When I think of the starting rotation we’re about to see for your Cincinnati Reds, this phrase comes to mind: “Second verse, same as the first.” In this case, that could be a good thing, as the Reds rolled out one of the best rotations top to bottom in baseball last season. However, one might question if that success can be duplicated or not with a rotation that will look practically identical.
We all were witness to the potential drama that could have been with the potential for a sixth starting candidate in the mix up until less than a week ago, namely closer designate Aroldis Chapman. Sure, many are happy to see Chapman back in the closing role he nailed last season (myself not included), BUT this article isn’t really meant to talk about Aroldis the starter anymore. Whether that idea gets revisited later into the season could be added drama should something happen to one of the other five known starters (personally hoping it doesn’t come to that, as it would mean someone failed badly or got injured).
The rotation stacks up something like this (rough rotational order):
1 – Johnny Cueto
2 – Mat Latos
3 – Bronson Arroyo
4 – Homer Bailey
5 – Mike Leake
No pitcher raised his stock more than Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) did during the regular season last year in establishing himself as a staff ace. Unless you take into account that Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48, 1.16) did the same thing, getting stronger as the season progressed. Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68, 1.24) solidified himself as what fans had expected to see from the former first-round draft pick, being downright dominant in the closing months of the season if not putting it all together for the whole season. Funny to think that, had there been a possibility of Chapman transitioning into a starter, Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74, 1.21) could have been relegated essentially into a fourth or fifth starter, things are pretty strong for a very solid rotation top to bottom. Mike Leake (8-9, 4.58, 1.35) is still a decent (if not perfect) man to round out the staff.
The starting five in 2012 combined for 161 starts (not missing any, except for second game of a single doubleheader where they couldn’t) achieving 66 wins, 43 losses, in 1,018 2/3 innings pitched with a 3.64 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP with a strong 6.80 K/9.
How refreshing it was to see four of the five starters with sub-3.75 ERAs in 2012, and a 2013 coming close to those marks will position this team well again. Sure, there are question marks:
- Is Johnny Cueto healthy / fully recovered from the injury that took him out of the NLDS? His Spring Training would indicate no alarms so far, but his sustained health has been a concern in the past.
- Are there any lingering effects (at least to start the season) from the two injuries just sustained by Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo in their most recent ST starts? Latos would appear to be in line to recover quickly from merely a bruise to the ankle/foot from the comebacker, while Arroyo may need more time simply because the hit was directly to his pitching hand. Both should likely be ready to go fairly immediately.
- Did Homer Bailey finally “turn the corner” of his career? He finally made it through an entire campaign without injury (itself a big success), although it would seem his results can still get better. His Spring hasn’t exactly been stellar, being shellacked in his most recent outing, but all other signs point to him still pitching with authority.
- Which Mike Leake will we see? The 2012 version wasn’t awe-inspiring. For a fifth starter, sure, he’s passable; however, for a former first-rounder (like Bailey), I think we expect a little bit more. If this back-end improves it certainly balances out any concerns that may surround the front-end potentially regressing.
I stand by an earlier assessment that Cincinnati Reds still have the best rotation in the NL Central, if not one of the top few in all the National League and among a short list in all of baseball. If we can count on some improvement in run production from the offense (especially the known weakness in leadoff OBP), this pitching will continue to be the strength of the foundation of the team.
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