Season Preview: The Cincinnati Reds

Moving right along with our National League Central Season Previews is a long-winded look at the Cincinnati Reds 2007 season.

Ace Aaron Harang was 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 35 starts last season, pitching 234.1 innings with a league-best 216 strikeouts and six complete games. Yet, he didn't receive one tally, not even for third place, in NL Cy Young Award voting. Meanwhile, as the Reds lone All-Star rep, Bronson Arroyo, led the Majors in innings pitched (240.2) with a 14-11 record, a 3.29 ERA and 184 strikeouts. With the 1-2 punch of Harang and Arroyo, who cares who the third, fourth and fifth starters are? We'll get into it any way.

Kyle Lohse, who was dumped by the Twins at the July 31st deadline, had a pretty crappy combined 5-10 record with a 5.83 ERA in 19 starts and 15 relief appearances in 2006. The right-hander showed a bit of improvement in Cincy, going 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 11 starts. Eric Milton will be entering the final year of his three-year deal with the Reds, attempting to not allow more than 40 home runs as he did in 2005. The lefty was 8-8 with a 5.19 ERA and was wheeled into the operating room twice during the 2006 season.

Right-handers Kirk Saarloos, Matt Belisle, Elizardo Ramirez, non-roster invitee Victor Santos and lefties Bobby Livingston and Phil Dumatrait are all considered in the race for the final spot in the rotation, along with top pitching prospect Homer Bailey.

Midseason, the majority of the bullpen was overhauled in an effort to make a 5.16 first-half ERA more respectable. Some of the moves worked. For example, the additions of Eddie Guardado and Scott Schoeneweis, now a New York Met after free-agency. Trading for the sore-armed Gary Majewski on the other hand, did not help get the Reds into the playoffs. There was second-half improvement, though, as the pen ended the year with a 4.38 ERA. Left-hander Mike Stanton was signed to a two-year contract, leading all active pitchers with 1,108 career relief appearances and a 2.10 postseason ERA. He and David Weathers, a returning veteran, could likely share a bulk of the closer's duties until Guardado rehabilitates his way back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.

Todd Coffey could be used mostly in the seventh and eighth innings along with lefty Bill Bray. The pen is absolutely stocked with lefties with veteran Rheal Cormier and youngster Brian Shackelford also in the mix. Brad Salmon and Jared Burton will round out the right side.

Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was limited to 109 games in 2006, when he batted .252 with 27 home runs and 72 RBIs due to an injury list longer than this season preview. There is talk of the 37-year-old shifting to right field to lessen wear and tear on his various fragile body parts, but should he remain in center field, right could be a revolving door among several players. Utility outfielder Ryan Freel might see a bulk of the playing time with new acquisitions Jeff Conine and Bubba Crosby, Chris Denorfia and Norris Hopper. Adam Dunn's name sat on the Hot Stove as potential trade bait early and often during the offseason, but he will return as Cincinnati's regular left fielder. Rule 5 Draft acquisition and former #1 overall draft choice Josh Hamilton and non-roster invite Dewayne Wise will be vying to stick on the 25-man roster as reserve outfielders.

A middle-infield combo armed with good gloves and a couple of cannons, second baseman Brandon Phillips and shortstop Alex Gonzalez have the starting spots all locked up. Gonzalez, considered one of the top defensive shortstops in the AL last season with the Boston Red Sox, committed only 7 errors with a .985 fielding percentage and batted .255 with 9 homers and 50 RBIs. Their bench is also set with another former Twin, Juan Castro. Counted on for solid defense and the occassional spectacular play, Castro hit .284 in 54 games with the Reds last season.

Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion's defense pretty much sucked last year. The 23-year-old made 25 errors, tied for the most in the league, which could be attributed to age. His offensive picture has been much brighter, however. The righty hit .276 with 15 longballs and a team-leading 33 doubles, while his 72 runs driven in tied him for third on the club.

At the opposite corner of the infield, first baseman Scott Hatteberg is beyond any and all baseball growing pains at age 37. Committing just four errors in 1,074 total chances for a .996 fielding percentage, Hatteberg had a 100-game streak going last season without an error that was the longest in the Majors since 2003. His bat isn't half-bad either, hitting .289 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs last year. Backing up Hatteberg will be right-handed-hitting Jeff Conine. The 40-year-old veteran, who was acquired last month in a trade with Philadelphia to replace now San Francisco Giant Rich Aurilia's bat, hit a combined .268 with 10 home runs and 66 RBIs for the Orioles and Phillies last season.

Starting catcher David Ross, who came into Cincinnati with a reputation as mainly a defensive-minded catcher, pleasantly surprised the club when he established career-bests with 21 homers and 52 RBIs in a career-high 90 games while batting .255. Backing up Ross will be the switch-hitting Javier Valentin and newly-acquired Chad Moeller.

The Reds finished third in their division last season with a losing 80-82 record, 3.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. They did boast a 46-39 record against teams in the Central, but they could use some improvement on the road to stay in contention for a playoff appearance.

Depth Chart


RandBall said...

The poor Reds are getting suckered in by Kyle Lohse's "potential." After how many failed years does good stuff cease to be enough?

RandBall said...

Sorry, that link doesn't seem to work. Here's the lead from a Feb. 20 Cincy Enquirer story:
One of Reds manager Jerry Narron’s favorite subjects this spring has been Kyle Lohse.
“I think Kyle Lohse has a chance to have a breakout year," Narron said. “His stuff is as good as anybody’s we have. His changeup is outstanding.”

Sooze said...

After last season where really, he could only improve from a 5.83 ERA, you'd think Narron would recognize that his changeup is anything but 'outstanding'. Lohse is a terrible pitcher. I can't believe he's even putting him in the same ballpark (so to speak) as Harang and Arroyo. I'll go ahead and call bullshit on that one.

RandBall said...

Somebody remind Narron of all this when Lohse is 5-8 with a 5.23 ERA at the all-star break ... Seriously. Lizzy would be a better choice for the rotation.

Sooze said...

Hey, we can be the first to say "I told you so."