Let’s get something straight about the defending National League Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds: It was no fluke the Reds won the division going 91-71, never mind that the last time they captured their division was 1995.
Until last season, Cincinnati hadn’t made the playoffs in 15 years. The Reds have the nucleus to change their recent history.
They have good young outfielders, a deep starting staff, a proven closer and a great right side of the infield with second baseman Brandon Phillips and league Most Valuable Player Joey Votto at first base.
Some of their key players, such as Votto and outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs, are just entering their prime.
It’s no surprise the Reds are favored to win the NL Central again, especially considering St. Louis will be without its best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, for the season and Milwaukee’s top hurler, Zach Greinke, is going to miss his first few starts.
Cincinnati is plus 185 to take the NL Central, according to current odds at Bookmaker.com, which has the Brewers next at plus 190 and the Cardinals at 2/1.
Rarely can you find value in future book odds, but the Reds are a tempting 18/1 to win the World Series. Cincinnati’s regular-season ‘over/under’ total is 86 victories.
The Reds are an up-and-coming potential powerhouse because they have nearly all of their key players back from last season.
The starting pitching rotation has a veteran hub in Bronson Arroyo (17-10 with a 3.88 ERA last year), Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez, who has shown promise but missed much of last year because of elbow ligament replacement surgery and a 50-game suspension due to using a performance-enhancing substance.
The backend of the rotation has promise, too, with youngsters Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Travis Wood.
Francisco Cordero is 35, but saved 40 games last year. He has enough left that much-heralded prospect Aroldis Chapman isn’t being counted on this season to compete for the closer position.
It’s a testament, too, about how strong Cincinnati’s starting rotation is that Chapman, who has a 100 mph fastball, is considered a reliever right now.
It’s difficult for Cincinnati’s pitchers to compile fancy statistics because its home field, Great American Ball Park, is one of the most homer-friendly parks in baseball.
The Reds led the league in runs, homers and batting average last year. They went 49-32 at home while going 42-39 on the road.
The 27-year-old Votto led the way emerging as a superstar by leading the NL in slugging and on-base percentage while batting .324 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs.
Phillips was slowed by a broken hand last season, but when healthy he’s good for 30 homers and 30 steals.
Bruce is just 24 and poised for a Votto-type of breakout season after batting .281 with 25 homers and 70 RBIs in 2010. Centerfielder Drew Stubbs needs to boost up his .255 batting average, but smacked 22 homers and stole 30 bases. Leftfielder Jonny Gomes hit 18 homers last year.
The Reds have outfield depth with Chris Heisey and Fred Lewis also in the leftfield rotation.
Cincinnati’s catching is solid with Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan. The question marks are on the left side of the infield where 35-year-old Scott Rolen is a health risk and at shortstop with light-hitting Paul Janish.
Rolen had an outstanding first-half last year finishing with a .285 average, 20 homers and 83 RBIs. The Reds brought in Edgar Renteria to back up Janish. Renteria is past his prime, but still was the World Series MVP for San Francisco last season.
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