CINCINNATI - The four words baseball fans have been waiting for since November: Pitchers and catchers report.
And that they have, specifically those of the Cincinnati Redlegs in Goodyear, Arizona for the unofficial kick-off of Spring Training.
The Reds pitching staff is also fresh off the re-signing of No. 2 hurler Mat Latos, a 2-year deal that bodes well for the team's chances at staying competitive.
That in mind, it seems only appropriate that some writer on the Internet make some outrageous claim about the talent level of this year's Reds staff.
So here goes: The Reds have the best pitching staff in the Major Leagues.
The Reds staff's numbers from last year speak for themselves: No. 1 in saves, No. 1 in complete games, No. 2 in wins, No. 2 in walks, No. 3 in earned runs, No. 4 in quality starts.
The Reds' sub-par numbers at the plate only further support the claim. The Reds were 21st in the league in scoring runs, yet they still managed 98 wins on the back of their extra-quality work on the mound.
Homer Bailey showed he can consistently locate his fastball without getting frustrated and pitch his breaking stuff without it hurting him; Latos proved to be more than the Reds thought he was with an incredible back half of the regular season and we can only expect more of the same; Bronson Arroyo has refined his pitch choice to keep hitters guessing even at his elevated age; Johnny Cueto continues to be lights out with his curveball/fastball combo; and Mike Leake can go far enough into a game to get the shut-down, best-in-baseball bullpen in the game, which is all the Reds need on any given game day.
And every single member of the team's bullpen and starting rotation has returned to Spring Training this year, with some intriguing additions that will only make this already stellar group that much better.
Think of the following like the beginning to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".
You know Chapman and Marshall and Broxton and Hoover; Arredondo and Simon, LeCure and Ondrusek, but adding to them all, some potential stars who can play ball.
Okay, stop singing the song now, it might get weird.
Nick Masset will be back sitting behind center field, and that's a sigh of relief to give Ondrusek a break when he needs it. Masset's curveball was un-hittable before he got hurt in 2012, and his 3.71 ERA in 2011 was just a preview to what he'll be able to do with the proper support around him in 2013.
The addition of Manny Parra replaces the injured-most-of-last-year Bill Bray, which will help supplement the absence of a longer-relieving left-hander and ensure Sean Marshall doesn't get over-worked. Parra's numbers on the surface don't scream "great addition," but take away his 2012's June and the only two games the rest of the year in which he gave up four and three earned runs and he's a relatively reliable arm. No, he's not going to get pitched when the Reds are up 3-2 in the 7th, and likewise he won't be on the hill when it's tied 4-4 in the 8th. But he's the perfect prospect for those two and three run leads, or a guy who just needs to stop the bleeding when the team is already down a few runs.
The last of the intriguing additions has to be Armando Galarraga, who signed a minor-league contract with the Reds and got an invite to Spring Training. Did you just say to yourself, "that name sounds SO familiar"? How about the name Jim Joyce? Does that ring a bell, too? It's coming back to you now, isn't it?
Galarraga was the guy who was robbed of a perfect game by umpire Jim Joyce back in 2010 on a blown call at first base.
Galarraga essentially fell of the face of the planet after that season, only appearing five times in 2012 for the Astros and ending up 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA. The season before that he only appeared eight times, posting a 5.91 ERA for the Diamondbacks.
Don't expect him to grab a spot on the MLB roster, but having a guy like him, who does have some good stuff, is a crutch in the event the injury ghost (not to be confused with the Walks Will Haunt ghost) takes a grip on the Reds starting staff, which the team was incredibly fortunate not to have to deal with last year.
So now let's compare this beefed up staff that was already stuffed full of beef to the rest of the league's top pitching brass.
The Dodgers went out and acquired starter Zach Greinke to bolster their pitching staff, but Greinke has been incredibly inconsistent away from home, and his career ERA is higher than all but one of the Reds' starters. And Josh Beckett, while much better in the NL, has lost the zip on his fastball, and will have plenty of blow up starts, diminishing LA's overall starting rotation. Plus, their bullpen is hit or miss, (as any bullpen would be when Todd Coffey is on the roster) and will tire as the season goes on despite a 2012 3.23 ERA (compared to the Reds' 2.65 ERA).
The Tampa Bay Rays were crowned among the league's best pitching staff's last year, with a league-leading 3.19 ERA, and while starters David Price and Jeremy Hellickson will likely continue their success into 2013, they lost James Shields, and now No. 2 starter Matt Moore is average at best. There's no way they replicate the numbers they did last season, especially considering their still-unsigned closer had a complete fluke of a phenomenal year if you look at his career numbers.
As for the Washington Nationals, who with a full-strength Steven Strasburg look to be unbeatable, do have their weaknesses. Their starting five (which swapped Edwin Jackson for an arguably more consistent Dan Haren in 2013) is hands down the best in baseball. A combined 3.38 ERA last season among the five (compared to the Reds' 3.64) will keep them in any game through the 7th inning. And their bullpen is good too (3.23 ERA last year), but not as good as the Reds' (2.65 ERA), and while the team did add closer Rafael Soriano, (2.78 ERA with 42 saves last year), he's still no Aroldis Chapman. The offset of a better Reds bullpen gives them the edge, because after all, it's a 9-inning game (at least).
Speaking of Chapman, he's the wild-card to backing up this claim. If he is moved into a starting role this season, there's no certainty to what this team will get every fifth game.
If he stays in his comfort zone as the best closer in baseball, then in the words of Ron Burgundy, it's a scientific fact: The Reds have the best pitching staff in Major League Baseball.
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