MLB In Full Bloom - Reds Preview - 3/11/2014

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21– Number of days until Opening Day

65,191– Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Cincinnati Reds Preview

Key Additions: Skip Schumaker, Brayan Pena

Key Departures: Shin-Soo Choo, Bronson Arroyo, Ryan Hanigan, Xavier Paul, Derrek Robinson, Cesar Izturis  

When you look at the arrivals compared to the departures, it appears the Reds lost a lot more than they gained this winter. Bronson Arroyo averaged over 200 innings per season throughout his time with the Reds. Ryan Hanigan has did a great job handling the pitching staff and limiting runners on the bases in recent seasons. Of course, it will be nearly impossible to replace Shin-Soo Choo's ability to get on base. Derrick Robinson and Xavier Paul did well in their roles as outfielders with the Reds, but the team decided to part ways with them. Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena will have very little impact on the Reds if the starting lineup stays healthy. Reds fans were hoping for a big splash this offseason. They didn't get one, and the signings that the team did make will hopefully be on the bench most of the year.

OFFENSE: The Reds lost an on-base machine in Shin-Soo Choo, but there is still a lot of talent throughout the lineup. Billy Hamilton is going to be the lead-off hitter, and Joey Votto is going to bat third. The rest of the lineup will be easy to piece together once the top is set. If left fielder Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier can regain their 2012 form, this lineup will be one of the league's best. The two combined to knock in nearly 150 runs two years ago. An injury to Ludwick and Frazier's struggles saw that number nearly cut in half.

STARTING ROTATION: The Reds lost Bronson Arroyo to free agency this offseason and there is not true replacement on the staff. Johnny Cueto returns to the rotation after missing most of 2013 with a lat injury. Cueto has been dominant over the past three years, but it is a struggle to keep him healthy. In that same three year span, he has logged just 433 2/3 innings for the Reds. Mat Latos has been a 200 inning pitcher in each of his two years with the Reds, but his normal offseason regimen was slowed by minor knee surgery earlier this month. Early reports suggest that Latos is still on track for Opening Day. Homer Bailey has been solid the past two years and just signed a new long-term contract with the Reds. Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani, who might be the best fifth starter in baseball complete the Reds rotation.

BULLPEN: The effect Aroldis Chapman has on the entire Reds bullpen is impressive. Chapman has logged 185 1/3 innings in the past three seasons, allowing a 2.43 ERA. The Reds' bullpen has the third-lowest ERA in baseball. It is not all Chapman as the Reds have J.J. Hoover and Sam LeCure both turned in sub-3.00 ERA in 2013. Alfredo Simon resurrected his career in the past couple seasons and Sean Marshall only logged 10 1/3 innings thanks to a shoulder injury should be able to bounce back in 2014.

2014 PREDICTION: The Reds are one of the more intriguing teams in the National League. Their offense will suffer without Shin-Soo Choo on base every game like he was in 2013, but Billy Hamilton brings game-changing speed to the table and Joey Votto is still the best hitter in the National League. The Reds starting rotation is better than the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff provided the rotation stays reasonably healthy. The Reds are fully capable of winning the NL Central in 2014, but a more realistic expectation is second place and a wild card spot into the playoffs.

Final Record: 89-73 (2nd Place in NL Central)

MLB In Full Bloom - Cardinals Preview - 3/10/2014

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22– Number of days until Opening Day

63,278 – Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Key Additions: Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, Mark Ellis

Key Departures: Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Edward Mujica, Jake WestbrookJohn Axford

St. Louis Cardinals Preview

In an era filled with parity and unprecedented levels of roster turnover, the St. Louis Cardinals consistency is special. Since 2000, the Cardinals have made the playoffs 10 times, won seven division titles, and reached the World Series four times. The Cardinals came out of the 2013 World Series in a hurry to prepare for the team’s next shot. It was only a few weeks before Cardinals GM John Mozeliak made a pair of substantial moves addressing the team’s two most glaring needs from 2013—a shortstop and a center fielder.

OFFENSE: The Cardinals historic .330 batting average with runners in scoring position spurred the Cardinals to the National League lead in runs. Five Cardinals finished among the majors’ top-10 averages with runners in scoring position, led by Allen Craig's major-league best .454. While a repeat of  this production can’t be expected this year, the lineup remains stocked with productive hitters. The signing of shortstop Jhonny Peralta gives the Cardinals five regulars who hit .300. The Cardinals will miss their leading home run hitter Carlos Beltran, but I believe first baseman Matt Adams can help fill their power void. This lineup is deep and will score runs.

STARTING PITCHING: Despite having only three pitchers start 20 games or more, the Cardinals' rotation posted the second lowest ERA in the National league in 2013. Adam Wainwright had one of the best seasons of his career, posting a 2.94 ERA. He led the league in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts, but finished a distant second to Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young race. The often overlooked Lance Lynn put up the first 200 inning season of his career, but struggled to find consistency. Shelby Miller was the early season favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year award thanks to an 8-4 record and 2.08 ERA through his first 14 starts. Joe Kelly posted a 2.69 ERA in 37 appearances, and was 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA as a starter. The most impressive aspect of this rotation is their depth; after listing four names, I still have not mentioned Michael Wacha or setup-man-turned-starter Carlos Martinez, both of whom will get varying amounts of starts in 2014. The Cardinals rotation is deep and have enough depth in the organization to fill the gaps if needed.
BULLPEN: The Cardinals' bullpen seemed to be a very average unit in 2013. But, they finished seventh in the National League in both ERA and save percentage, and their 20 blown saves were the fifth-most in the league. Closer Trevor Rosenthal led the way with 108 strikeouts and 20 walks in 75 1/3 innings. Kevin Siegrist allowed as many earned runs in the postseason as he did in the entire regular season. He probably will not repeat last year's 0.45 regular season ERA. Jamie Garcia is sidelined with a shoulder injury and his absence could leave the bullpen with some undefined roles. But that doesn’t mean it will be any less effective than it was in the playoffs last year, when Cardinals relievers turned in a 1.82 ERA.

2014 PREDICTION: The Cardinals won it all in 2011 and have been close to winning championships in both 2012 and 2013. The entire organization has made a seamless transition from the Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols days to this new era of seemingly endless homegrown talent. The Cardinals are hands down the class of the NL Central, and possibly the National League. If their pitching stays healthy and effective, the only real question may be whether they can surpass the 100-win mark.

Final Record: 98-64 (First Place in NL Central)

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