Looking at the 2018 Cincinnati Reds

Firstly, let me warn you, this is an optimistic outlook. I have seen plenty of pessimistic opinions on this team to know that what you are about to read may seem foolhardy, but bear with me. That being said, the Cincinnati Reds will finish the 2018 season having won 50% of their games, and what follows is why I believe that.

The Intro

After another disappointing season in 2017, the Reds front office believed that it, mostly, had the cards in their hand they wanted to play with and only signed two free agents to major league contracts. Adding David Hernandez and Jared Hughes strengthened a bullpen that finished second only to the decimated Mets in worst bullpen ERA (4.65). A few minor-league contracts with Spring Training Invites later, and the roster is rounded out and ready for Opening Day.

The Pitching

Part of the team’s struggles could be due to the fact the bullpen pitched a total of 610 innings last year, which isn’t the worst (the Marlins bullpen pitched 612 innings), but it is close to 40 innings more than the next highest team. Also, the Marlins have pretty much punted the 2018 season before it even started, so being lumped in with them is not good in any regard.

The bullpen’s struggles are not entirely their own making. Sure, there were guys like Blake Wood (5.65 era in 57 IP) and a washed up Drew Storen (57 hits allowed in 54 IP) getting calls from the bullpen, but the starters were what really crippled the Reds in 2017.

Two pitchers, that’s right only a pair, threw for more than 100 innings last year and neither one is on staff this season. In fact, neither Scott Feldman nor Tim Adleman are even on the roster. Homer Bailey is the only pitcher currently in the starting rotation (shout out to his first Opening Day nod) who even eclipsed 90 innings. Now the modern day fan still looks at these numbers and sees a doomed squad that will continue to wallow in mediocrity. Let me tell you why it will be completely different this year.

Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Amir Garrett, and Cody Reed were all given auditions last year. Management was never going to put a bevy of starts on them their first full year in the majors as they felt the youngsters needed time to adjust to the Major League grind. Instead, the Reds turned to guys like Feldman, Adleman, and Bronson Arroyo to eat up innings, despite their protracted usefulness. Heck, raise your hand if your really thought the Reds front office saw Asher Wonciechowski or Lisalverto Bonilla as rotation pieces moving forward…didn’t think so. My point here is, 2018 is when the guys who should be in the rotation…Romano, Castillo, Mahle, and Garrett…will be turned loose.

I’m not even counting Anthony Desclafani and Brandon Finnegan. I almost see them as midseason additions to the team as neither one has been healthy for almost two years now. The guys they got in the Opening Day rotation are healthy and ready to prove they belong.

Here are a couple of stats to get you excited. Luis Castillo struck out 27% of the batters he faced in 89 innings last year. Tyler Mahle induced a ground ball 52% of the time (huge in such a homer-friendly park like Great American). Sal Romano had the third best WAR on the team for pitchers last year at 1.3. Homer Bailey was an unlucky pitcher last year as his ERA of 6.43 is countered by a 4.90 FIP, which means the pitching statistics that he had direct control over show he should have given up almost two less runs, per game. Lastly, Amir Garrett is the oldest of the young guns (25), as Castillo is 24, Romano is 23 and Mahle is 22.

Now here comes the fun part, the reason that, if, the pitching can shave off a few runs per game, the Reds will definitely win 82 games.

The Hitting

Cincinnati set a franchise record in 2017, having 6 players hit at least 20 home runs. I’m not sure if this is any kind of record, but three of those guys hit over 30 dingers. As a team, the Reds were 6th best (22.7 WAR) in the National League, according to Fangraphs. That means the Reds bats were worth 22 more wins compared to a replacement level team. They scored the 8th most runs (753) and had the 8th best batting average (.253), just 4 points off from being a top five batting average team, and it was all led by one of the best players in the game today.

Joseph Daniel Votto finished second in MVP voting last year for a team that won 68 games. If you ask me, the fact that the man who beat him was traded to the American League, they should give him the trophy now, but I digress. Joey had a phenomenal year. He batted .320 (4th in the NL), he hit 36 homers (tied for 6th in the NL), he had 100 RBIs (10th in the NL), and he scored 106 times (6th in the NL). His peripheral stats are even better. He was on base 45% of the time, he slugged a slip of .578, and he walked (19%) more than he struck out (11%). No one man can carry a baseball team, but Joey is a close as it gets.

Now that I’ve gushed about my favorite player, I’ll let you know the guys around him are pretty good, too. There are three guys, two you’d expect and one breakout, who will help Joey will this team to a .500 record. We’ll start with the man who just got a whopping 7-year contract extension, Eugenio Suarez.

By every stretch of the imagination, Suarez had the best season of his young career in 2017. He compiled a 4.1 WAR, which is more than twice as good as his previous high (1.7), and he learned to take a walk, with 13.3% being much better than the 8.1% in 2016. Due to this newfound patience (Fangraphs says his swing percentage was the same as Joey Votto’s), Eugenio had an on-base percentage of .368 and clubbed 26 homers. He’ll regularly bat somewhere between 2nd and 5th in the lineup and he is going to get a lot of RBI chances this season.

The second player I want to highlight is Scott Schebler. Along with Suarez and Votto, Schebler will help round out the middle of the batting order for the Reds. Schebler crushed 30 bombs last year and doesn’t figure on slowing down. He knocked in 67 runs, which seems low, but usually hit 5th or 6th in the batting order, meaning Votto and Suarez had already cleared them for him. Some sight his .233 batting average as concerning, but may I point out the luck factor as he had a measly .248 batting average on balls in play. The league’s BABIP was .300, meaning Schebs (if no one calls him that then I take full credit for starting it) was getting the short end of the stick. If that normalizes for him this year, watch out.

The last player I want to highlight is Jesse Winker. Now, I know I’m not actually making some sort of breakthrough hot take by saying he is going to break out this year, but Winker will be the leadoff hitter, sooner rather than later. The new guy in town, and Bryan Price’s 4th outfielder (a plan that wont last too far into the season), has gotten on base better than 32% of the time his entire minor league career. In 137 plate appearances during last year’s cup of coffee in the Majors, Winker built an on-base percentage of .375. What do you need a leadoff hitter to do? Get on base! What does Winker do? He gets on base. Put this kid in, coach, he’s ready to play.

So, I am sure, if you’ve stayed in this long on this TLDR post, you may have something to say about something I said. Leave me a comment! Tell me what you think about the Reds this year.

Pump Fakes and Passes – Thoughts while watching basketball

Currently watching the Loyola-Chicago vs Nevada game and had a few thoughts…about a myriad of things…that I wanted to write.

Currently, Sister Jean is handling the Wolfpack, up by nine, at the moment.

I will not elaborate fully, but man I was mad on Sunday. Seriously, one of the worst days in the life of a Cincinnati sports fan. The Bearcats blow a 22-point lead. You might have heard that. Also, the other team from the Queen City, Xavier, blew a 12-point lead. Something about Cincy and the postseason. I’m thinking of doing a post about what was the worst day in my Cincy fandom (shout out to Kyle at the office for the idea), but I am having trouble containing the post to something less than a Tolkien book. Stay tuned.

Loyola has forced nine turnovers on Nevada tonight. You totally can’t prove I’m wrong when I say this, so I’ll say it: UC would have beaten Nevada if they forced nine turnovers.

The mahi-mahi at Bonefish Grill is pretty darn good. Solid taste, great texture, and when you get “Rhea’s Mahi-Mahi” the spinach and lump crab meat make a great team, Bonefish is a good place to eat.

Nevada trying to make a comeback, now just down a touchdown. Needs the defense to lockdown the Wolfpack’s transition game because Sister Jean cannot hang with Nevada’s athleticism.

I have a pair of fantasy baseball teams this year (those of you who know me well are silently congratulating me on my newfound restraint) and one of the teams does not have Joey Votto on it. I love fantasy sports, but when it’s baseball I am quite biased. I am not complaining about a friend drafting him from under my nose, I am lamenting that I forgot about the draft even happening. Some commissioner I am…

Loyola-Chicago is, once again, doing whatever they want. Nevada will force a turnover only to find their pockets have been picked before they can even try to get points off the turnover. The Ramblers look poised for the Elite Eight.

Saw the new trailer for Deadpool and I am very aroused exited. The trailer shows he is putting together X-Force in this one, which could be Marvel working him into the Avengers. Is there an actor more perfect for a role that Ryan Reynolds being Deadpool? I’ll hang up and listen. Meanwhile, I like Josh Brolin as Cable. He’s the K to Reynolds J (obligatory Men in Black reference). It’s been awhile since I laughed at a movie as much as I laughed at the first Deadpool, so bring on round two.

Here’s a fun fact…I know nothing about college basketball, despite knowing a little about it. Nevada now two possessions behind Loyola. The Wolf pack just don’t like to have the lead until the final seconds. They led less than five minutes, total, in their first two wins on this tournament. These final minutes are going to be fun.

Big Oreo ad on the scorer’s table in Atlanta. Name a more iconic cookie, I’ll wait.

Tie game now! The twins for Nevada have some kind of Protectors of the Universe vibe around them. Pretty sure they get around town in a couple mini lion bots.

Looking forward to Opening Day, just one week from today. The Reds have year two of the young starting rotation on-deck, and I am thinking it’s going to be better this time. Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo look like the two heads of the rotation with Sal Romano being the next Mike Leake, and Amir Garrett, the Reds X-factor, holding down the back end of the rotation. The bullpen will be solid and so will the lineup. They just need the starters to do their jobs. Mark my words, if the Reds starters churn out quality starts 2 out of every 3 games, .500 is the floor for this team.

Two-point lead with less than two minutes to play and Loyola continued to dominate in the paint, but Nevada knocked down a trey to bring it within one with just am minute to go. Then pandemonium ensued. The Wolfpack had two good looks at the lead only to see the Ramblers grab the board and the subsequent free throws. 41.3 left with Nevada down three and the ball. Loyola wisely fouled, avoiding a possible game-tying three. The Ramblers, after Nevada sank the two freebies, with a one-pint lead sunk a DAGGER trey to go up four with six seconds left. Marcus owns sends Sister Jean to the Elite Eight!

Bracket Monday

The best Monday of the year happened yesterday. Now, some may disagree, especially with the time change and losing an hour just one day before, but Bracket Monday is the only, non-holiday, Monday of the year.

“That’s not what it’s called,” says some no-name.

“Well, it is now,” says I.

Bracket Monday is a day that, no matter what I am supposed to be doing, I am totally focused on the bracket. Who will make the Final Four? Which team is this year’s Cinderella? Will a 16-seed finally defeat a 1-seed? These are questions that my feeble, fandom-soaked, mind is only partially successful at deciphering. Regardless, I thought it worth sharing, so here we go.

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Lets start with the group of death, the South Region. I am super biased here…and that doesn’t really stay within their region, but I’ll get to that later. I like my Bearcats! Frankly, I feel like they are the better team in all their matchups, except for the Elite Eight when they find a way to beat Virginia, but there is more there than just the seeds. I, admittedly, do not know much about Nevada, but I can see Mo Bamba and Texas making it to round two. The Bearcats will be able to neutralize Bamba, forcing the rest of the team to step up, something they aren’t that adept at doing. Then, in the Sweet 16, UC will be able to slow Tennessee down to a crawl and make enough shots to get to, what I regard, as a dream matchup in this Tournament. I am so excited at the prospect of a UVA vs UC game in which the winner may score just 40 points, so I will totally pick it…because I really want it to happen.

Good spot to put a disclaimer, I like to fall back on picking matchups I want to see.

Other than the Longhorns, I feel good about the other two upsets I picked. Seth Davis, from the Athletic, is all over Buffalo over Arizona…but he still picked Arizona to win. I am taking it one step further and taking the Bulls. The other upset, Loyola-Chicago over Miami (Fla.), is more about what a story I could see it being. LC hasn’t been to the Dance in a long time, so I don’t see them bowing out to get some punch before the music kicks in. For what it’s worth, I am a fan of Kentucky…but this year has been so un-Calipari that I could almost see them losing in the first round to Davidson. I don’t think it enough to pick it, though, as you can see in the image above.

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Now on to the West. Again, my bias is showing. Putting X through to the Final Four is pretty bold, according to most pundits, but they have been really good all year. Take away their mandatory pair of games against Villanova, and they’re practically flawless. I think they can overcome the popular pick out the West, Gonzaga, in the Sweet 16 and overtake Michigan to get to San Antonio.

Only two upsets made it in my bracket for this region. Providence has a great coat and a good resume this year, which is why I think they take their 10-7 matchup and get out of round one. San Diego State is a literal dart throw…though I can see Houston being dejected after falling just short in the American Conference Championship game to Cincinnati. Michigan over UNC will be a trendy pick, and I’m in. UNC is a better version of Kentucky…which still means they’re shaky. Hot take here, but I think the Tar Heels are the weakest 2-seed.

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Next is the East Region where I have succumbed to peer pressure. Everyone is picking Villanova…everyone. I wanted to take Purdue, but I thought about it and they don’t have the stuff to stop Nova’s crazy shooters. Texas Tech kind of sparked my interest, but they are without a key player and you need all hands on deck to beat the Wildcats. Jay Wright has the best scoring team in this tournament and I do not see anyone in this region slowing them down.

Speaking of Texas Tech, I have St. Bonaventure beating them in the second round. I just really like the Bonnies. I think they have that fire of having just barely made it in to the tournament, and their guards are pretty solid, so I can see them being a nice Sweet 16 pick. Don’t think the Bonnies make it out of the first round, you say? Meh, I say you’re wrong. They’ll beat the Ball-less UCLA and then upset the boring Gators. On a Side note, I wanted to pick Wichita State over Villanova. I really enjoy watching Landry Shamet and Shaq Morris play basketball, but they just don’t have enough to push the Shockers to the Elite Eight.

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That brings us to the Midwest and final region on the bracket. I am going to take some heat for this call, but. I got New Mexico State being this year’s Cinderella…until they meet up with Tom Izzo and Michigan State. Sparty is on a scorched earth campaign as they have been hounded about Larry Nasser and sex abuse within the athletic department for most of the season. Probably the most exciting player in college basketball, not named Trae, Miles Bridges will lead his teammates to the Final Four. Meanwhile, Kansas will play victim to another Cinderella story as Mew Mexico State will bounce them in the Sweet 16. This is where I balance my college basketball fan-know-how with total nonsense because I just want this to happen. Tell me anything about New Mexico State. I do apologize if, for some reason, this is being read by someone who went there, or is there, but here in Ohio, knowledge of New Mexico State is as follows: they are in the tournament and are a 12-seed. That’s pretty much it. Nonetheless, I got em being awesome this year.

So that leaves us with the Final Four and Champion. If you know me, you’re rolling your eyes.

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“Cincinnati and Xavier are NOT meeting in the Final Four, Frederick!” Shut your pie-hole. Again, this is where the wishful-thinking, fan-minded side in me comes out, but Southwest Ohio would literally collapse in on itself from sheer excitement if this were to happen…so bring it on. Xavier and the Bearcats to see who faces Villanova, and oh, wait, it’s UC! The Bearcats make their first Championship game since, like, the 50’s, or something, and then shock everyone and win the whole dang thing.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen on the readership. Go ahead and disagree with me…I know you will.