Know Your Enemy: Cincinnati Reds

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Or maybe THIS is the team you love to hate.

The Cincinnati Reds have made the playoffs three of the last four years, have talented position players and pitchers, and so the only significant change they made for 2014 was firing manager Dusty Baker and replacing him with Bryan Price, who spent the last four years as Cincinnati's pitching coach.

Baker's playoff failures are well-known to us, although he seemed to have the knack of letting a veteran team lead itself (since he's mostly a players' manager) to the postseason (nine appearances). Price, who has never managed before, is at least well-known to the players and, as a veteran bunch, they know what is needed to return to the postseason. Incidentally, former Cub Jeff Pico will succeed Price as Reds pitching coach. Pico has been a minor-league pitching coach and coordinator since 1997.

The Reds return the same bunch that won 90 games in 2013 and lost the wild-card play-in game to the Pirates, with one significant exception: Billy Hamilton, who shattered stolen-base records in the Cincinnati system, will debut as the starting center fielder, replacing Shin-Soo Choo, who departed as a free agent. Hamilton, who was 7-for-19 with 13 stolen bases in 13 games for the Reds last September, didn't hit nearly as well in Triple-A in 2013 as he had in High-A and Double-A in 2012, but the Reds feel he's ready to take over in the outfield with his speed. If he can return to his 2012 ability to get on base (.410 OBP), he will be a major disruptive force in the division.

Otherwise the previous offensive cast returns, including Ryan Ludwick, who missed a lot of 2013 with injuries. The Reds signed the versatile Skip Schumaker to back up all three outfield positions and a couple in the infield as well. The starting rotation returns intact and the Reds and Homer Bailey are reportedly discussing a contract extension that would pay the righthander $100 million over six years.

Aroldis Chapman returns as closer; Chapman wasn't quite as unhittable in 2013 as he had been in 2012, although he did strike out 43 percent of the hitters he faced (112 of 256). The Reds have former closer Jonathan Broxton back to set up Chapman.

In short, the only real difference you might see with this team is more walks drawn with the walk-averse Baker no longer managing, although the Reds led the National League in walks drawn in 2013 (maybe Dusty wasn't watching).

The Cubs will first see the Reds at Wrigley April 18-19-20, and their first trip to Cincinnati is April 28-29-30.

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