These Cincinnati Reds are a bit tough to figure out. The gristle of the National League Central, if you will. A club that’s not too far removed from high intentions while simultaneously reeling from a spendthrift, embarrassing offseason from their ownership group.
They have shaken up the front office since we last saw them, with Dick Williams now out the door. They let their Cy Young Award winner walk in free agency while shoving several of his notable pitch-mates out it, too. With regular season play set to begin here shortly on Opening Day, only 5 of the 14 pitchers that constituted last year’s Opening Day staff are back on the active roster this time around.
Shogo Akiyama is injured. Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen are, too. The pitching staff is counting on a dinged-up Tejay Antone and a constantly-dinged Wade Miley alongside...I dunno, five pitchers who are currently out of options? Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon are in the starting rotation. Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon are in the starting rotation. Did I mention Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon are in the starting rotation?
Still, there are enough remnants of last spring’s high designs around to give a little bit of optimism to the place. While the grand Castle Reds that broke ground during the winter of 2019-2020 still sits only half constructed, both Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas are back around and super damn likely to be better in 2021 than what they showed last year. Eugenio Suarez is svelte and healthy, so svelte and healthy that his move to shortstop let the Tetris pieces fall in perfect place. That will unleash Jonathan India from day one, and he’ll join a fully healthy Nick Senzel to add some much needed youth and spark to what was a moribund offense outside Jesse Winker last year.
Predicting which way these Reds go is a real slobberknocker this year. The pitching is beat up, but the bats have nowhere to go but up. And in a division that still seems like it’s got some grab-bag wins in it, that could turn out to be fun. It could. With that in mind, here are Five Dumb Predictions for the 2021 Cincinnati Reds season.
Tyler Mahle, Ace of the Pitching Staff
This is no slight on Luis Castillo, who’s on the bump today for Opening Day and damn well deserves to be. He’s going to be just fine this year, too. Tyler Mahle, though, is going to take the kind of step forward over a full 162 game slate that we got glimpses of just last year, and the word ‘breakout’ will end up next his name on all two national media entities that remember the Cincinnati Reds still exist.
His 138 ERA+ in 2020 was a career best, as was his 1.15 WHIP and 11.3 K/9. His walk rate jumped a bit, but that’s because he refused to give up as many meatballs as he once did, and his hits allowed per 9 IP shrank, too. His fastball velocity was up, and he abandoned his slow curve for a spinny slider that was devastating at times, showing the effects of working with Kyle Boddy and the Driveline crew.
I say he tops 170 IP this year with an ERA around 3.19, with a K/9 that’s still over 10. So, a dual ace alongside La Piedra.
Joey Votto has a tale of three seasons, is 100% a good player still
Votto’s stance change during 2020 is one of those mark-the-calendar moments for most Reds fans. A benching, an abandonment of the squat-and-choke, and a subsequent reemergence of his power stroke upon return. He went from punchless to puncher, socking dingers a plenty down the stretch with a devil-may-care attitude to striking out that he’d not had previously.
I think it rolls into 2021, with an early power surge until pitchers begin to adjust to him the way he adjusted to them last year. Only it’s different when Joey forces the change instead of the inverse, because that puts him in the driver’s seat to again command all parts of the strike zone, and I think his early power will lead to a spate of later walks this year.
I say 20 dingers by the All Star break, only a handful after, but enough down-the-stretch walking that he again reaches 100 BB for the year. The result: .281/.383/.452, and he is still a freakin’ force.
Nick Senzel goes 20/20 and is a Gold Glove finalist
Offensive prediction? Check!
Defensive prediction? Check!
Base-running prediction? Check!
It’s almost as if I’m predicting a full, complete, healthy, all-around successful season for the best hitting prospect to come through the Reds system in a decade. I am, I am doing just that.
In an incredibly small sample, Senzel was on-pace to do at least the hitting/running aspect of this prediction in 2020 before his mysterious illness/departure during the COVID pandemic. Once he returned, he was awful for the final 25 PA of the season, and that was enough to tank his overall numbers. 2021, though, is gonna be his year. I can feel it.
600 PA should be more than enough for him to cross those two thresholds, and his athleticism will finally have a chance to show how much his outfield instincts have matured defensively, too. A few WAR accrued here, a few more accrued there, and that’s the makings of a 4.5 WAR overall season from the incumbent CF.
Jesse Winker socks 36 dingers
I predict Jesse Winker will sock exactly 36 homers this year, a number that will lead the Reds on the Reds Who Have Dingered in 2021 leaderboard.
That’s the prediction.
The Reds are 2 games over .500 at the Trade Deadline
Do I think these Reds are good enough right now to win the NL Central? I do not, folks, I do not. That said, I do think they’re talented enough to win just slightly more often than they lose, and I think that’ll be the story for them during the first 55% of the season.
Of course, if you can do that while barrelling into the trade deadline, that means you’ve put yourself in a position to make the kind of move to get you over the hump for the stretch run, to add a piece that’ll either do some dirty work where needed, bust fastballs past opponents at a more prolific rate, or even sock copious dingers.
I think the Reds will be in that position then, much like they were in position to make that move all winter (and didn’t). Will they, though? Will they add payroll? Will they get a rental pitcher on the move to help them soak up all the IP they’re gaining from last season’s shortened campaign? Or will they again sit on their hands and let the rest of baseball get better while they watch their bottom line?
Maybe it’s James Paxton, if the Mariners stumble. Maybe it’s Brad Hand to anchor the bullpen should Washington fall flat. Somewhere, though, there will be the kind of notable upgrade out there for the taking, and we’ll once again get to see where the Reds ownership group’s priorities stand.