This is the part of the countdown that gets difficult. If you have followed to this point, the sixteen teams I have previewed are expected to be on the outside looking in- in regards to being postseason contenders. Of course, teams like the Indians (#21), Pirates (#22) and Braves (#15) all made the postseason last year and should be back in the mix. However, the next 4 teams I preview can all be used interchangeably with the top ten teams on the list (the top ten are all the 2014 playoff teams (in my opinion) with the next 4 just missing out). Number 14 was the Tampa Bay Rays, followed by the Oakland Athletics at 13.
The Reds have put together a solid team, but some say their window is closing. When I predicted my World Series for 2013, I had the Reds playing the Detroit Tigers. The St Louis Cardinals took over the division and on paper, they hold the advantage coming into 2014. 90-72 was good enough to play the Wild Card play-in game, which they lost to Pittsburgh. This loss led to the dismissal of manager Dusty Baker, who the sabermatricians hate with a passion. Pitching coach Brian Price takes over. They also lost CF Shin Soo Choo (.285, 21, 54) and RHP Bronson Arroyo (14-12, 3.79 in 32 starts) to free agency. The Reds were hit with the sudden injury of star closer Aroldis Chapman, who was hit in the head with a line drive during a spring training game. What would frustrate me as a Reds fan is the fact that this team could have used another bat and maybe a back of the rotation arm. But the truth remains that this team still has enough talent to contend for both the division race as well as a wild card spot.
Replacing Choo is likely to be baserunning phenom Billy Hamilton, who has stole well over nearly 400 bases in just 5 minor league seasons as well as 13 in 13 games for the Reds in 2013. Hamilton getting on base will determine how dangerous he will be. 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto (.305, 24, 73) leads an offense that features RF Jay Bruce (.262, 30, 109) and All Star 2B Brandon Phillips (.261, 18, 103). The left side of the infield features SS Zack Cozart (.254, 12, 63) and 3B Todd Frazier (.234, 19, 73). Ryan Ludwick returns to be the team's starting LF after playing in just 38 games in 2013, with Chris Heisey and Skip Schumaker also in the mix. Devin Mesoraco (.238, 9, 42) is the starting catcher with Brayan Pena (.297, 4, 22) getting the chance to back him up. Minor league invitees Chris Nelson and Ramon Santiago have a good chance to make the club off the bench, led by Schumaker, Heisey and Jack Hannahan.
The top of the Reds rotation should still be one of the strengths of the club. Johnny Cueto (5-2. 2.82 in 11 starts) is the ace as long as he is healthy, which has been a concern for Cincinnati. RHPs Mat Latos (14-7, 3.16 in 32 starts) and Homer Bailey (11-12, 3.49, 32 starts) are locks with RHP Mike Leake (14-7, 3.37, 31 starts) and LHP Tony Cingrani (7-4, 2.92, 18 starts) rounding out the rotation. Chin-Ming Wang is in camp trying to get back into a MLB rotation. A possibility exists that RHP Alfredo Simon can get back in the mix as a starter but that idea is likely out the window after the Chapman injury.
Chapman (4-5, 2.54, 38 saves, 112 Ks in 63 2/3 IP) is right there with Craig Kimbrel as the top closer in all of MLB. He is likely to return to MLB action some time in April. RHPs JJ Hoover (5-5, 2.86 in 55 games), Jonathan Broxton (2-2, 4.11, 34 games) and Simon (6-4, 2.87 in 63 games) will piece together the bullpen until Chapman is ready to return. RHPs Sam LeCure (2-1, 2.66, 63) and Logan Ondrusek (3-1, 4.09, 52) add depth from the right side with LHP Manny Parra (2-3, 3.33, 57) emerging from the left side. LHP Sean Marshall is back and should be more than a lefty specialist.
I like the Reds this season enough to make the playoffs, but see them as the last team eliminated this season. The next five NL teams are all in the playoffs. I think Price is a good choice to be a MLB manager but I question the thought of him leading such a proven veteran team. A team that won 90 games last season should not be that far off, in spite of the losses of Choo and Arroyo and the injury to Chapman. Vegas has them at 84.5 for the O/U and I will actually take the over at 86-76, 2nd place in the NL Central. This leaves them just out, possibly in a play in game to get to the play in game.