2011 pre-season preview: NL Central – Cincinnati Reds
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Cincinnati Reds (2010 record: 91-71)
The Cincinnati Reds won the National League Central last year and, in the process, made the post-season for the first time since 1995, when they swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS but were, in turn, swept by the Atlanta Braves in the Championship Series. The Reds rolled snake-eyes in last year’s post-season, losing the Division Series in a three-game series to the Philadelphia Philles that included two shut outs and suffering a no-hitter at the hands of Roy Halladay.
For the most part, the club returns returns the same cast of characters in 2011 and will hope to earn a repeat visit to the playoffs, though obviously hoping the continuity on the roster and the experience garnered last year will help them take another step in the upcoming season – as a pennant contender.
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
The Reds sat idly on the sidelines for the first two months of the off-season, but eventually added OFs Hermida and Lewis, and SS Renteria to augment the NL’s top run-scoring offense. Renteria will do battle with Paul Janish to determine who will be successor to Cabrera at shortstop; otherwise, 1B Joey Votto, RF Jay Bruce and 2B Brandon Phillips return to lead a potent offensive attack.
Votto helps set the tone on the clubhouse and in the field with solid leadership and a hard-nosed mentality. For awhile he appeared ready to make a run at the Triple Crown last year, but eventually settled for second-best in batting average (.324) and third place in both home runs (37) and rbi (113). His consolation prize? He was named the NL MVP (the first Reds player since Barry Larkin, in 1995, to be so honored).
Bruce rebounded from an ugly sophomore season by having an excellent all-around season. He posted career-best statistics in all of the major offensive categories and became one of the better defensive right fielders in the league. After having a decent first half, he struggled mightily in July (.200, 0 HR, 5 RBI) before rebounding to hit .338, with 15 HR and 29 RBI down the stretch. He will look for his first all-star nod in 2011.
Meanwhile, Rolen celebrated his return to the National League by earning his sixth All-Star Game invite – his first since 2006 (when he played for the St Louis Cardinals). The former NL Rookie of the Year had easily his best year since ’06 – hitting .285, with 20 HR and 83 RBI in the middle of the potent Reds lineup.
Ironically, 2B Brandon Phillips earned his first all-star selection in what was (arguably) the worst offensive season of his career. He hit just .275, and has seen his home run total (18 last year) decline each year since ’07. He also drove home a career-low 59 runs last year.
Stubbs started the year batting leadoff, but that experiment proved to be a dismal failure – he lacks the plate discipline and on-base skills to hit Number One. Freed from his responsibility atop the lineup, he became more aggressive in pursuing the long-ball – and had somewhat surprising results. Though he never hit more than 12 homers in any minor league season (A-ball, 2007), Stubbs socked 22 HR last year and drove home 77 runs in the process. Not bad for his first full year in the major leagues! The question is: will he prove capable of sustaining those numbers (in consideration of his 28.8% strikeout rate last year)?
The rest of the offense is pedestrian, but no one really hurts the team. I expect Gomes will regress in 2011, as his last two years of statistical relevance were driven by spikes in contact rate and hit percentage… when these regress to his inherent skill set I expect he’ll hit .240-.250, with 18-20 HR (+/-). Hernandez had a nice season last year, driven by a spike in his hit percentage… he will likely regress back to his career norm and return to the .250-.260 range in batting average. Janish is the likely heir at shortstop – both he and Renteria offer little in the way of offensive skills at this point, but he will provide decent batting average and won’t hurt the club with the leather.
The pitching staff:
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