St. Louis Still NL Central Favorites; Reds Lineup Suspect

It’s easy to get carried away with everything the Reds have done this offseason. Mat Latos. Sean Marshall. Ryan Ludwick. Ryan Madson. The Reds beefed their roster by adding substantial talent. And it’s easy to look at 2012 with big ambitions and expectations. But one thing a lot of people are surprisingly not talking about are the World Series Champions. Albert Pujols left the NL Central. The Cardinals didn’t.

Here’s what the Cardinals have going for them. Chris Carpenter. Adam Wainwright (remember him?). Jaime Garcia. Kyle Lohse no slouch either–3.39 ERA last year. And that’s all without Roy Oswalt, who could or could not be a Cardinal by week’s end.

Consider the bullpen too. Remember Fernando Salas? Eduardo Sanchez? Jason Motte? This is a very loaded pitching staff. St. Louis was able to rely on a shut-down bullpen, primarily because the bullpen was well rested. The STL ‘pen finished 18 in bullpen innings pitched. In relation to the Reds, St. Louis’ bullpen pitched over 30 innings less.

But let’s focus on the Reds. Everyone’s excited about the moves, but are they enough? Are we really entering into 2012 confident that Walt has assembled a team that can dethrone the defeding Champions?

I’m not sold.

The Reds will more than likely be starting both Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco. Two players that, between the both of them, have a cumulative 87 ABs. Cozart finished with a .324 BA. Devon finished with a .180. We shouldn’t be making any declarations about these two obviously, but that’s my point. Do you know what you’re getting with these two in the lineup?

And what about LF? Let’s envision the Reds’ 2012 lineup for a moment. If I were Baker, here’s who I run out, at this juncture:

1. Phillips
2. Cozat
3. Votto
4. Rolen
5. Bruce
6. Heisey
7. Mesoraco
8. Latos
9. Stubbs

I’m not Tony LaRussa, but I would bat Stubbs 9th for two reasons: a) less ABs, less opportunities to strike out, b) you now have two leadoff hitters. This will never happen in Cincinnati.  That’s a topic for a different article.

But I digress. Look that lineup up and down throughly. How many “question marks” can you find? I have five. Five question marks in a lineup of nine.

Cozart–No clue if he hits .324 or .124 in the Bigs. I know he hit .324 in 37 plate appearances. That’s not even long enough to consider it a hot streak.

Rolen– Back? Health? Bat Speed? .242 BA last season?

Heisey– Bats .309 coming off the bench. Hits .237 as a starter. So which Heisey do we get in 2012? .250 with RISP. Only .252 with runners on any base. Suspect. And batting sixth, he’s going to be in position to drive in a lot of runs.

Mesoraco– Hit .180 last year in 53 plate appearance. We all know how good he’s supposed to be. And once upon a time, Austin Kearns was supposed to be really good too.

Stubbs– K

Five question marks in a nine man lineup. Last year, the burden of scoring rested squarly on the shoulders of Phillips, Votto and Bruce. The Reds will need consistent production deep in the lineup.

And what about the starting rotation? Latos was a phenomenal grab. But this staff went 50-54 last year with an ERA well over 4. All the Reds did was add one arm. So we’re either convincined Mat Latos really turns into an ace and that Bronson Arroyo will rediscover his ability to eat innings and be a serviceable starter, or we acknowledge that there will be a lot of finger crossing in the ensuing months.

Would you double down on this team?

I wouldn’t. I like the Reds to nab a wild card slot, especially because of the additional spots being added this year. But to dethrone the defending World Series Champions would take a positive answer to every question I listed above–I listed a lot of them.

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Tags: Adam Wainwright Baseball Batting Cardinals Chris Carpenter Chris Heisey Cincinnati Dusty Baker MLB NL Central Pitching Reds St. Louis World Series

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