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Cincinnati Reds set bar high with talented mix

Courtesy of MCT

To say I remember it like it was yesterday would be a lie. I remember it much better than yesterday.

It was Sept. 28, 2010. There I was, sitting in my apartment with no lights or shirt on. I had known this night was coming for weeks at this point. The Reds were going to win the National League Central and, for the first time since I was 6 years old, Cincinnati baseball was going to be back in the postseason.

It was a tie game, 2-2, against Houston. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce swung on the first and only pitch of the inning.

Deep left-center. Gone. 3-2. Reds win.

I jumped, did a fist pump that skimmed my knuckles around the ceiling and let out a loud variation of the word “yes,” prompting my cat to scurry out of the living room before Bruce rounded first. I dug my smelly, wrinkled Bruce jersey out of the pile of clothes in the corner of my closet and joined my friends at the bar — an invitation I declined earlier so that I could watch in this historical game in peace.

Unfortunately, that marked the pinnacle of my excitement for Reds baseball since that time. Here we are, nearly 17 months later, and the team has been nothing but disappointing ever since.

They were swept in the 2010 playoffs by Philadelphia in embarrassing fashion.

The Reds went 79-83 in 2011 and were never in the playoff hunt.

The archrival St. Louis Cardinals snuck into the 2011 playoffs as a Wild Card to win the World Series.

Salt, meet wound.

But as spring training gets underway in Goodyear, Ariz., this week, Reds’ fans have every reason to believe that this really is the year they can win it all.

The club made acquisitions in the offseason that leaves no doubt they expect to win a division title this season. They brought in starting pitcher Mat Latos and closer Ryan Madson — proven guys who could thrive with new opportunities in new cities with young talent around them.

Young prospects like catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart should compliment an already talented lineup that features 2010 National League MVP first baseman Joey Votto and 2011 Silver Slugger award winner second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Perhaps just as importantly, the Cardinals have lost their perennial all-star and MVP contender first baseman Albert Pujols and the Milwaukee Brewers, 2011 NL Central winners, saw their big slugger, first baseman Prince Fielder, head to Detroit for a contract worth more than $200 million.

And as much as Cubs’ fans will want to talk about Theo Epstein, new president of baseball operations, I’m not sure Jesus himself could fix that franchise in a matter of four months.

Pittsburgh and Houston should provide an interesting battle to see who can win the NL Central’s last ever sixth-place finish, as the Astros move to the American League West in 2013.

The projected rotation for the Reds features Latos, along with Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake — all right-handed pitchers.

Don’t be surprised to see Cueto start opening and possibly make a trip to Kansas City for this year’s All-Star Game.

If any of these guys struggle, don’t be surprised to see the “Cuban Missile” Aroldis Chapman, a lefty who will be 24 when the season starts, step into the rotation and try to blow by batters with his MLB-record 105 MPH fastball.

The mix of proven veterans and young, talented players has proven successful throughout sports history is cliche, but for a good reason — because it’s true. The Reds should be favored to win the NL Central this season and make a deep postseason run.

Cincinnati has set the bar high again this offseason. This year, I don’t see them letting fans down.

 

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