So, here are 12 reasons to be optimistic for the Reds in 2012:
1. The busy offseason: After winning the 2010 National League Central title, the Reds stood still, apparently believing the team that won the division was good enough to win again. Short version of the story, it wasn’t. Walt Jocketty didn’t sit on his hands after the 2011 season, addressing the team’s need for pitching, adding Madson (whoops), Sean Marshall and Mat Latos. For a team that scored the second-most runs in the National League and allowed the fifth-most runs, attacking the pitching staff was an obvious choice.
2. Joey Votto: The best player in National League lives in Cincinnati.
3. The bullpen: OK, it’s not quite as good as it was before, but there’s a reason Marshall was given an extension. He was going to be the closer in 2013. The future is now. Plus there’s Bill Bray, and Nick Masset — when he’s right — can be unhittable.
4. Bronson Arroyo: He can’t be worse than he was last year, right? Arroyo was never healthy last season, and for a finesse pitcher anything that’s not normal is going to make a huge difference.
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tiger.
6. Mat Latos: Yes, he’s coming from Petco Park and every pitcher loves that joint — as they should. But he likes pitching everywhere. Take a look at his splits — in his career, his FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) is 3.25 at Petco and 3.30 on the road. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2009, batters have hit .229/.287/.348 against him in San Diego and .224/.286/.351 elsewhere. There will be balls that would be easy outs in San Diego that end up in the moondeck at GABP, but overall he should be fine.
7. A healthy Scott Rolen: The third baseman played in just 65 games for the Reds last season. This spring he is healthy and if he can play in 133 games like he did in 2010, this is a much, much better team, especially hitting between Votto and Jay Bruce. Which brings me to this...
8. Jay Bruce’s breakout: It’s not because Bruce showed up to spring training 15 pounds lighter (though it won’t hurt), but because he’ll be 25 with more than 2,000 plate appearances in the big leagues under his belt. Bruce hit 32 homers and drove in 97 last season — numbers that would usually be celebrated. Because of Bruce’s immense talent, His .256 average was focused on more. The combination of his experience, talent and youth point toward a breakout season.
9. Gold Gloves: There’s no team in the National League that can pick it like the Cincinnati nine. Votto, Rolen and Brandon Phillips have Gold Gloves. Bruce should have one. Then there’s Ryan Hanigan behind the plate, whose defense is seriously underrated. Add Drew Stubbs, one of the fastest men in baseball, in center and Zack Cozart at short — the ballpark may not be a pitcher’s best friend, but he’s got eight pretty good friends in that park.
10. The Banks: We finally have a place to celebrate — before and after games. For years we’d been promised a place to hang by GABP, just like we were promised a winner. It looks like there’s now a place to celebrate — it’s just time to see if a winner’s been built.
11. Barry Larkin in the Hall of Fame: The long-time Red is headed to Cooperstown this summer. The last time a Reds middle infielder was inducted into the Hall of Fame? Joe Morgan in 1990.
12. Why not? Really, why not?: The Brewers aren’t as good as they were a year ago and the Reds get to play the Cubs, Pirates and Astros a total of 48 times. The Cardinals are the World Series champs, but they’re yet another example of why it can happen. St. Louis was nowhere near the best team in baseball last season, but they played their best at the end and got monumentally lucky. It’s gotta happen here sometime, right?
CONTACT C. TRENT ROSECRANS: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or on Twitter @ctrent