This is the last in a series of nine questions about the Reds as they begin spring training.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The big question about the Reds this and every year is: How many wins?
The Reds went 68-94 last season. The Reds are optimistic they'll be better. That's based largely on the way they played in the second half last year, when they finished one game under .500 at 36-37.
"We have huge expectations that we're going to compete and compete well," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "I'm not looking for 2017 to be a replay of 2016 because it's a rebuild. I'm looking for 2017 to be a significant improvement over '16."
I'm guessing that if everything goes right -- I mean everything -- this could be a .500 club. That's a 13-game improvement over '16. That's a huge jump.
And everything usually doesn't go right. We've seen that already with the injury to Homer Bailey. The Reds were counting on him as one of the four locks for the rotation. Now, he's shut down from throwing for four to six weeks. So you're looking at a June return.
Even before the Bailey injury, the experts didn't see the Reds within shouting distance of .500; fangraphs.com projected them at 69-93. USA Today had them at 66-96. FiveThirtyEight.com has them at 70-92.
Those projections are usually right on.
The one thing that's paramount if the Reds are to make them wrong is to get off to a better start. They went 9-15 in June and 8-20 in May. That is demoralizing for a young team -- really for any team.
The reason for the horrendous start last year was the bullpen. It was a disaster from the start. Remember, J.J. Hoover started the year as the closer. He finished with one save.
The Reds addressed that by adding Drew Storen, a former closer with tremendous upside for a low-cost signing.
Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen pitched well out of the bullpen down the stretch. With them, Tony Cingrani, and Storen, the Reds should have four solid backend of the 'pen guys.
The Reds finished eighth in the National League in runs in '16. That's good enough to be a .500 team. I think the offense has a chance to be better as the young players continue to develop.
It will help if Joey Votto hits better than .212 through May. It will help if Billy Hamilton hits all year as he did in the second half and stays healthy. It will help if Eugenio Suarez ups his average from .248. It will help if Devin Mesoraco is healthy. And it will help if Jose Peraza puts up promising numbers at second.
But even with all that help -- given the Bailey setback -- I think the key to this season lies in the rotation.
The Reds are counting on Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Scott Feldman to fill the top three spots. Signing Brandon Arroyo, in light of the Bailey injury, looks like a very smart move.
But one of the young prospects -- Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed or Amir Garrett -- is going to be in the rotation. And if Arroyo struggles in spring training, two of the three aforementioned prospects could be in the rotation.
The Reds are going to need those young guys to step up.
If that happens, maybe the Reds get to .500.
"We want to surprise the world," Price said.
Price was talking about winning the World Series when he said that.
Getting to .500 would surprise the world.
Question 8: Will this be Billy Hamilton's year?
Question 7: Will Mesoraco be the Reds' everyday catcher?
Question 6: With Bailey out, who joins the rotation?
Question 5: Is Scott Schebler the right man in right field?
Question 3: Who closes? Storen? Iglesias? Cingrani?
Question 2: What should fans expect from Homer Bailey?
Question 1: Where does Price play top prospect Jose Peraza?