March Madness: 30 teams in 30 days. 2012 MLB Season Preview- Cincinnati Reds

Team: Cincinnati Reds

Manager: Dusty Baker

2011 Record: 79-83

Playoff Result: No playoffs

Top Player: Joey Votto (6.9 WAR)

What happened last season: After being the surprise team of baseball by winning the NL Central in 2010, the Cincinnati Reds struggled in 2011, a 3rd place finish behind the Cardinals and Brewers. With injuries to Scott Rolen and struggles of leadoff man Drew Stubbs (205 strikeouts!), the offense stumbled from the best in the NL to the middle of the pack. The pitching staff was putrid, 12th in ERA in the NL. However, hope was shown with a shortened but strong breakout season from righty Johnny Cueto, a 169 ERA+ in 24 starts. Mike Leake also improved, going 12-9 with a 3.86 ERA.

What they did in the offseason: The Reds had one of the biggest off-seasons in the majors. In December, GM Walt Jocketty dealt prospect slugger Yonder Alonso to San Diego for righty Mat Latos, who looks to be an excellent counterpart to Cueto in the rotation. The Reds also revamped their rotation by trading for Cubs LOOGY Sean Marshall, whom lefties have a career .227/.300/.363/.663 line against, as well as signing former Phillies reliever Ryan Madson to be their closer. Madson saved 32 games for the 102 win Phillies last season and looks to continue that success.

Projected starting lineup:

Catcher: Ryan Hanigan

First Base: Joey Votto

Second Base: Brandon Phillips

Third Base: Scott Rolen

Shortstop: Zack Cozart

Left Field: Chris Heisey

Center Field: Drew Stubbs

Right Field: Jay Bruce

Rotation:

RHP Johnny Cueto

RHP Mat Latos

RHP Bronson Arroyo

RHP Homer Bailey

RHP Mike Leake

Closer: Ryan Madson

Outlook for 2012: With a reloaded pitching staff and what’s arguably the best lineup in the National League, the Cincinnati Reds look to return to their 2010 form and return to the postseason for a shot at the World Series. With the departure of Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, that pathway looks a lot easier for them. Look for them to be the favorites in the NL Central and be series contenders in 2012.

Regular Season Prediction: 94-68. NL Central Champions

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