How will things shape up in the NL Central?
After four straight years at the bottom of the National League Central, the Reds moved up to fourth in 2019, 16 games behind St. Louis and 14 games out of postseason contention. Attendance rose from 1.63 million in 2018 to 1.81 million in 2019, still the third-lowest total in 17 years at the Great American Ball Park. The team allowed only 10 runs more than it scored; the pitching staff went from a weakness to a strength; and management seems committed to improving the club rather than tearing it down.
The Reds got a fantastic season out of third baseman Eugenio Suarez but otherwise received above-average offensive performances from only their right fielders — Yasiel Puig and, after Puig was traded to Cleveland, Aristides Aquino. Top prospect Nick Senzel had an injury-filled rookie season. Jose Peraza, a top-of-the-order shortstop in 2018, lost his job in 2019. Left field and second base were season-long weaknesses. And, worryingly, first baseman Joey Votto’s production declined sharply for the second straight year; the 2017 MVP runner-up’s .768 OPS was below the league average of .776 for position players.
That lack of production led the front office to invest heavily in hitting during the winter. Cincinnati handed four-year, $64 million contracts to Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos — eschewing defense for power — and gave $21 million to Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama. It was their most active offseason in years.
The Reds are banking on several rebounds. With their pitching, they’d be fine with a repeat of 2019. Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray were one of the best 1-2 combos in the league. Trevor Bauer, acquired in the Puig trade, is a durable if inconsistent pitcher. Anthony DeSclafani excelled in his first injury-free season since 2015. The back end of the bullpen, with Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen setting up closer Raisel Iglesias, is strong.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the Reds
“They’ve collected a lot of talent, but I’m not sure they’re getting the most out of it. They kicked the ball around a lot last year and ran into a lot of outs. But their pitchers have learned how to pretty much mitigate that ballpark in a home run era, and the rotation could be really good. Luis Castillo is nasty, Trevor Bauer can be very good, but Sonny Gray is the most trustworthy of the three. With Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley, they have a solid 4-5, too. They’re a little shaky late in games because Raisel Iglesias took a step back, and I still wonder about the defense with Eugenio Suarez, who really regressed at third, and Mike Moustakas, who’s just okay at second. It will be interesting to see if Joey Votto can bounce back, because he’s really slowing down, and I’m not a believer in Aristides Aquino — he’s really strong and he’s got a big swing with a lot of power, but he’s almost 26 years old and he’ll never see a fastball again. Pitchers learned pretty quickly that they can get him to chase, chase, chase on breaking balls.”
Beyond the Box Score
Role Reversal In both 2017 and 2018, the Reds were eighth in the National League in runs scored and last in runs allowed. In 2019, those rankings flipped, with the team allowing the third-fewest runs and scoring the fourth-fewest — despite home games at Great American Ball Park, which is favorable for hitters.
End of an Era Marty Brennaman, longtime play-by-play voice for the Reds, called his last game on Sept. 26. His last “And this one belongs to the Reds!” call following a Cincinnati victory was five days earlier after a 3–2 win over the Mets. When he called his first game in 1974, no current Red was alive. Manager David Bell was 1 year old.
Gun Show Celebrating the club’s 150th anniversary, the Reds showcased 15 throwback uniforms at home games in 2019. The most notable was the 1956 Ted Kluszewski-era sleeveless road jersey, worn on July 7. It allowed Yasiel Puig, Michael Lorenzen, Derek Dietrich and others to showcase big biceps. The team went 5–10 on the days of the promotions.
Drawing More Interest The Reds drew 1,808,685 fans at home, third fewest in the National League. They joined the Pirates and Marlins as the only NL teams to attract fewer than 2 million fans. On the other hand, attendance increased by 179,329 from 2018, the fifth-largest increase in the majors. The sesquicentennial and improved play on the field drew in more fans.
And the Law Won The Reds lost 59 percent of their replay reviews. Only the Cardinals, Orioles, Mets and Twins fared worse.
Lorenzen and the Babe Michael Lorenzen became the first player to hit a homer, play in the outfield and get credited for a win in a game in since Babe Ruth accomplished the feat on June 13, 1921.
No Home Cooking Tyler Mahle started 25 games for the Reds in 2019, posting a 3–12 record and a 5.14 ERA. He represents the total starting pitcher output by players drafted by the Reds. The back end of the bullpen is homegrown, but it’d be nice to supplement the rotation with Reds-developed pitchers. Top 2019 draft pick Nick Lodolo leads a group of farmhands who could join the rotation in 2021 if not 2020.
CF Shogo Akiyama (R)
1B Joey Votto (L)
3B Eugenio Suarez* (R)
2B Mike Moustakas (L)
RF Nick Castellanos (R)
LF Jesse Winker (L)
C Tucker Barnhart (S)
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
C Curt Casali (R)
C/INF Kyle Farmer (R)
OF Aristedes Aquino (R)
UT Nick Senzel (R)
OF Phil Ervin (R)
RHP Luis Castillo
RHP Sonny Gray
RHP Trevor Bauer
RHP Anthony DeSclafani
LHP Wade Miley
RHP Raisel Iglesias (C)
RHP Michael Lorenzen
LHP Amir Garrett
RHP Pedro Strop
RHP Robert Stephenson
RHP Lucas Sims
RHP Jose De Leon
RHP Tyler Mahle
*Note: Eugenio Suarez underwent shoulder surgery in late January so it's possible he may not be ready to go by Opening Day.