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Reds ready for payoff from big offseason

@m_sheldon
July 22, 2020

CINCINNATI -- It took longer than anybody wanted, but the 2020 season is finally here --beginning with Opening Day on Friday vs. the Tigers -- and it’s a great opportunity for the Reds. One of the most aggressive teams in making offseason upgrades to its roster, Cincinnati spent $166 million

CINCINNATI -- It took longer than anybody wanted, but the 2020 season is finally here --beginning with Opening Day on Friday vs. the Tigers -- and it’s a great opportunity for the Reds.

One of the most aggressive teams in making offseason upgrades to its roster, Cincinnati spent $166 million on free agents Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama for the lineup, Wade Miley for the rotation and Pedro Strop for the bullpen.

“The resumes speak for themselves,” said outfielder Jesse Winker. “A lot of guys have played in meaningful games in October, World Series games. For everything we want to accomplish in Cincinnati, we need that. Everybody we brought, they’re outstanding players, outstanding teammates. I’m looking forward to getting this thing underway.”

Already viewed as a potential playoff contender in the National League Central and Wild Card races in a 162-game season, what can manager David Bell and the Reds do now over 60 games?

“I know our one-run loss record [24-33] last year is not going to cut it,” said catcher Curt Casali. “If we have a one-run lead, we have to be able to lock it down and win that thing. If you win one game, it’s more like you just won three. That’s huge. … It’s coming up quick, but I’m excited about it. I think it’s unique that we get to be a part of history in this way.”

What needs to go right?
The offense needs to produce regularly to support one of baseball’s best rotations. As Casali noted, the Reds’ 33 one-run losses in 2019 underscored a need for more offense, as the club ranked 12th in the NL in runs, average and OPS.

Enter Moustakas (35 home runs in 2019) and Castellanos (27 homers, 58 doubles) for the middle of the order and Akiyama (.392 OBP for Seibu) at the top, and Cincinnati should score more often in 2020.

“We’ve got a really good lineup,” said third baseman Eugenio Suárez, who was second in the Majors last season with 49 homers. “We’ve got really good people around. We’ve got a good [pitching] staff. When you have all those things on your team, I feel like we’ve got a really good team, and we can do whatever we want with this team.”

Big question: Can an almost 37-year-old Joey Votto bounce back?
Votto previously called his 2019 season “just an awful, underwhelming experience,” after he slashed .261/.357/.411 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 142 games. And that came after another sub-.300 batting year in ’18. Even with Suárez, Moustakas and Castellanos as the power focal point in the lineup now, Votto still needs to return to form -- being a tough out, getting on base and driving the ball to all fields. During Summer Camp, he appeared to be doing that at a steady rate.

Prospect to watch
Catcher Tyler Stephenson, the club’s No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, isn’t on the Opening Day roster with Tucker Barnhart and Casali as the primary backstops. But should one of them be injured or underperform, the door would open to Stephenson. Expected to be at Triple-A Louisville before the pandemic, the 23-year-old batted .285/.372/.410 with six homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games last season for Double-A Chattanooga and then performed even better in the Arizona Fall League.

“We’re going to develop him, and there’s definitely no limitations on when he can arrive,” Bell said last week. “It can happen at any time, especially given what we’re dealing with this year.”

On the schedule
Based on last year’s records, the Reds appear to have one of the easier schedules in all of baseball this season. That’s especially the case in the early portion, with 14 of the first 25 games against the Tigers (114 losses in ’19), Royals (103 losses) and Pirates (93 losses). In fact, six of the first 10 games are against Detroit. Cincinnati doesn’t draw the defending NL Central champion Cardinals until Aug. 20-23. Those first 25 games would be a great opportunity for the Reds to build a strong start in what could be a tight four-team division race.

Team MVP will be ...
Eugenio Suárez. In the third spot in the lineup, with Moustakas, Castellanos and others behind him, Suárez will have protection and perhaps more chances to get better pitches to drive.

Team Cy Young will be ...
Trevor Bauer. After a disappointing two months in Cincinnati with a 6.39 ERA in 10 starts, the 2018 All-Star will be looking to do to what made him great in Cleveland -- and during a contract year.

Bold prediction
The Reds will use a fast start to help end a six-year stretch of not appearing in the postseason by securing the first NL Wild Card spot. They will also be in the fight for the NL Central, which is one of the toughest divisions in baseball.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.