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2011 Rival Preview: Cincinnati Reds

IMG_6227photo © 2010 dbking | more info (via: Wylio)
We’re doing previews of all the Brewers’ division rivals again this year. We’ve already done previews for the Cardinals and Cubs, so if you’ve missed them, feel free to check them out. Now we turn our attention to the defending division champs and the Brewers’ Opening Day opponent — the Cincinnati Reds.

2010 Finish: 91-71, 1st
Batting fWAR Leader: Joey Votto, 7.4
Pitching fWAR Leader: Johnny Cueto, 2.8

Last Season in a Nutshell: It seemed like the Reds were a sexy preseason pick for the past few years, but they were finally able to put it together in 2010, surprisingly stealing the division title from the Cardinals. The pitching was solid — quite a change from past Reds teams — but most of the credit can be given to Joey Votto, who ended the year as the clear choice for National League MVP. Scott Rolen surprised a lot of people by staying healthy long enough to provide 5.0 WAR, adding another very good season to what should be a Hall of Fame career. Jay Bruce, finally given a chance to really play every day, had a breakout year of his own, hitting .281/.353/.493. The scary part? Bruce is still improving.

2011 Prediction: Tied 1st — As defending champs, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt heading into the season. Depending on the day of the week, I’ve been tempted to take away that “tied” and give the division to them outright, but they have enough question marks of their own in the rotation that may keep them from running away with things (more on that in the Q&A). Joey Votto will continue to be one of the most dangerous and disciplined hitters in the NL, Jay Bruce should continue to develop into one of the most well-rounded outfielders in the league, and Aroldis Chapman scares me — partially because his stuff is so nasty, and partially because I’m terrified of him accidentally taking a Brewer’s head off.

Q&A: Brian Welch of Chris Sabo’s Goggles
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1. It looks like Aroldis Chapman will be sent to the bullpen, at least for the near future. Do you think this is the best way for the Reds to use him, or should he be in the rotation? What happens with Francisco Cordero if Chapman closes?
The overall feeling is that Chapman should be a starter, but I’m not yet sold on that idea. The guy’s stuff is electric — no question — but how electric can he be if he’s pitching 6-7 innings once a week? All of those innings are eventually going to take away his best weapon: his fastball.

While I seem to be in the minority here, I feel that Chapman’s best role would be as a closer. $30 million is a lot to pay for a closer, but the Reds paid $46 million for four years of Cordero’s heart-attack saves, so I consider Chapman’s contract a bargain.

You asked what happens with Francisco Cordero if Chapman closes, and I’ll answer — who cares?

2. Dusty Baker is a bit of a punchline for the rest of the division, but how is he being viewed in Cincinnati? Did a division title change any minds?
Well, let’s just say I don’t think people are lining up to take a dump next to Baker’s spot in the dugout.

I think most Reds fans have a love/hate relationship with Baker. They’ll support him as long as the Reds are winning, but they’ll jump all over him the second they have an opportunity. I think that’s true with any major, though.

The fact is that the Reds have improved every year that Baker has been here. Can I correlate that improvement to Baker’s presence? No, but it’s all I have to go off of, so as long as the Reds continue to improve, I’ll continue to give Baker the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time.

A division title was nice, and while getting swept in the first round is never good, I think most of us were just happy to see the Reds playing in October for once. Baker will get plenty of love if he can improve on those results this season (and plenty of anger if he doesn’t). That’s the life of a MLB manager.

3. Is this the year Homer Bailey finally spends a full season at the big league level? Are Reds fans close to giving up hope on him?
Well, he’s out of options so he has to spend a full season at the big league level. 2011 will be a make or break year for Bailey. For years we’ve been told about this guy’s potential, but we’ve only seen very brief glimpses of it.

I think I speak for all Reds fans when I say that we’d be thrilled if Bailey lives up to his promise this season.

4. How do you see the rotation shaking out? From the outside it looks like the bottom part of the rotation is yet to be determined. Where do you think Cincy’s rotation ranks among the others in the division?
Johnny Cueto just went down with a “minor” shoulder inflammation, and probably won’t be ready until early May. Bailey had “minor” shoulder inflammation last season and was out for three months.

Fortunately, the Reds have quite a bit of depth in the rotation with Mike Leake, Travis Wood and — to a somewhat lesser degree — Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney. Any of those guys are fully capable of picking up the slack while Cueto is out, so I’m not too concerned. Yet.

Arroyo will do what he always does — dazzle people with his beautiful hair, Edinson Volquez will determine whether he’s worth a long-term contract, and Homer Bailey has a lot to prove. The other two spots will just depend on what’s going on with Cueto, but I expect the Reds’ rotation to be solid and will (hopefully) keep the Reds in the race all season.

5. What’s your prediction for the Reds this year (record and finish)?
88-74, in a shootout with the Cardinals and Brewers until the very end. I’ll say the Reds come out on top.

6. Any other predictions?
Cardinals fans while whine about something.