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Know your enemy: Cincinnati Reds

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First in a series on Cubs opponents this year.

Sonny Gray greets his new teammate Tucker Barnhart
The Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY

Each spring, I write a series of articles giving my impressions of the Cubs’ opponents for the season. That’s a total of 20 articles — the 14 other N.L. teams and the six A.L. teams (this year, the A.L. West and the White Sox) the Cubs will face.

I don’t pretend to know everything about these teams, but I hope to give you a good overview of the clubs the Cubs will play in 2019. I’m starting this series now because, well, games begin later this week. I’m well aware that many free agents remain unsigned and some of these teams might look different in a week, or three. We shall see. Now, on to the Cincinnati Reds.

I’ve said for the last few seasons that if the Reds had any decent pitching, they might be a contender. They scored 696 runs, a bit below league average, but allowed 819, 50 more than anyone except the Marlins.

Now, it appears the Reds might actually have a decent starting rotation. The deal they made with the Dodgers, dumping Homer Bailey’s dead-money contract in exchange for Matt Kemp’s, also brought Yasiel Puig from the Dodgers — and Alex Wood, who couldn’t make the Dodgers rotation but could look very good in Cincinnati. Then the Reds traded with the Yankees and acquired Sonny Gray for a prospect and international bonus money. Gray had three very good years in Oakland from 2013-15 and is only 29. Lastly, they picked up Tanner Roark from the Nationals.

Those three starters are far better than anyone the Reds have had in their rotation since they were a playoff contender several years ago. Luis Castillo, who came out of the Reds system, is now their No. 4 starter — that’s pretty good.

The Reds offense returns more or less intact, with the addition of Puig. That could be a real boost, as Great American Ballpark is a much better place to hit than Dodger Stadium. It remains to be seen how Puig will react to playing in Cincinnati, a much different market than Los Angeles. If he hits, their fans should like him. It’ll be interesting for the “Puig your friend” show to face the Cubs 19 times instead of the six or seven we saw when he was a Dodger.

Raisel Iglesias has been a solid closer for the Reds, and they apparently intend to try Michael Lorenzen as a part-time outfielder as well as a reliever. Lorenzen hit .290/.333/.710 last year (9-for-31) with four (!) home runs and 10 RBI.

Since 2015 the Cubs are 51-25 against the Reds. They won’t be nearly as easy to beat in 2019. On the other hand, several of those new Reds acquisitions are free agents after 2019. So unless the Reds get off to a good start, look for them to flip some or all of them at the trading deadline.

The Cubs will face the Reds 19 times this year: May 14-15-16, June 28-29-30 and August 8-9-10-11 in Cincinnati, and May 24-25-26, July 15-16-17 and September 16-17-18 at Wrigley Field.