McCoy: Are the Reds team to beat in NL Central?

Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez at the first workout of Summer Camp at Great American Ball Park on Friday, July 3, 2020, in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez at the first workout of Summer Camp at Great American Ball Park on Friday, July 3, 2020, in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Cincinnati opens delayed 2020 season on Friday at home vs. Detroit Tigers

Baseball is ready, willing and, hopefully, able to click on the ignition switch to start the long-delayed 2020 season this week.

This was to be the year the Cincinnati Reds became relevent again, for the first time since 2013 when they won 90 games and finished third.

Since then, after manager Dusty Baker was fired, the Reds have been everybody’s no problem.

Last winter, though, the front office did more than shop in bargain basements. They upped their game significantly.

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They acquired infielder Mike Moustakas, outfielder Nick Castellanos, outfielder Shogo Akiyama and pitcher Wade Miley. National media took notice, many predicting that the Reds would rule the National League Central.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and baseball locked the doors.

MLB came up with a 60-game season and most of those same national media members are still with the Reds.

MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince ranks the Reds rotation of Sonny Gray, Louis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani as third best in baseball, behind the Washington Nationals and Tampa Rays.

And he nominated Castillo as a candidate to become the Reds’ first-ever Cy Young winner, citing Castillo’s hitter-embarrassing change-up as a lethal weapon, but added caution by saying he needs to slice his walks in half.

With a 60-game season, which is akin to an Olympics 100-meter dash, teams cannot afford a lethargic start, certainly not like the 3-and-18 start in 2018 by the Reds.

That shouldn’t happen this year. The schedule is smiling at Cincinnati. Six of the Reds’ first 10 games are against the downtrodden Detroit Tigers. The Tigers lost 114 games last season and it does not appear they’ve made any forward steps.

Sandwiched between six against the Tigers are four games against the Chicago Cubs, which should help establish how compeititve the Reds will be against a solid National League Central contender.

While the starting staff was solid last season, the Reds had offensive outages all season and were victimized by 33 one-run losses.

By adding Moustakas and Akiyama, the Reds have improved their offensive approach.

While most National League traditionalists abhor the designated hitter, which will be used in all games, the DH puts a broad smile on the face of Reds manager David Bell.

The Reds have a glut of outfielders — Nick Senzel, Castellanos, Akiyama, Jesse Winker, Phillip Ervin and Aristides Aquino.

That enables Bell to add offense by using the extra outfielders in the DH role — Winker, Ervin, Aquino.

It would behoove Joey Votto to bounce back from a relatively off season for him. And can the Reds expect another monster season from third baseman Eugenio Suarez?

Can Freddy Galvis adequately replace the sterling glovework and clutch-hitting provided last season by the departed free agent Jose Iglesias? Can Moustakas, a third baseman, handle second base?

While the starting staff is stellar, how about the bullpen? Raisel Iglesias was up and down, mostly down, as last season’s closer.

If he doesn’t work out early, newly acquired Pedro Strop can step in. He did some closing work for the Cubs in the past, 23 saves the last two seasons.

Starter Tyler Mahle, the odd man out of the rotation, will pitch in long relief. Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen will work late in games.

Las Vegas is about split 50/50 on which team will win the National League Central — about half list the Reds as favorites and the other half are going with the Chicago Cubs under new manager and former Reds catcher David Ross.

The Reds will play 40 games against NL Central division mates and 20 against American League Central teams.

It all begins Friday evening in Great American Ball Park for the Reds against the Tigers. There will be no fans in any major league park.

The Reds hope silence is golden.