With their fans cleared inside Great American Ball Park and a National League center run appearing to be wide open, the Reds are approaching Thursday’s opening day with enthusiasm.
“You get that feeling in your guts, the excitement,” Reds manager David Bell said. “We’re getting closer and can’t wait to get back to Cincinnati. It’s going to be amazing to have our fans in the stands. There is so much to look forward to and we really like where we are as a team. Every day, it gets closer, it excites you more and more. “
Cincinnati ended the abbreviated 2020 pandemic season with a 31-29 record and went to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The club were eliminated in a two-game Wild Card round sweep by Atlanta without scoring point.
The Reds are looking to improve on that effort in a full 162-game season, as life inside and outside of baseball seems closer to returning to normal. It all starts against the Cardinals at 4:10 p.m. ET Thursday.
What does it take to be well?
The offense must meet or exceed its record once again after a dismal performance in 2020. Cincinnati beat the Major League’s worst .212 as a team, but still made it to the playoffs. It was an honor to his starting pitch and some keys to the game, but a 162-game schedule would expose any offensive gaps.
Several hitters performed well in the spring games – most notably Nick Castellanos, but also Eugenio Suárez, Nick Senzel and prospect Jonathan India. Joey Votto got off to a good start before a COVID-19 diagnosis forced him to leave camp.
Great unknown: What will India do as a newbie recruit?
India, ranked by MLB Pipeline as Cincinnati’s No.5 prospect, opened this spring in the organization’s Minor League opening camp, but impressed so much – offensively and defensively – that they were not only promoted. at the big league camp, but positioned himself to earn a spot on the opening day roster.
India’s success at home and at second base, along with improved fitness for Suárez, allowed the Reds to rework their plans on the pitch. Now Suárez will be the shortstop while Mike Moustakas takes third base and India takes second. The move will give the Reds a chance to have more offense. India would jump Triple-A after there is no 2020 season and he will be tasked with learning the league and making adjustments like any rookie.
The MVP team will be: Nick castellanos
Castellanos has been swinging the hottest bat at the Reds’ camp all spring. He looks set to bounce back from a below-par 2020, when he hit .225 / .298 / .486 with 14 home runs and 99 OPS + in the first year of a four-year contract of 64 million dollars with Cincinnati.
Statcast data indicates that Castellanos may have been the victim of bad luck last season. Its 16% barrel rate was ranked ninth in the major leagues. His 91 mph exit speed average was a career high, but his .257 batting average on in-play balls was a career low. If he can put it all together in 162 games, Castellanos could easily be the hitter the Reds were hoping for when they signed him.
The Cy Young team will be: Luis Castillo
Starting on the Reds’ opening day for the second time in his career, Castillo was 4-6 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 12 starts last season. That included an often dominant September as he was 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in his last five starts.
Castillo arrived late at camp due to travel issues, but has looked in great shape throughout his Cactus League games. The right-hander has one of the best changes in the game to go with a faster ball and a still developing, but effective change. With the departure of Trevor Bauer, Castillo and Sonny Gray will once again form the 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
Bold Prediction: Eugenio Suárez to reach club record of 55 homers
Suárez has lost 15 pounds and will switch to shortstop, his natural stance. That, having a full season again and being able to see his family during the season under more normal conditions, will make the veteran hitter happy and more relaxed. And that will give the similar good vibes he got when he crashed 49 home runs in 2019. Suárez found 2020 to be mostly a struggle until his power resurfaced.
The Reds’ season-long home circuit record is 52 by George Foster in 1977. Suárez is tied for second with Ted Kluszewski, but he could very well be alone with the record by 2021.