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Anger Management: A Cincinnati Reds preview

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A look ahead at the White Sox' first National League opponent of 2015

"We don't need to know that Tucker Barnhart's in the f------ airport when we haven't spoken to Kyle Skipworth."
"We don't need to know that Tucker Barnhart's in the f------ airport when we haven't spoken to Kyle Skipworth."
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, the Cincinnati Reds scored just 595 runs, good for third-fewest in the National League behind the Braves and Padres.

This would have registered as a surprising enough result on a standalone basis, but it's even more of a shock considering that the Reds received a couple nice breakout performances to support their core. Former top prospect catcher Devin Mesoraco blasted 25 home runs out of nowhere (in just 440 plate appearances!) after struggling for a couple seasons. Third baseman Todd Frazier randomly swiped 20 bags for the first time and made the finals of the Home Run Derby (!!!).  Those two guys posted over 10 bWAR between them.  What the heck went wrong?

Well, for the second time in three years, star first baseman Joey Votto missed significant time due to injury. Votto led the National League in OBP for four straight seasons prior to 2014, but was only able to take the field 62 times. Slugging, whiff-prone outfielder Jay Bruce nearly halved his usual home run total by posting just 18 and had a slew of strikeouts and ground balls into the shift reduce his normally-acceptable batting average to just .217. Speedster Billy Hamilton was asked to lead off 136 times despite an OBP below .300.  Defensive whiz Zack Cozart hit worse than Zack Greinke, Ryan Ludwick played entirely too much baseball.

It's for many of these reasons that many are down on the Reds this year. All of these guys returned to their respective roles save for Ludwick, who's been supplanted by a horribly slumping Marlon Byrd in left field. However, health from Votto, Bruce reverting to putting the ball in the air, and Cozart bouncing back to ... eh ... watchable can make this lineup downright potent. The Reds could easily make last season's offensive woes a thing of the past.

Despite the potential to score runs, general manager Walt Jocketty saw the steep odds of competing with the Cardinals, Pirates, and the recharged Cubs and elected to re-tool, dealing away two pieces of his considerable starting pitching depth in Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos for prospects. The remaining Cincinnati arms are led by ace Johnny Cueto, who complements his mid-90s fastball with a devastating changeup that hitters can't seem to figure out. Cueto and  No. 2 starter Homer Bailey could have theoretically kept the rotation afloat in 2015, but the latter will be lost for the remainder of the season to Tommy John surgery.

That's a pretty big blow, because the Reds are now tremendously thin on starting pitcher depth. Durable sinkerballer Mike Leake should be just fine as a consistent innings sponge. However, questions abound about Anthony DeSclafani, a fastball-slider pitcher looking to establish a permanent foothold after a promising Arizona Fall League stint. John Sickels came out with a pretty good piece on DeSclafani yesterday, concluding that "No. 4 starter" is a reasonable outlook for him. To round out the rotation, the Reds have called upon prospect Michael Lorenzen, who primarily throws a hard sinker and a slider, and Jason Marquis, who primarily makes you feel a lot better about the back end of your team's starting rotation.

In the event the starting staff provides the Reds with late-inning leads, one thing that manager Bryan Price doesn't need to worry about is the ninth inning. Closer Aroldis Chapman is one of the most exciting pitchers in the game. He averages -- not touches, averages -- 100 mph on his fastball and struck out over half the batters he faced last season. That is flat-out insane, even for a 54-inning sample. The guys setting up Chapman, however, haven't been very successful. Jumbo Diaz has had trouble keeping the ball in the park, J.J. Hoover has had trouble finding the strike zone, and Kevin Gregg has made you feel a lot better about your team's middle relievers.

On the whole, the Reds are going through a bit of a rebuilding phase even though the team they've assembled for 2015 is not all that bad. Cueto, Chapman, and Votto have been stellar, and they've gotten some nice hitting performances out of Cozart (of all people) and catcher Brayan Pena, who has taken over Mesoraco's catching duties as a result of the latter's hip injury. However, the remainder of the season is rich with questions for Cincinnati. Can they scrape together enough quality starting pitching performances to hang in the race? Will Hamilton ever develop on-base skills? Will Frazier and Mesoraco maintain last sesaon's gains? And most importantly, how is me reporting any of this good for the Reds?

Predicted Record and Finish: 75-87, fourth place, NL Central

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Billy Hamilton - CF

SP1. Johnny Cueto - RHP

2. Zack Cozart - SS

SP2. Mike Leake - RHP

3. Joey Votto - 1B

SP3. Anthony DeSclafani - RHP

4. Todd Frazier - 3B

SP4. Jason Marquis - RHP

5. Devin Mesoraco - DH

SP5. Michael Lorenzen

6. Jay Bruce - RF

CL. Aroldis Chapman - LHP

7. Brandon Phillips - 2B

RP1. Jumbo Diaz - RHP

8. Marlon Byrd - LF

RP2. J.J. Hoover - RHP

9. Brayan Pena - C

RP3. Tony Cingrani - LHP