The ball ricocheted off his face so violently the crowd went from loud cheers to a deafening silence. As Ardolis Chapman crippled to the ground, trainers ran out, all players took to a knee for prayer and the game was called. Chapman suffered facial fractures and a concussion but is expected to recover fully. Luckily he barely missed sustaining a life-threatening injury that would have derailed his baseball career. After winning 92 games a year ago, the Cincinnati Reds find themselves in a similar position a year later. Playing in the toughest division in baseball, the Red just do not have enough firepower to keep up with the Cardinals and Pirates.
With Chapman out, someone needs to step up in the closer role. The Cuban sensation put up sensational numbers including 112 strikeouts in only 62 innings. His overpowering fastball consistently reached 105 mph. There was consideration of bringing Chapman into the starting role but this devastating injury shuts down that option. He needs to get healthy before he can even think about returning to the diamond. Mat Latos also starts the year on the DL after offseason arthroscopic elbow surgery to remove bone debris. He won 14 games but experienced shoulder discomfort prior to the Wild Card game against he Pirates. Getting both these two healthy is the top priority for the organization in the long term. Bronson Arroyo signed with the D-Backs so replacing his 202 innings is another challenge for the Reds. Homer Bailey enters as the ace in the rotation. He led the Reds with 199 strikeouts and 1.12 WHIP. Even with average numbers, he was given a contract extension similar to that of an ace. He threw two no-hitters last year and should continue to see his stock rise as he gets better. Mike Leake is another solid addition in the rotation. With a similar pitching style to Arroyo, Leake has carved a career, posting good numbers without overpowering stuff. He had one of the best groundball outs ratios last season. The team’s ace-in-the-hole is Tony Cingrani. The youngster might take over as the best pitcher on the roster if he pushes his 2013 numbers into this year. He kept a low ERA while averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Reds fans are excited over his limitless potential.
The offense is built around Jay Bruce. First baseman Joey Votto has an MVP and the big contract to his name, but Bruce is the catalyst. The five-hitter burst on the scene as a rookie and has consistently put up 30-homer year. With an offseason workout that Bruce boasts has him in the best shape of his life, expect breakout numbers for the face of the franchise. The Reds have not had a consistent 40-homer player since Adam Dunn left town. Look for Bruce to now take over that role. Brandon Philips is another game-changer for the organization. The talented second baseman has been an All-Star the past five seasons and is not slowing down. He puts up some of the best power numbers for a second baseman. With Votto and Bruce batting behind him, Philips has emerged as an MVP-caliber player. He sees plenty of fastballs and makes pitchers looks foolish when they challenge him. Billy Hamilton rise to the Majors has been a thrill to watch. Hamilton who led the minors in steals earned a September call-up last year and now finds himself thrust into the starting center fielder spot. Baseball has not seen a 100-steals player since Ricky Henderson. Hamilton has the talent. He will win Rookie of the Year honors as long as he keeps a high on-base percentage and causes havoc on the base paths. 50 steals is expected and anything higher would be a bonus.
Throughout the roster, the Reds are packed with a solid combination of power, good pitching and potential. Dusty Baker had a record of getting the best from his players but was fired after the team’s early playoff exit. Bryan Price was promoted to manager but is unproven in the Majors. Even with the high talent level, Price may not be the one to bring the team together. In baseball’s toughest division, the Reds have will struggle adjusting to Price’s skills. The single-game Wild Card win is doable but the Cardinals or Pirates will beat the Reds. GM Walt Jocketty will go back to a big-name manager after another early post-season loss.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.