I have to admit that the start of baseball season snuck up on me. What with my trip to Wrestlemania 30 next week, the Colorado Avalanche actually having success and going to the playoffs, and the Oklahoma City Thunder title push underway; I just wasn’t paying much attention to the least important team in my pecking order (sorry Reds Nation) and the start of a season that lasts 162 games.

You guys count on me to deliver the goods though, so here’s my 2014 Cincinatti Reds preview.

Last year sucked. The team had high hopes, but they fell off a cliff at the end of the season and failed to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one games playoff. That led to the firing of manager Dusty Baker and the hiring of pitching coach Bryan Price. I don’t know how Price will do in his first season as manager, but he’s familiar with the players and has already stated that he’ll do things different than Baker. Hopefully that means he won’t look like a zombie for 9 innings and he’ll actually change things when they aren’t working.

Shin Soo Choo was the Reds MVP last season. He’s no longer with the team. While the loss of Choo will hurt, that impact won’t be as big if Billy Hamilton can produce like I hope he will. He had a really good spring, batting .327, going nine for nine on steals, and scoring 14 runs. He also caught everything hit to him in center field. He might not match Choo in on base percentage, but he’s a much bigger threat on the base path with his speed. He can turn any single into a double and he can turn any double into a run. Hamilton is probably going to struggle at times, all young players go through growing pains, but as long as he keeps playing his game and doesn’t try to do too much, I expect him to have a really good year.

Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will do their thing. Votto will drive in 100 runs, Bruce will hit 25-30 home runs. And they might even hit back to back! I’m not worried about either of them, especially Votto, who has been “Mr. Consistent” for years now.

Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier are the guys who need to get it going. Phillips had 103 RBI, but his batting average is slipping and he’s striking out more. Some people don’t believe he’s an elite second baseman anymore, that he’s just a product of the guys hitting in front of him, and the Reds tried hard to move him in the off-season. We’ll see how Phillips responds to the critics and management. If the Reds hope to make any kind of run, he’s going to need to have a big season. The same goes for Frazier, who experienced a sophomore slump last year. Like Phillips, his batting average went way down and his strikeouts went up.

Both guys need to rebound if the Reds are to return to the playoffs. And if they don’t, it’s likely that one of them is gone before the season ends.

Aside from Phillips and Frazier, the Reds can only hope that Ryan Ludwick returns to the same form that he had two seasons ago. He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury and a lot of people think his 2012 season was an overachievement. The Reds left field of Ludwick and Chris Heisey is clearly their weak point.

The pitching is where the Reds bread is buttered. Last season the staff struggled with injuries and this season isn’t exactly off to a great start with Aroldis Chapman taking a line drive to the head. He’s expected to miss a couple of months, leaving closing duty to Jonathan Broxton, who was also injured for most of last year and wasn’t great when he was healthy.

If, and that’s a big if, the pitching staff can stay healthy, they should be able to keep the Reds in most games. Johny Cueto and Mat Latos are anchors, Tony Cingrani was good last season despite not quite being ready, and Mike Leake and Homer Bailey have good stuff, they just struggle with consistency.

I think a lot of people are sleeping on the Reds because of the loss of Choo and what happened last season, but the ejection of Baker and the injection of Price and Hamilton will hopefully breath some new life into this team. I think they can make the playoffs, possibly as a Wild Card team, and from there it’s anyone’s game.

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