Baseball, My Inner Nine Year-Old, And The Search For Reliable Pitching

posted by Mo Egger, ESPN1530 - 

(Photo: Getty Images)

Finally, a day later than we'd hoped, we can have baseball.

There's not much anymore that brings out the inner child in me, the jadedness that unfortunately comes with being an adult sets in more and more the older I get.  The worst byproduct of adulthood is that the longer you live, more and more things fall under the "been there/done that" category.  There's a ton of things I enjoy, and plenty of life's experiences to look forward to, but very little makes me as giddy as I got about things when I got when I was nine years old.

Opening Day is an exception. If it ever isn't, you might as well toss me in a coffin.

I've never really claimed to have a favorite sport.  Put me in a basketball arena and I'm content.  Plop into a football stadium and I'm good. But guide me into a ballpark and I'll feel right at home.  From early April (or, in this year's case, late March) until a few weeks into the fall (and one day, hopefully, a few weeks even deeper into the fall), ask me where I want to be and the answer will be the same.

The ballpark.

I drive on Fort Washington Way to and from work every single day, which means my daily commute takes me right past Great American Ballpark. There isn't a time, no matter where we are on the calendar, that I don't gaze at it, especially in the depths of winter when I wistfully think about what it'll be like to enter its gates again.

Baseball, man.  There's nothing like it, even if you're team isn't very good.  Nothing provides a better backdrop for getting together with friends.  There's no better soundtrack to a summer than a ballgame. There's no sport that mirrors the daily grind of life better than the great 'ol pastime.

There's no game that makes this 40 year-old jaded soul feel like a kid again.

I hope at least part of you feels the way I do.

Here's some stuff...

Now that the corny, pseudo-poetic part of the blog is out of the way, let's talk about the season.

I'm pretty encouraged about the state of the Cincinnati Reds.  They're finally at a point where their nucleus is identifiable.  Their farm system has been replenished to an acceptable level, with the intriguing Nick Senzel heading a list of guys that aren't here yet.  They've not really had to go and grab bargain-basement roster-fillers to field a team.  They've got a small surplus of outfielders, they have steadiness at the infield corner positions, they're well-stocked here and in the minors at catchers, they have arguably baseball's most underrated reliever, and while the rotation is a huge question mark, most of the arms the Reds will be using to start games have a ton of upside.

You could convince me that the Reds are close to being fringe contenders next season.  You could even convince me that they could make enough of a leap from last season to come close to winning as many games as they lose.  I'm mildly bullish on the Reds in the long-term. The short-term, though, not so much.

I wrote a (free) piece for The Athletic in which I made six bold predictions for the Reds season. One of them was that the Reds are going to lose 90 games. I chose the number 90 because it just seems more significant than say, 89.  The overall point was that while I think it's reasonable to think about the Reds making significant strides in the win/loss column this season, I can't yet count on their starting pitching enough to believe that they'll be dramatically better than the back-to-back 68-94 campaigns of the last two years.

The last time the Reds were really, really good was 2012. (Sorry, fans of the 2013 team.) That team's signature trait was that it had five starters that made every single start.  The quintet of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, or Homer Bailey took the ball every time they were assigned to pitch, making 161 starts in all (bonus points if you know who the guy was that started that one other game). The range of seasons turned in by Reds starters during that 97-win season ranged from Cy Young-caliber (Cueto) to merely meh (Mike Leake), but as a whole, that season's rotation was defined by two things: its ability to eat innings (four pitchers threw 202 innings or more) and its reliability.  Every single day, you could look at whom the Reds would have toeing the rubber and conclude that they had a better than average chance of winning that day's game.

Is it unfair to compare this current Reds team to the one we enjoyed six years ago? Sure. That team won 97 games, ran away with the division, and gave us our last real fun baseball summer before imploding in October. But I use that season to illustrate the value of reliability, both in terms of peace of mind as a fan and what it can mean for a team.  It helps to have pitchers you can count on, to deliver quality performances, go deep-ish in games, and pick up the slack if the starter the night before issued a clunker.

The Reds don't have any reliable starting pitchers, at least right now.  Health is a big reason why. Anthony DeSclfani is spending Opening Day on the disabled list for a third straight season. Brandon Finnegan ended 2017 on the DL and he's on it again to begin 2018.  Homer Bailey was on it a year ago, and at laest he's actually pitching today, but he hasn't gotten through an entire season without injury since 2013, which also happens to be the last time he was consistently effective.

Then there's the young guys.  There's no Cincinnati Reds I'm more excited about this season than Luis Castillo. If the changeup we saw as a work in progress last season becomes a refined part of his arsenal, then National League hitters are in for a rough time against the team's future ace.  Castillo might be the best of Dick Williams' rather impressive list of acquisitions over the last few years, and if things go right, I'm blogging about how Opening Day gives me all the feels a year from now the morning of Castillo making his first day one start.

But given that he's pitched just over 89 big league innings and likely still has growing pains in front of him, I can't on him. Yet.  Same for the group of young starters that includes Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Amir Garrett (you know, if he's ever actually allowed to start), Cody Reed, and Robert Stephenson, who I'd have lost a lot of money two years ago betting against him starting 2018 in AAA.  Because of this cadre of talented young starters, the Williams didn't need to go get some washed-up guy like Scott Feldman or some has-been like Bronson Arroyo.  That's the good.

The bad is that what Williams is asking Bryan Price to win - and save his job - with is a collection of guys that collectively and individually can't yet be counted on consistently. There's not one pitcher we can look at and assume what his season will be like.  There's no one pitcher yet that when he takes the ball, you feel really good about him delivering a win, or even a lengthy start. That may change by September, but it's the truth here in March.

And that's the main reason why I don't expect dramatic improvement this season.  There's other things I worry about, like last season's offensive success maybe being a little fluke-y.  I wonder if juggling four outfielders for three spots will be counterproductive. I have no idea how good Jose Peraza will be. I fear that Scooter Gennett's 2017 has triggered unrealistic expectations for a player who'd never before approached the numbers he put up last season.  I worry about too much being asked of the bullpen, and while I think we make too much of who the manager is, I do wonder about how the Bryan Price/Barry Larkin dynamic will hover over the entire season.

But mainly, I just don't yet trust this team's starting pitching.

I have a hard time quantifying the success, or lack thereof, of the 2018 Reds with a specific win total. Surely, most of us want to see substantial improvement in the number of victories the team achieves this season, and I'll guess that the Reds don't lose as many games as they did last season.  But until they have at least a few starting pitchers whom we can bank on, I'll assume that they won't make the kind of tangible win/loss improvement that all fans are hoping for and that some are counting on.

If by the end of this season, it looks like the Reds can go into the winter with at least a few starters whose 2019 performances can be counted on, then I'll look at this season as a success.

Whether that results in 85 to 90 losses remains to be seen.  For now, I'll guess their final loss total is going to something in that range. 

Guesses! There's not much creativity here, which might illustrate a problem for the sport.

NL division winners: Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers.
NL wild cards: Diamondbacks, Brewers (you're welcome, Barry)

AL division winners: Yankees, Indians, Astros
AL wild cards: Angels, Red Sox

I have the Cubs playing the Yankees in the World Series, which Fox will be salivating over.  Given that no one will remember this come October, or tomorrow for that matter, I'll say the Cubs win for the second time in three years.  

Oh, and I have Joey Votto winning the NL MVP in spite of the possibility of Bryce Harper having the greatest offensive season ever in his walk year.  I'll put my money on the more durable player.  

Here's some other stuff....

We had Chris Mack on from his hotel room in San Antonio. Chris was always a great interview during his time at Xavier, and he was great yesterday. Listen to it here

Sam LeCure joined us to talk about the season. Sam is going to be an excellent addition to Reds TV and radio broadcasts.  You'll hear why when you listen to our interview

This is about Reds PA man Joe Zerhusen. If you read nothing else today, read this.  

Ever wonder what it'd be like to have Rickey Henderson as a landlord?  Me either.  But here's an account of what it would be like. 

If you're a UD basketball fan, I think this sums up a lot of things perfectly

Here's a good Reds preview/predictions piece from the always-solid Doug Gray.

The upcoming baseball season will be a lot like last season: Lots of dingers and whiffs

Here's a good look into how and why Opening Day was postponed

Radio Show...

We're at Smoke Justis today, starting at noon. You need to be there. 

Follow me on Twitter @MoEgger1530.

Email me: mo@espn1530.com

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Mo Egger

Mo Egger

Mo Egger delivers his unique take on sports on Cincinnati's ESPN 1530! Read more

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