- By Hal McCoy Contributing Writer
Let’s see if we have this right: The Cincinnati Reds have been rebuilding for two or three years now, trading veterans for prospects/suspects.
But last winter they didn’t trade a veteran for any prospects and all they did was add a couple of veteran guys to the world’s worst bullpen, signing Jared Hughes and David Hernandez.
Does that mean they are no longer rebuilding? Are they finally ready to compete?
Not so fast, Seamhead.
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They may not have done much last winter, and actually got a bit weaker when they lost shortstop Zack Cozart to free agency, but they are far from being competitive in the National League Central.
And it is a double-edged dagger. Their young pitchers are not ready and will be highly inconsistent. In addition, the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers all got stronger in the offseason.
Toss in the fact that injuries to the pitching staff already have begun — Rookie Davis, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and some aches and pain in the bullpen — and it figures to be another difficult season down on the Ohio riverfront.
Offensively, the Reds were a potent, powerful pack, especially with home runs due to baseballs wound tighter than a snare drum and the shallow confines of Great American Small Park.
Joey Votto is a given, but one wonders if guys like Scooter Gennett, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Eugenio Suarez can match their offensive numbers of last season.
And will Billy Hamilton discover something magical that leads to a path to first base? How will manager Bryan Price’s four-headed outfield of Hamilton, Jesse Winker, Schebler and Duvall work?
All that being said, it is time for the fearless predictions, even though for the most part preseason predictions are a shot-in-the-fog because of possible injuries and possible trades and possible collapses of veteran starts and possible eruptions to success by untried rookies.
For those hoping to see significant progress from the Reds, well, there might be progress, but it will be mini-steps and be reflected only in the won-loss column. They will still finish last, for the fourth straight year. In the process, though, they could win 72 to 75 games.
Nobody is going to argue, outside the shadow of The Gateway Arch, that the Chicago Cubs are the class of the National League Central. They have it all and just keep getting better.
The St. Louis Cardinals keep losing players, particularly pitchers, but they always find replacements who walk to the mound and throw 98 miles an hour. Their offensive plug-ins always fit, too.
Milwaukee may be the most improved team in the division with the addition of outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are vulnerable and the Reds could snatch fourth place away from them. The Pirates have started their own rebuilding process after trading away outfielder Andrew McCutchen and pitcher Gerrit Cole.
It will be a Battle for the Bottom between the Reds and Pirates, a toss-up, really. Unfortunately, the Reds have felt comfortable occupying last place and probably will end up there again.
So here they are, for what they’re worth, the predictions for everybody and don’t come whining if a team I predict to win does a flop. As the title of the old movie said it, “It Happens Every Spring.” And summer. And fall.
National League Central
1. Chicago Cubs because the Cubs have become real Bears (not the NFL’s Chicago Bears). 2. St. Louis, 3. Milwaukee, 4. Pittsbugh, 5. Cincinnati.
National League East
1. Washington because the Nationals have zero competition in the division. It would be surprising if any of the other teams in the division finish above .500. 2. New York Mets, 3. Philadelphia, 4. Atlanta, 5. Miami.
National League West
1. Los Angeles. The Dodgers are almost guaranteed a win every fifth day when Clayton Kershaw pitches. And the other four guys aren’t bad, either. The bullpen is so good and it, “Turn out the lights and thanks for coming” when the relief pitchers parade to the mound. 2. Arizona, 3. Colorado, 4. San Francisco, 5. San Diego.
American League East
1. New York Yankees. The filthy rich get filthier. Need a player? Buy one. And with what they already had, they didn’t need much. Rookie manager Aaron Boone is sitting in the right dugout. 2. Boston, 3. Tampa Bay, 4. Toronto. 5. Baltimore.
American League Central
1. Cleveland. They have the best starting staff, the best bullpen, the best defense and the best manager in the business in Terry Francona and the best stadium mustard in the world. 2. Minnesota, 3. Chicago White Sox, 4. Kansas City, 5. Detroit.
American League West.
1. Houston. This one is almost by default because, like Washington in the NL East, the Astros have little or no competition. The defending World Series champions will run away with this division and win it by double digits with more than 100 wins. 2. Los Angeles/Anaheim, 3. Seattle, 4. Oakland, 5. Texas.
American League Champion
Cleveland will take down the New York Yankees in a highly competitive seven games. Houston will be upset in the first round and lose their World Series title.
National League Champion
Washington will take down the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games, losing only to Kershaw in Game One and Game Four.
The Cleveland Indians finally do it, their first World Series victory since 1948, longest drought in baseball. It will take seven games to do it, but the Tribe will take down the Nationals in Game Seven instead of losing Game Seven as they did two years ago against the Cubs. Francisco Lindor will prevail over Bryce Harper for World Series MVP.