McCoy: More of the same for rebuilding Reds; two titles in a row for Astros?

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan wrote a book entitled ‘The Long Season,’ and MLB players often refer to the season as a marathon, not a sprint.

And it most definitely is a long season and a marathon when a team loses 100 games and begins a season 3-22.

That’s what the Cincinnati Reds did last season and if Brosnan pitched for them his book would have been entitled, ‘The Long, Long, Long Season.’

Well, Reds fans, strap it on because a similar scenario is about to repeat itself this season at Great American Ball Park. The team probably won’t stumble and topple out of the gate with a 3-22 record, but 100 losses is on the distant horizon as the club continues to slowly march to the beat of a rebuild.

It is a sad state when a .500 season would be considered a minor miracle, but that’s life these days on the banks of the Ohio River.

The so-called strength of the 2023 Reds is the top three starting pitchers, all three greener than the felt on a pool table or a stack of cucumbers.

Hunter Greene, 23, is the Opening Day pitcher on Thursday at Great American Ball Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was 4-13 last season with a 4.44 earned run average. He pitched a no-hitter last season … and lost.

Nick Lodolo, 25, is second in line on the mound after compiling a 5-7 record last year with a 3.26 ERA. In his first four spring training starts he is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA.

The third young gun is Graham Ashcraft, 25, who was 5-6 with a 4.89 ERA last season.

Those three could be extremely strong, but as soon as they hit the 100-pitch level or the fifth or sixth inning, it is bullpen time. That’s where the Reds hang a Danger Zone sign. It has been a bad bullpen for several years and it has not been addressed for improvement.

The problems remain … the Reds have not built a bridge between the starting pitchers and closer Alexis Diaz.

It is apropos that the Reds and Pirates face each other to open the season. That’s a good place to begin our predictions for the season. They tied for next-to-last and last in the National League Central last season, each with 100 losses. And those two teams will be arguing over the same two spots in ‘23.

How they’ll finish.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL: St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati.

No matter which player retires, is traded, or goes via free agency, St. Louis seems to walk into a cornfield and find a major league-ready player. The Cardinals have reached the playoffs in four straight seasons and haven’t had a losing season since 2007. Make it five playoffs and another season way above .500.

Milwaukee and Chicago will compete, especially the Cubs who have about completed their teardown-rebuild. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will argue over which team reaches 100 losses first, but both probably will make it.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST: New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, Washington.

For New York, it’s Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and three days of rain. But the Mets have enough offense to win behind any of their starters, plus the checkbook of owner Steve Cohen. He might need to buy a closer after Edwin Diaz was injured in the World Baseball Classic and is gone for the season.

With heavily-loaded Atlanta and much-improved Philadelphia, the Mets are dealing with the strongest division in baseball. Well, there’s Washington and to steal a line for the old Washington Senators of the American League, “Washington is first in war, first in peace and last in the National League.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado, Arizona.

San Diego is one all-in with massive contracts. It seems no matter what the Padres do, they can’t beat the Dodgers. This, though, is the season if they can avoid the injuries that ripped them apart last season. It is a two-horse race because San Francisco, Colorado and Arizona are plow horses amidst two thoroughbreds.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST: Toronto, New York, Tampa Bay, Boston, Baltimore.

I pick Toronto every year and I’ll keep doing it until I get it right. The Blue Jays fortified their rotation with the addition of Chris Bassitt and upgraded the bullpen by adding Daulton Varsho. And Kevin Kiermaier in the outfield won’t hurt.

The Yankees are always the popular pick, but as much as I respect manager Aaron Boone, I can’t bring myself to pick the evil empire. Tampa Bay is an outside pick while Boston and Baltimore battle for the bottom.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL: Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit.

Prejudice prevails with my Cleveland pick and the Guardians have the second-best manager in baseball in Terry Francona (Can you say Dusty Baker). It is a weak division and Minnesota, or much-improved Chicago could win it, too.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST: Houston, Seattle, Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland.

With two of the top MLB players in Mike Trout and multi-purpose Shohei Ohtani, why can’t the Angels ever win? Well, Ohtani can only pitch every fifth day. And they are in the same division as defending World Series champion Houston. The Astros lost Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve won’t start the season due to the injury he suffered in the World Baseball Classic. But the Astros are still loaded and will successfully fend off Seattle. Oakland? The A’s are the Reds of the American League.

NATIONAL LEAGUE PENNANT: San Diego beats New York.

AMERICAN LEAGUE PENNANT: Houston beats Toronto.

WORLD SERIES CHAMPION: Houston beats San Diego in six games. Manager Dusty Baker makes it two in a row.

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