall suffered injury on March 26.

Bullpen Preview

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    Bullpen

    • RHP J.J. Hoover
    • RHP Sam LeCure
    • LHP Manny Parra
    • RHP Nick Christiani
    • RHP Logan Ondrusek
    • RHP Pedro Beato
    • RHP Trevor Bell

     

    Without Chapman, Broxton and Marshall, this bullpen is going to have to figure out a way to eat innings early in the season. Had those injuries occurred in the middle of the season, it would have been easier for the bullpen to handle. However, the starters aren’t stretched out yet.

    Manager Bryan Price isn’t naming a closer, but he has a couple of strong candidates.

    J.J. Hoover looks like the best bet to get the majority of the opportunities while the three veterans recover. The right-hander converted a few save opportunities last season, and his fastball-curveball combination is tough to hit.

    Sam LeCure also figures to get a chance to close out some games. The veteran has filled every role that the Reds have asked him to through the years, and he came on strong last year when Broxton and Marshall went down. He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but he knows how to pitch.

    Hoover and LeCure figure to fill the eighth and ninth innings. It’s leading up to the final two innings that will be an experiment. Southpaw Manny Parra turned his career around last year and should be called upon either as a left-handed specialist or as a setup man at times.

    Alfredo Simon will start the season in the rotation, but he will join the rotation once Mat Latos returns.

    Logan Ondrusek has been a part of Cincinnati’s bullpen for a few years now. When he is on top of his game, he can induce grounders to get batters out. His experience and spot on the 40-man roster make him a good bet to make the 25-man roster.

    Those group of relievers are familiar faces, but the other members of the bullpen will be new guys.

    Nick Christiani has had an outstanding spring. Reds fans got a glimpse of him last season, and he has pitched his way onto the team’s roster this year. After his performance this spring, he figures to be called upon often to try to get the ball to LeCure and Hoover.

    That leaves two spot in the bullpen up for grabs. Jumbo Diaz, Trevor Bell and Pedro Beato have all posted solid numbers this spring. Beato is the only one of those three who is on the 40-man roster, so he has the edge. Whoever gets the call figures to be used sparingly, likely when the team is behind.

Prospects to Watch

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    CF Billy Hamilton

    Obviously, Hamilton is the prospect to watch. If he can carry his spring success over into the regular season, he is going to set the table for a strong offense.

    The reviews on his defense have been good, so the only thing that the rookie will have to prove is his ability to hit. That will be no easy task, especially at the top of the lineup.

    Hamilton hit .256/.308/.343 last season with the Louisville Bats. He has a career slash line of .280/.350/.378 in five minor league seasons. If he can put up anything close to those numbers, the Reds will take it.

    The speedster had 395 stolen bases in the minors. He stole 103 in 2011 and 155 in 2013. Although his total dropped down to 75 in his first season at Triple-A, that's still incredibly impressive.

    Reds fans have seen speed before. Drew Stubbs had incredible speed, and good pop, but he couldn't get on base enough times to become a legitimate leadoff hitter. Hamilton doesn't have Stubbs' power, but the rookie has done a fairly good job of bunting during spring training.

    Cincinnati doesn't need him to hit for power anyway. Hamilton just needs to put the ball in play to put pressure on the defense. Whether he puts down a bunt or hits a grounder, he'll be able to get some hits with his speed alone.

     

    RHP Robert Stephenson

    The Reds don't have many pitchers who are major league-ready in the minors, so there will be a lot of focus on Robert Stephenson this year.

    Stephenson worked his way through three levels last season. He posted a 2.99 ERA and a 1.111 WHIP in 114.1 innings throughout his three stops. He has a great fastball, a good breaking ball and is still developing his changeup.

    The 21-year-old ended the 2013 season at Double-A. That's where he will likely start the year, but he could work his way up to Triple-A at some point this year. The earliest that Reds fans should even look for him to reach the majors would be September. Even that looks like it would be pushing it, but he could be called up when rosters expand.

    Stephenson is the top pitching prospect in the organization, and it's a big year for him. A strong performance could have him continue to rise through the system and put himself in the mix for a spot in the 2015 rotation. The Reds will have some decisions to make in regard to their rotation after this season, and those decisions could be made easier if Stephenson is able to continue to impress in the minors. 

Breakout Candidates

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    SS Zack Cozart

    When the lineup is healthy, Cozart will likely be hitting near the bottom of order. That should suit him very well.

    The shortstop struggled at times while hitting second last year, but he came on strong in the final two months, hitting .282 in August and .281 over the final month of the season.

    Cozart has a great set of skills. He can move runners over, grab some extra-base hits, drive in runs and play strong defense. He was near the top of the league in sacrifice flies and sacrifice bunts last season, which are both important categories. The shortstop is also good for 15 home runs and 30 doubles a season. He took a big step last year when he became a solid run producer.

    There is very little pressure on Cozart to hit now that he is not right ahead of Votto. He has shown that he can hit for a solid average for an extended period of time, but now it’s time for him to do it for an entire season.

     

    C Devin Mesoraco

    The Reds traded starting catcher Ryan Hanigan in the offseason, which meant that Mesoraco was going to get his chance to play every day.

    Last year, Hanigan missed some time with injuries. Mesoraco used that as an opportunity to get familiar with the pitching staff. The results were great. The youngster was able to catch Latos and Leake, who were arguably the Reds’ two best pitchers throughout the season, for the majority of their starts.  

    His defense could still use some fine-tuning, but that side of his game isn’t going to be much of an issue.

    Offense is the area that Mesoraco has something to prove. Hanigan’s average hovered around .200 for most of last season, but Mesoraco was unable to catch fire at the plate and take over as the starter.

    However, when Mesoraco was able to play every day, he posted strong numbers. His two best monthly averages came when he played in at least 20 games.  It’s tough to stay hot when you play only two out of every five games, and now he gets the opportunity to show why the Reds are so high on him.

    The right-handed hitter has the potential to hit 15 home runs. The biggest area in which he needs to improve is hitting with runners in scoring position. He has hit only .201 with runners in scoring position and .193 with runners on so far in his career.

    Now that he is getting a chance to play every day, Mesoraco is the perfect candidate for a breakout season.

Top Keys to Success

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    Get Healthy

    It’s getting repetitive at this point, but health is all that matters for the Reds. The old saying is that a player returning from injury is just as good as a midseason trade. Well, the Reds look like they will be the winners of the trade market when they finally get back to full strength.

    When healthy, Latos is one of the best starters in the majors. His presence gives the Reds a trio of starters that only the Los Angeles Dodgers, if any team, can match. Not only does he give his team a chance to win each time out, but he also eats up innings. Getting him healthy early in the season will give the team a huge boost.

    Latos will be tough to replace early on, but the bullpen will have its work cut out for it. No team can replace Chapman, Broxton and Marshall. It’s tough to replace one of those guys, so the Reds just need to find a way to bridge the gap until they return. The back of the bullpen still shouldn’t be much of an issue, but the middle innings figure to be an adventure at times.

    If the Reds can get Latos, Broxton and Marshall by the end of April, they will be in good shape. They should also get Schumaker back at some point in the first month, so that should help as well.

     

    Receive Production out of Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier

    Everyone assumes that the Reds will go as Billy Hamilton goes this season. That may be true, but the offense needs to get production out of the bottom of the lineup in order to be effective.

    Hamilton will be someone to keep an eye on, but Cincinnati’s season will be defined based on how much production it gets out of Ryan Ludwick and/or Todd Frazier.

    Back in 2012, Joey Votto went down with a knee injury. The Reds actually took off after their star went on the disabled list because of Ludwick and Frazier. Unfortunately for the offense, neither player was able to follow that up with a strong 2013 campaign.

    Ludwick’s season was derailed by a torn labrum on Opening Day. He returned to the lineup by August, but he hit only two home runs and didn’t have much of an impact. That’s a tough injury for anyone to come back from in a season. The veteran pushed to get back on the field, but it didn’t go as well as everyone had hoped. Now that he has had a full offseason to recover, his numbers should start to get back to where they were before the injury.

    Frazier, on the other hand, went through some streaks last year. He gives the Reds some pop down in the lineup, but he went through long stretches without hitting home runs. That’s something that this lineup can’t have. His average dropped below .240 in his second season in the majors, so now it’s time for him to adjust to the league.

    Votto, Phillips and Bruce are going to get on base and knock in runs. It will be up to Ludwick and Frazier to get them in. Fans sometimes get annoyed by Votto’s willingness to draw walks. If Frazier and Ludwick do their jobs, Votto’s approach will be rewarded.

    Cincinnati doesn’t need both hitters to post All-Star numbers. Having even just one of them return to his 2012 form would be enough for the Reds to comfortably make the playoffs. If both Ludwick and Frazier are able to hit for a decent average and drive in 70 runs, though, this offense is going to click.

Previewing Cincinnati Reds' Opening Series

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    Opponent: St. Louis Vardinals

    Location: Great American Ball Park

    Dates (time): 3/31 (4:10 p.m. ET), 4/2 (7:10 p.m. ET), 4/2 (12:35 p.m. ET)

     

    Game 1 Probable Pitching Matchup: Adam Wainwright (STL) vs. Johnny Cueto (CIN)

    Game 2 Probable Pitching Matchup: Michael Wacha (STL) vs. Tony Cingrani (CIN)

    Game 3 Probable Pitching Matchup: Lance Lynn (STL) vs. Homer Bailey (CIN)

     

    Before all of the injuries took place, Reds fans had every reason to be pumped up for the opening series against the St. Louis Cardinals. It looked like a chance for the club to make a statement to the reigning National League champions.

    Now, it appears that the Reds just need to find a way to hang in there against their rivals.

    Call it optimistic, but Cincinnati has a very good chance to start the season with at least two wins in three games against the Cardinals. Manager Bryan Price is going to play the matchups with the rotation, and the Reds have the ability to shut the Cardinals down with great pitching.

    Last year, St. Louis thrived against the Reds pitchers who didn’t have overwhelming stuff (Arroyo, Leake). Against the hard-throwers, Cardinals hitters had a tough time getting anything going.

    Check out the numbers for Cincinnati pitchers (against St. Louis in 2013) who rely on their fastballs:

    PitcherGSIPWLHRKBBHR
    Mat Latos34 30 12 (9 ER) 20 
    Homer Bailey424.22225112074
    Tony Cingrani10.114

    *Note: Cueto did not face St. Louis in 2013

    Numbers don’t lie.

    Sure, Latos isn’t going to be taking the mound in this series. But it still looks good for the Reds.

    Bailey was roughed up early in the season against St. Louis, but he ended the season on a tear against the Cardinals. Over his final two starts of the season against the Cardinals, the right-hander allowed zero runs on only seven hits in 14.1 innings. That's spectacular against an offense like that.

    Cueto has started each of the past two Opening Days for the Reds. The veteran has allowed only one run in 14 innings over those two starts, both of which came at Great American Ball Park. He is going to take the mound against Adam Wainwright, whose number the Reds have. Late last season, the Reds roughed Wainwright up for 15 total runs over eight innings in back-to-back starts. His numbers took a huge hit (ERA jumped from 2.58 to 3.14), which eliminated him from having any chance at winning the NL Cy Young Award.

    If Cueto does indeed get the Opening Day start, the Reds should be able to take advantage of the matchup and come out with a victory.

    After Opening Day, the Reds just need to find a way to win one of the next two games to take the series. Bailey exorcised his demons against St. Louis late last season. The offense needs to be able to give him some run support this season. If it can give him a couple of runs early, the right-hander can settle in and go to work.

    If Cingrani gets a start in this series, the Reds have a good chance of winning the series. The team would need him to go at least five innings, which is a question mark considering his lack of pitch efficiency. The bullpen will be a mystery early on, so Cingrani has to be on top of his game if he gets the call.

    It's still unclear as to who will pitch in this series for the Reds. Barring any setbacks, Cueto and Bailey will each get a start. After that, it's up to Price. The matchup says to start Cingrani, but the team's spring training rotation favors Leake.

    Six of the Reds’ first nine games are against St. Louis. Cincinnati fans would like to win the majority of those games, but wining three games would be considered a small victory given the team’s injury status. The first three games are at home, and the matchups favor the Reds in the first series.

2014 Cincinnati Reds Season Outlook

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    After making the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, the Reds are going to have to survive the first month in order to put themselves in position to get back to the postseason this year.

    Had Cincinnati been healthy entering the season, there’s a chance that it could have made a run at the National League Central. Now, it looks like the Cardinals will be in control of the division throughout the season.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates took a big step back this offseason, losing ace A.J. Burnett, right fielder Marlon Byrd and first baseman Justin Morneau. The Pirates are banking on Francisco Liriano putting up consecutive stellar seasons, something that he hasn’t done in his career. Another good sign for Cincinnati: Edinson Volquez will start the year in Pittsburgh’s rotation.

    The Milwaukee Brewers improved their rotation this offseason, but they did trade away leadoff man Norichika Aoki. Although the Brewers have some pieces, especially in the rotation, they don’t figure to be in contention this this season.

    The Chicago Cubs didn’t do much to scare anyone this offseason, so they are in for another long season.

    When it comes down to it, barring several catastrophic injuries, the Reds are destined for no worse than second place in the NL Central. They were able to come together to make up for Votto’s absence in 2012, and the lineup is healthy entering the season. If the offense can consistently hit with runners in scoring position, this team could surprise some people and challenge the Cardinals.

    April is going to be a tough month in terms of schedule. Cincinnati’s goal should be finish the first month at or above .500 and find a way to keep pace with St. Louis. Once the roster starts to get healthy, hopefully at some point in April, the team will begin to take off.

    Prediction: 88-74 (Second Place in NL Central, Wild Card)