Cincinnati Reds: 3 biggest X-factors for the 2021 season

Mar 9, 2021; Goodyear, Arizona, USA; Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez (7) looks on against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the third inning of a spring training game. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2021; Goodyear, Arizona, USA; Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez (7) looks on against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the third inning of a spring training game. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen (21) pitches.
Mar 15, 2021; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen (21) pitches. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

2. Is the Reds rotation good enough?

The Cincinnati Reds had their first Cy Young Award-winner last season, and Trevor Bauer then promptly exited for the west coast and is now pitching for the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. To be quite honest, I’m not overly broken up over Bauer’s departure, but his replacement(s) will have to step up.

Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, when healthy, are a formidable one-two punch atop the Reds starting rotation. Last season, Tyler Mahle elevated his game and showed that he has what it takes to be a starter at the major league level. How good will Mahle be? The answer to that question may well push Cincinnati in the postseason or keep the Reds on the outside looking in.

According to Baseball Reference, Mahle is projected to go 6-9 during the upcoming season and post a 4.57 ERA. FanGraphs’ ZIPS projections see the right-hander posting a 4.43 ERA and a record of 9-8 with a K/9 of 9.52. In order for Cincinnati’s rotation to really shine, Mahle must perform above those projections.

Wade Miley’s standing with the team may greatly change between now and the middle of summer. If the left-hander struggles, David Bell has plenty of replacements on hand. Tejay Antone, Jeff Hoffman, Nick Lodolo, and Jose De Leon are all plausible replacements should Miley falter early on.

Finally, how will Michael Lorenzen fair as a starting pitcher? The athletic hurler has primarily been a reliever the past several seasons, but the Reds are giving Mikey Biceps a chance to prove that he can be a starter. If Lorenzen can put up an ERA below 4.00 and start 25-plus games, the Reds have a real shot to take the division if all other starting pitchers play up to their potential.