DAVID LAUTERBACH: How would you describe the Reds' start so far and why?
WICK TERRELL: You know how sometimes you're sound asleep, having just the most delightful spate of dreams, and you abruptly wake up because your arms are completely asleep because of a lack of circulation due to sleeping with them under your head & pillow? Then you have to wiggle around and flop yourself over so the blood can get back into them, they get all tingly, and for a minute or so you feel like they'll never quite work right again?
WT: Sleeping and being able to move your arms are things so seemingly easy and everyday that when you suddenly have to question your ability to do them well it somehow throws everything you took for granted into question.
WT: That entire scenario reminds me of the Reds in 2014. Things that have been given for a handful of years have gone haywire, and it has left the fanbase perplexed for much of the season.
DL: What has surprised you so far?
WT: The starting pitching has been phenomenal for yet another season, but it's been championed by different headliners than in 2013. Last year, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, and Tony Cingrani powered the Reds rotation for most of the season; in 2014, Latos has yet to pitch a big league inning, Bailey struggled mightily out of the gate after a minor injury set him back in Spring Training (and after he signed a $105 million contract), and Cingrani has lacked control and looked quite hittable so far.
WT: Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon, however, have been remarkable, and Mike Leake is off to yet another solid start to a season. Cueto's showed in 2012 that he's capable of being an elite-level ace, but after injuries curtailed his 2013 there were few huge expectations for him this year. He's met those expectations, exceeded them, and struck them all out with a goofy-windup and a beautiful change-up, however, and it's been a revelation. Simon has filled in for Latos at an absurd level, and he's a big reason why the Reds' season isn't completely over already.
WT: I'm also flabbergasted by how bad the offense has been. It's been, well, flabbergastingly bad.
DL: What didn't Cincinnati do that it should have during the offseason?
WT: What they did do was nothing. What they should have done was something, anything.
WT: The Reds stood pat at the trade deadline last year and failed to address their LF woes, and passing on Marlon Byrd in favor of awaiting Ryan Ludwick's return bit them. They then employed the same strategy this offseason, and now the 4 HR by Reds' LF is tied for 3rd fewest in all of baseball despite playing their home games in a bandbox.
WT: They watched Shin-Soo Choo leave, which was the right decision due to payroll issues, but losing his OBP ability was critical. They then jettisoned Ryan Hanigan for a negligible return, and between their losses and Joey Votto being injured, the collective team OBP has suffered terribly. At .300, it's the 27th "best" in baseball.
WT: As of today, there was just a single Red among the top 125 qualified hitters in OBP, and that was Todd Frazier (.348) at 54th. That's pretty terrible.
DL: What was the worst move the Reds made?
WT: Counting on Ryan Ludwick to be a power hitter after tearing his labrum at age 34 is a good place to start, I think. The Reds were stuck with him, though, since he was under contract for $8.5 million in 2014 with a $4.5 million buyout on a 2015 option, and the Reds simply weren't in a position financially to be able to eat $13 million to sit him on the bench and pay for an upgrade. In 85 games over the past two years - all but one of which was after he tore his labrum sliding into 3B on Opening Day 2013 - he's hit .244/.305/.350 as what was supposed to be a righty power hitter.
WT: The only other moves they made were to trade Ryan Hanigan at his lowest value (which was questionable), replace him as the primary catcher with Devin Mesoraco (which was good), sign Brayan Pena to be the new backup C (which has been fine), and sign Skip Schumaker to a 2-year contr...
WT: ...nevermind. Signing Skip Schumaker to a 2 year, $5 million contract as a 34 year old hitter without a position coming off a -1.3 bWAR season was the worst move the Reds made. It's close, though, and the fact that they were both formerly St. Louis Cardinals just rubs extra salt in the wound.
DL: How has Mat Latos' rehab been? When should he be back?
WT: In the last 8 months, Latos has had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, a flexor mass strain shut him down for a month, and a calf cramp that cut short his rehab start. That's kept the most reliable starter from 2012-2013 out all season, but he's scheduled for what should be his final rehab start tomorrow (Monday) for Triple-A Louisville. If that goes as planned, he'll be back with the Reds for his next start 5 days later.
DL: When should Joey Votto be back?
WT: Votto's actually on a rehab stint with Triple-A Louisville right now, too, which means the best arm and best bat the Reds have had over the last two years are making a pile of money while beating up on Pawtucket this week. Votto's case has been a tad mysterious as apparently his quad issue isn't about pain, it's about strength. It hasn't hurt him as much as it's just weakened him, which is why he's been slower to return from it than initially expected.
WT: He should be back by the end of the week, though. Man, you guys really timed this 4 game series well.
DL: Do you think Johnny Cueto can continue to be as good as he's been?
WT: He's already seen some regression from his initial ridiculous start, and that was to be expected. As good as Cueto is, keeping a 98% strand rate beyond 50 IP was not going to happen, and begun to eek towards a more reasonable percentage.
WT: That said, Clayton Kershaw is the only pitcher in the NL with a lower ERA than Johnny over the last 4 years, and I don't think that's a mirage at all. Cueto posted a near 6 bWAR year in 2012, and he's on pace to do rougly that again in 2014, and I think that's just a great pitcher pitching well in his prime. Thanks for pitching Kershaw against the Rockies today, by the way.
DL: Who's be the team's Cy Young so far?
WT: Cueto. My rather biased opinion is that he's been the NL's Cy Young winner so far. FIP can take a hike.
WT: Devin Mesoraco had a torrid stretch when he first came off the DL, but he's since had a second DL stint and cooled off considerably.
WT: The answer to this has to be Todd Frazier, who has played Gold Glove caliber defense at 3B, has a stellar .866 OPS, and is on pace to thump about 35 dingers on the season. He, too, is on a 6 bWAR pace, and has carried the offense at times.
WT: His walk up music is also Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon," which is MVP worthy regardless of his play on the field.
DL: Series prediction?
WT: Reds in a sweep. Hey, it worked once last year, didn't it?