Last year at this time, there was guarded optimism from most on RZ. But after being beat down with nine consecutive losing seasons, most of us were a bit gun-shy to predict big things. I thought they would finally have a winning record (I predicted 83-79) but I did not expect an NL Central title ... winning comfortably by 5 games over the Cards.
This year, the Reds have the best and deepest starting rotation that any of us can ever remember. It's so good that the hardest-throwing human on the planet -- a man everyone thought would be a starter when the Reds signed him -- will pitch out of the bullpen. In fact, there are so many good starters, one deserving pitcher is going to have to go to Triple-A (or the bullpen) to start the season because there are six legitimately good starting pitchers on the club: Arroyo, Volquez, Cueto, Wood, Bailey, Leake. So, the starting pitching is shaping up to be very good and we all know how crucial that is to a baseball team's success.
Then the bullpen isn't great IMO, but it will be at least solid. Hopefully Cordero can at least hold his own as the closer. We know he's not going to be anything special, but hopefully he doesn't do anything to greatly hurt the team either. Then I love the two set-up guys with the aforementioned Chapman and Masset. I also like Bray as the #4 and Ondrusek as the #5. And there are a lot of solid candidates for the other spots like Arredondo, Burton, Herrera, Donnie Joseph, Jordan Smith and Dontrelle Willis. (And a couple more.) Bullpen shouldn't be anything that holds the team back and has the potential to be a minor strength.
Offensively, the team returns the NL MVP, a player that should put up very similar numbers if he stays healthy. Votto is not the type of guy that is going to be inconsistent throughout his career -- he's that good. He's the perfect anchor for the lineup in the 3-hole and if he plays 150 games the offense will always be dangerous. I like the idea of a platoon situation in LF with Lewis batting leadoff against righties and Gomes batting somewhere like sixth against lefties. I think Jay Bruce is going to continue to improve and this will be the year he gets over 30 HRs. He will be inconsistent though, unlike Votto. But Bruce is going to slowly get better and the way he ended last season was very encouraging. Also, you won't find a better defensive right fielder at the present time in Major League Baseball. That is saying quite a bit.
Rolen is a wildcard due to his health, but hopefully he will at least help the team get off to a good first half like he did last year. Let's hope the rest he received this offseason will rejuvenate him. Plus, maybe Juan Francisco will be able to give him extra days off this year (and Cairo can obviously provide spot starts at third as well). Rolen broke down by the end of last season and I know everyone is expecting the exact same thing to happen this year, but who knows. Worst case, I hope Scotty Roles has a big first half again and allows the Reds to build a lead in the division. I also love his defense when healthy (and actually able to bend over so he can get his glove all the way down to the dirt). For some reason, I think Rolen will piece together another good season and they'll find a way to prevent him from completely breaking down by the end of the year. It's not like he's 39 or 40. He's 35. No spring chicken, but not quite ready for a nursing home either.
Phillips will be Phillips. Very streaky offensively, but overall will be an asset to the lineup. He might have to leadoff the days Gomes starts -- but I don't have a problem with that. And he's also one of the best defensive second baggers in baseball.
Stubbs will be streaky as well and hopefully they can avoid ever batting him in the leadoff spot. He needs to bat sixth or seventh in the order -- he's very comfortable there and the numbers prove it. Stubbs has amazing speed tracking balls in the outfield, but tends to have a problem playing balls at or near the wall. Hopefully he gets over that "phobia" or whatever you want to call it because it's the only thing preventing him from being a great defensive centerfielder.
I love the catching tandem with Hanigan and Hernandez. If they can be as productive as last year (which is asking a lot) the Reds will be in very good hands once again. Hanigan is clearly the better of the two defensively, so I hope he ends up getting the majority of the starts. But it will basically be a platoon again.
At shortstop, I tend to think it will be a straight platoon with Janish and Renteria. I know management is saying the job is Janish's, but I don't think they would have signed Renteria if they really believe that Janish is the full-time answer. I expect these guys to log roughly the same amount of starts this season, unless one of them gets injured, or one of them gets really hot.
Overall, I've never been so excited for spring training to begin. I was born in 1976, so I just missed the BRM days. And I was excited in 1991 after the World Series championship year, but something told me the Reds weren't going to catch lightning in a bottle two straight years. I just really think the 2011 Reds have all the makings of a team that will be in the race all year and that's very exciting to me as a lifelong diehard fan.