Luis Castillo and the Cincinnati Reds starters are the key to success

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 20: Luis Castillo #58 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park April 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 20: Luis Castillo #58 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park April 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

Luis Castillo pitched another gem last night for the Cincinnati Reds. If this year’s team hopes to make any noise this season, the starting rotation has to be spot on.

We’ve heard it before, right? Good pitching always beats good hitting. It such a cliché and one that few Cincinnati Reds‘ fans have ever really been able to cling to. However, this season is different. Luis Castillo and the other starters on this year’s team have given the fans hope. There’s no doubt that the success of this season rests squarely on the shoulders of the starting rotation.

Admit it. Coming into the 2019 season you thought to yourself, “If the Reds can just score 5 to 6 runs per game, that’ll be enough to offset the questionable pitching.” It’s okay, I felt the same way. Why should you or I have thought any differently?

Over the last five years, all of which have ended is misery for the Cincinnati fanbase, the starting rotation has been abysmal. Tim Adelman, Scott Feldman, John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, and Keyvius Sampson were just a few names that garnered more than just a few starts over the last few seasons.

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In 2018, the Cincinnati Reds were better than only one team in the National League, the Miami Marlins in terms of team ERA (4.63). The year prior, the results were even worse. Cincinnati’s team ERA in 2017 was dead last in the league at 5.17.

This past offseason, the Cincinnati Reds ownership promised to “get the pitching”. While it wasn’t Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel or Nathan Eovaldi, the Reds did make some additions to their starting rotation.

Cincinnati made a shrewd move during the Winter Meetings to acquire Tanner Roark. The Reds made a low-risk/ high-reward pick up, banking on Roark giving them some solid innings of work during the season. Tanner Rainey was sent to Washington in return.

The Reds then acquired Alex Wood as part of the deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers that also brought Yasiel Puig, Kyle Farmer, and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati. Wood has been saddled with an injury to begin the season, but is expected to return to the team very soon.

The biggest acquisition was Sonny Gray. The Cincinnati Reds sent a draft pick and one of their top prospects to the New York Yankees in exchange for Gray. The team then signed Gray to a lucrative extension, but it could turn out to be a bargain if Gray performs up to the level that he did while he was with the Oakland Athletics.

All of those transactions looked good on paper. While it’s true that Roark, Wood, and Gray are probably a better trio than Cody Reed, Sal Romano, and Tyler Mahle, they still come with a lot of question marks. None of those pitchers, aside from Gray for a period in Oakland, had ever been a frontline starter. Was this really going to work?

The only way this rotation can be a success is if none of the aforementioned pitchers are counted on to be the team’s No. 1 starter. Enter Luis Castillo. Did the Cincinnati Reds know how good Luis Castillo was going to be this year? If they did, they did a heckuva job keeping it under wraps.

Look, we’d all seen flashes last season. Luis Castillo has one of, if not the best, changeup in the game. He can routinely hit 96-MPH with his fastball and he has the stamina to go 6-7 innings on a consistent basis. But, he did have a few flaws that would need to be ironed out before he could reach that elusive elite-level.

Whether it’s been Derek Johnson’s influence, a commitment by Castillo to work on his craft, or a combination of both, there’s no denying that Luis Castillo is the No. 1 pitcher on this staff. He has cut down dramatically on his walks, and up until last night in San Diego, hadn’t allowed a home run. Last season, Castillo was third in the NL in home runs allowed.

On the season, Luis Castillo is 2-1, but could easily be 5-0. He’s kept the Cincinnati Reds in every single game he’s pitched. His ERA is an astonishing 1.47. Castillo has 41 strikeouts and has only allowed 5 earned runs. You read that right, Castillo has essentially allowed only one run in each of his five starts.

While Castillo’s start to the season is incredible, don’t discount the phenomenal effort by the other pitchers in the starting rotation. Sonny Gray, through no fault of his own, has yet to get a win, but his ERA is 2.79. Tyler Mahle, who’s filling in for the injured Alex Wood, has an ERA of 2.65, which is the second-best among the starters.

Tanner Roark took his lumps early, but has pitched better of late. He owns a 3.60 ERA and has 20 punch outs through 20 innings pitched. Finally, Anthony DeSclafani has been inconsistent, but in his last start, Disco was phenomenal. DeSclafani went 6 innings, allowed just 2 hits, and struck out 6 batters.

Before the season began, I would’ve bet the house that the success of the Cincinnati Reds hinged on the starting rotation being good enough to keep the game within reach for the team’s vaunted offense. Now, I find myself looking for the Reds starters to dominate the opposition and hope that a 2-run home run is enough for the victory.

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Luis Castillo is the unquestioned ace of the this pitching staff. His play on the mound has given confidence to the starters that follow him in the rotation and the relievers that finish what he begins. If Castillo continues to dominate, this team could reach new heights as the season wears on.