Cincinnati Reds in Review: The Starting Pitching

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You know what “they” say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. Had 2014 gone according to plan for the Cincinnati Reds, they’d have rode their rotation into October like a trusty old steed; named Nibbles, if you will.

Unforeseen injuries began to cripple the rotation before the season even began. Both Mat Latos and Homer Bailey would suffer injuries that would cause them setbacks before April had even come.

The beauty of sport is in its opportunity. The Baltimore Orioles prior to the start of the 2012 season discarded Alfredo Simon. Fast-forward two years later, and Simon became the savior of a club that needed a whole lot more help than he could provide.

The Starting Pitching:

 

For 145 years, there has been professional baseball in Cincinnati. From top to bottom, the starting rotation the Reds deployed this past season may have been the most talented they’ve ever had.

It all starts at the top. After his inconsistencies staying healthy and his loss in the 2013 Wild Card game, Johnny Cueto had surrendered his “ace” status. There were legitimate concerns over whether or not he could hold up over the 162-game grind and whispers that teammate Mat Latos was on his way to a massive, ace-like payday. While Latos will still almost certainly see a nine-figure deal, the exact opposite of the above scenario occurred.

On June 14, Latos finally made his season debut. At that point, Cueto had already accrued a 6-5 record with an astounding 1.85 ERA over 14 starts. Yet, it was the unheralded Simon that stole our hearts and gave us delusions of grandeur.

There is no disputing that with a strong starting staff, nearly any team becomes a contender. Past contributors Edinson Volquez, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo gave veteran experience to a staff that before Simon’s arrival relied on Tony Cingrani’s fearsome facial hair to give them a wily look.

As certain as the sun rising was Mike Leake to the Reds rotation. Only once all season long did he either not pitch five innings, or allow more than five earned runs. That start came on September 4 against the Baltimore Orioles. With the reins finally off, the former first round pick out of Arizona State showed why in another calendar year, he may become the highest paid #5 starter ever.

Objectivity is in the eye of the beholder. Had Homer Bailey had this season 70 years ago when nearly no one outside of newspaper reporters knew salaries, many would be satisfied with the Texan with the twangy drawl. But due to Bailey’s signing of a massively significant 6-year/$105 million deal, his numbers can no longer merely be satisfactory. When getting All-Star money, there are All-Star expectations.

Had Alfredo Simon’s stoic rise came a decade and a half ago, the country would have chastised him for surely being under the influence of some type of performance-enhancers. Instead, we live in a modern American society where things such as “Obamacare” and “selfies” exist in cooperation with 33-year-old pitchers who magically turn themselves into All-Stars. At the break, Simon’s 12-3 record to go along with a 2.70 ERA had not only earned him a spot amongst the National League’s best at the mid-Summer Classic, but thrown him into the outskirts of the Cy Young conversation. Not shabby for a guy that was projected to make one, maybe two starts.

Unfortunately, waking up when September ended wasn’t an option. For the season’s final month, Reds fans had to endure Dylan Axelrod, Daniel Corcino and David Holmberg in the rotation. While they collectively performed admirably, it’s difficult to believe that could ever translate into a full-time role.

Final Grade: A-

 

Despite winning just 76 games in total, the starting pitching was a definite bright spot. Although this upcoming off-season will dictate just how the staff will be penciled in for 2015, it always serves as a solid reminder that in the case of the Reds, the best laid plans very rarely ever come to fruition.