I will be the first to admit, the outlook for the 2013 version of the Cincinnati Reds looks pretty rosy. The organization's recent history of success has dramatically raised expectations around the Queen City. And they appear to have the pieces in place needed to reach or exceed them.
With that being said, here are 15 expectations I have for the Redlegs in 2013. Disclaimer: Some may or may not be positive. Some may or may not bias. Some may or may not be outrageous.
1) The Reds will win their third division title in four seasons.
2) Ryan Ludwick will not have the kind of season he enjoyed in 2012 (.275 BA, 26 HR, 80 RBI), but he will be a productive bat in the lineup. Chris Heisey will play more of a role this year.
3) Devin Mesoraco will bounce back from a horrid rookie campaign (.212 BA, 5 HR, 14 RBI, -0.5 WAR) and eventually earn majority of the playing time over Ryan Hanigan.
4) The Pittsburgh Pirates will finish with a losing record for the 21st consecutive season. They have done nothing to improve their ball club this winter, and that likely means another putrid summer for Buccos fans.
5) Shin-Soo Choo, in the midst of a contract year, will have a monster individual season. I'm talking like finishing in the "top-15 of the MVP voting at year's end" type of a season.
6) Dusty Baker will gnaw nervously on over 500 toothpicks throughout the course of the 162-game schedule. That's about three per game, folks.
7) Both Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos will earn their first trip to the All-Star Game. Both will finish in the top 10 on the Cy Young Award ballot, however, neither will garner the votes needed to win. The Reds will remain one of only five franchises to not have a pitcher win the prestigous award.
8) Cincinnati will finish with a winning record against the American League for just the second time since 2008. They are slated to play Oakland, Seattle, Texas, Los Angeles, and Cleveland in '13. Well, pretty much everyone in the AL West with the exception of Houston, who are transitioning from the NL Central.
9) Jay Bruce crushes 40+ homers and drives in 100+ runs for the first time in his MLB career.
10) The St. Louis Cardinals miss the playoffs altogether after failing to surge in the second half like they are accustomed to. An aging roster and a lack of pitching depth bears the bulk of the blame.
11) Aroldis Chapman begins the year firing on all cylinders, much as he did as a reliever in '12, and much like Mike Leake did as a starter in his rookie campaign in '10. Baseball writers, fans, and onlookers buzz about the possibility of a Cy Young Award for Chapman. Unfortunately, the wear and tear of the increased innings load starts to take its toll around the All-Star Break. The Cy Young talk cools off dramatically, but the southpaw continues to post respectable numbers, just not the jaw-dropping numbers he was posting in April and May. Chapman enters the playoffs as the team's No. 4 starter behind Latos, Cueto, and Homer Bailey.
12) Speaking of Bailey, the right-hander continues his track record of sustained success by building upon his good showing from last year (13-10, 3.68 ERA, no-hitter). After getting snubbed of an All-Star nod, Bailey kicks it into high gear in the second half and gives the Reds three ace-caliber pitchers entering October.
13) Billy Hamilton continues to shred the basepaths in the minors, but struggles to maintain a modest average against pitching at the Triple-A level. However, he does manage to draw more than his fair share of walks and receives a promotion to the big club in September. He proves to be a valuable asset in pinch-running situations, but Choo's stellar play in center prevents Hamilton from seeing much time there...at least until 2014.
14) The Reds will finish with the best record in the National League and earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Well, almost the whole playoffs. After a 3-year drought, the American League will finally break through and beat the Senior Circuit in the Midsummer Classic to earn the league a homefield edge in the World Series.
15) Joey Votto will be named World Series MVP after leading the Reds to a Game 7 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.