You can find your Cincinnati Reds tickets for the 2011 season on SeatGeek.

Steve Engbloom and John Bell are writers for Fansided’s Cincinnati Reds blog, Blog Red Machine.  You can follow Blog Red Machine on Twitter @blogredmachine.

Cincinnati Reds 2011 Season Preview

When most people view the Cincinnati Reds for the upcoming 2011 season, three things would most likely be mentioned by baseball fans.

First, is the plethora of young pitching that decorates the 40-man roster. The second is the 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto. And finally, just one word will do: Chapmania.

But the Reds are a bit more than those three. Here’s our preview for the Reds in 2010.

Cincinnati Reds Infield

As you look across the Reds infield, four of the five positions have been filled. We already mentioned Votto who will man first base. Look at second base and two-time Gold Glover Brandon Phillips oversees that are. Another Gold Glove winner, Scott Rolen (who has eight to his name) is still more than capable at third. The pseudo platoon of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan share the duties behind the plate.

The biggest question baseball “experts” have regarding the Reds infield is at short. Paul Janish for the second consecutive off-season, appeared to have the position to himself. Not so fat. Last season, Reds GM Walt Jocketty brought in Orlando Cabrera. This year, while it is not official, numerous reports have surfaced that the Reds and 2010 World Series MVP Edgar Renteria have agreed on a one-year deal.

Two things here. Renteria is telling anyone that will listen that he is the starter. Reds skipper Dusty Baker has, for the moment, brushed any potential controversy aside. Second, this signing is a guarantee that Chris Valaika will start the season in Louisville. Well, barring any injury leading up to the start of the season.

The bigger issue may deal with the two lefty bats that Cincy has among its infielders: Juan Francisco and Yonder Alonso. Both can hit and hit the ball far, but both are still undisciplined at the plate. And what makes you pause when debating whether to add them to your pre-season depth chart is that neither is listed as the #2 at their position. For first, Alonso is listed as #3 behind Votto and “super-sub” Miguel Cairo. Francisco is also at #3 among third basemen behind Rolen and, surprise, Cairo.

But that lefty bat, even if it is only one, is a necessity for Dusty. Late inning situations will demand it.

Cincinnati Reds Outfield

I know there’s been a groundswell among the critics of Jonny Gomes and saying the Reds need another left fielder. The issue is the glove. While it’s not a golden one (and may never be) Gomes isn’t as much a detriment as you’d think. Why? Not because of his speed, but his hustle. It does cover up a little of his lack of fielding skills or his perceived weak arm.

There are no issues in center as Drew Stubbs will return in 2011. Stubbs has his critics, too. Will he ever be able to bunt? With his speed, it’s hard to fathom that no one taught the kid how to bunt as he made his way through the Reds system. No one? Really?

But the bigger issue with Stubbs is batting leadoff. Can he do it? Only if severely curtails the strikeouts. Imagine cutting down on 130+ strikeouts and turning only 25% of those into hits. That’s at least 34 more hits…and 34 more chances to swipe a base. Cut his swing down a bit. Sure, you may not get the 20+ HR, but you pose a different threat.

No issues over in right field either. Jay Bruce, fresh off a six-year, $51 million deal, will patrol that area of the ballpark. And can he ever patrol there. A few believe that Bruce should have been the fourth Red to receive a Gold Glove in 2010. But for the 2010 season, all Reds fans will remember Bruce for his division-clinching, 9th inning home run.

The fourth guy out there will be Chris Heisey. Until injury issues for Bruce to the bench for an extended period, Heisey was known for his pinch-hit homers. Heisey proved that he can man any outfield position if one of the three starters go down for a period of time. He is more than capable with the glove as well.

Like with the infield, there’s that issue of a lefty bat that Dusty covets. Jeremy Hermida was recently signed to a minor league deal and the Reds have also been in contact with free agent Scoot Podsednik. If Pods is not brought in, Hermida will have a clear chance to make the big league squad when spring training breaks. If the speedy Podsednik is signed, then Hermida’s fate may be already etched in a ticket to Louisville or even released.

The lineup could look like this:
1. Stubbs, CF
2. Phillips, 2B
3. Votto, 1B
4. Rolen, 3B
5. Bruce, RF
6. Gomes, LF
7. Hernandez/Hanigan, C
8. Janish/Renteria, SS

Positions 7th and 8th could easily be switched depending on who’s playing on any given day.

Cincinnati Reds Pitching

Starters

What a problem to have. Five slots, six arms. Even though the Reds have these arms, Reds GM Walt Jocketty saw fit to keep them all and not include them in any potential deal…that we are aware of anyway.

Bronson Arroyo is coming off his best season as a major leaguer. Arroyo amassed a career high in wins with 17. He snared his first Gold Glove. He also can provide innings. In all of his five seasons as a Red, Arroyo has 200+ innings pitched. But the best part of Arroyo is his quiet competitive attitude. He won’t give in unless he realizes it’s for the team. And he won’t question as to why. He’s a team player all the way.

Say the name Johnny Cueto and most will recall the brawl last season at GABP as the Reds were squaring off against the St. Louis Cardinals. As Cueto enters his fourth year in a Reds uniform, he has plenty good reasons to hang his hat on 2010. His 12 wins was a career high. The 3.64 ERA he posted was his lowest. He also hurled a career high 185.1 innings.Cueto’s 138 strikeouts also led the team.

The biggest question mark on the Reds staff for 2011 could be Edinson Volquez. It’s said that the second season after Tommy John surgery is the telling tale. Well, that’s Volquez. He battled wildness all season long, from his rehab stint in Louisville to Cincinnati to Single-A Dayton to work out mechanical issues. But make no mistake, Volquez can always sang you 15 wins…if he’s right.

Then there’s Homer Bailey. You could call him an enigma and you would be correct. The former #7 overall pick back in 2004 has yet to completely show his complete arsenal. At the beginning of his MLB career, Bailey was rushed through the system amidst all the hub-bub. All that did was slow his growth. We may very well see the best of Bailey in 2011. He’s as hard a competitor the Reds have on their whole roster. Bailey’s 8.3 SO/9 led the Reds last season.

What can you say about Travis Wood that hasn’t already been said? He won’t blow you away with his fastball. He hangs around the low 90’s Where Wood gets you is his pinpoint accuracy. How accurate? His 3.31 SO/BB ratio was second best on the whole staff last season, including relievers. Only Aroldis Chapman was better (3.80) and Chapman only threw 13 innings compared to 102.2 that Wood hurled.

Where could all of this leave Mike Leake? He certainly played a key role for the Reds in 2010. He made the staff as the fifth starter in 2010 and never tossed an inning in the minors. And how valuable he was. Third in starts (22). Third in innings (138.1). Leake posted 8-4 record with a 4.23 ERA in his first experience as a major league starter.That’s nothing to be ashamed of either. In September, Leake was shut down due to shoulder fatigue. Tossing 138 innings was possibly too much to ask of him.

But I fear that Leake may be the odd man out unless something earth shattering happens between now and the start of the regular season. The starting staff would line up as such.

1. Cueto
2. Arroyo
3. Volquez
4. Bailey
5. Wood

Bullpen

There are essentially five different classifications for someone in the bullpen: long relief (> 3.0 IP), short relief (1-2 IP), setup (7th or 8th inning), closer (9th or beyond) and situational (as the inning and hitter combination dictate).  With that in mind, here is a classification and a little preview of each coming into the 2011 season.

Long Relief
This is the necessary evil of the group.  Ideally, all starters would be able to hand the ball to the setup guy in the 8th inning, but that’s just not reality.  In order to be a quality long reliever, you need to be able to warm up quickly and have the mentality of a starter – work hitters efficiently and effectively while maintaining the game plan.  The two that I see with the responsibilities based on their performance and potential are Jordan Smith and Matt Maloney.  Both showed that they can pitch well throughout last season and both are quite durable earning the occasional start in 2010.

Short Relief
Short relievers need to be able to pitch a little more frequently with the same starter’s mentality, but with a little more urgency than a long reliever.  Jared Burton performed this role quite well last year in the short time that he was able to pitch and this is the ideal position for a recharged Dontrelle Willis after his hiatus from baseball after the all-star break last year.  It is no secret that he has struggled as a starter over the course of the past few seasons, so how he is able to re-focus with a new position would determine the level of success he’s able to regain.  If either Willis or the Reds are unwilling to put him in the short relief role, then he’s going to spend a majority of the year in Louisville trying to get his mind – and his arm – right.

Setup
The setup man has to have the same mentality as the closer with a little more experience because sometimes there is more thinking involved in the 7thor 8th inning with coaching changes and situational matchups.  If the setup man is able to see through the smoke screens and pitch a quality inning (with less pressure) then the 9th inning will be an even more advantageous situation for the Reds than in past seasons.  The 7th and 8th innings hurt the Reds quite often last season and that’s where we saw several games go from close games to ridiculously out of hand.  With solid veterans at this position, the 7th and 8th innings should pass without incident.  These two guys may come as a surprise, but I really think they are best for the job if they can prove that they are able in spring training and in the early portion of the season.  Francisco Cordero should be the primary setup man with rookie Philippe Valiquette and Aroldis Chapman providing lefty support for the position.  Both Valiquette and Chapman have extraordinary fastballs with Chapman’s being publicized a bit more.  Valiquette quite frequently hits at or near 100mph.

Closer
The closer is the glory role for any relief pitcher and as such, this is the most debated position of any.  The Reds are fortunate enough to have three pitchers who are perfectly capable of performing the task in Nick Masset, Chapman and Cordero.  Like the setup role, the Reds should have a primary closer in Masset with Chapman and Cordero providing the support for the role.  Some may argue that Cordero should be the primary with Chapman and Masset providing the support, but consider this:  Cordero’s walks to strikeouts splits last season was 36/59 in 75 games while Masset’s was 33/85 in 82 games.  That’s a difference of 3 less walks and 26 more strikeouts in 7 games.  So how was Cordero able to convert 90% of his save opportunities when Masset has only converted 40%?  When Masset goes bad, he REALLY goes bad.  Out of 82 games last year, he allowed more than 1 run only 5 times (essentially once a month on average) allowing a total of 17 runs in those 5 games out of 29 earned runs all season.

So, the theme of the bullpen seems to be this:  whoever can keep their head on straight long enough to do what they are able to do is going to have a great season.  If everyone gets everything straight, you’ll most likely see Cordero as the closer with Masset and Chapman working setup again.  Don’t discount the potential rookie Philippe Valiquette though.  Like Chapman, he has an electric fastball with a decent off-speed pitch that needs a little work.  With pitchers & catchers reporting soon, look for them to spend a lot of time with the pitching coaches getting those pitches down to a science if they haven’t been doing so this past winter already.

Players to watch:  Dontrelle Willis, Francisco Cordero, Philippe Valiquette and Aroldis Chapman