Prior to the 2013 Major League Baseball season, the Cincinnati Reds were widely considered one of the favorites to win the World Series. The reasons for believing so were plentiful.
The Reds were returning all of the major pieces from the 2012 team that captured the division crown and won the second-most games (97) in baseball. Only the Washington Nationals boasted more victories than Dusty Baker's club (98).
Now, the Reds continue to be heralded as a good bet to earn their third trip to the postseason in four years. And they might even lay claim to their sixth world title in franchise history before the season is over.
Here are five reasons to believe they are destined to win it all.
1) Easy schedule
A very good case could be made that Cincinnati has already navigated through the toughest part of their schedule. They have already played the likes of the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Nationals, each of whom made the postseason in 2012, 15 times this season. The Reds won't see any of those teams again until they host the Cardinals in June. Furthermore, they won't see the Nationals at all for the remainder of the regular season.
Beginning Friday, the Reds play 15 straight games against teams who currently sport a losing record. Additionally, 16 of their last 26 games of the season are set to be played at home. Most of those contests will come against teams with losing records, not including six of their last nine to be played against the Pirates, which is a franchise who hasn't had a winning season in over 20 years.
2) Dominating bullpen
In 2012, the Reds led the majors in bullpen earned run average at 2.65. They aren't currently leading in that category this season, but evidence suggests that they will be near the top come September.
Baker has one of the best closers in the modern game in Aroldis Chapman to go along with a formidable duo of Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall to serve as setup guys. Sam LeCure has proven to be one of the more underrated relievers in the league while J.J. Hoover, Alfredo Simon, and Logan Ondrusek are solid options as well.
3) Strong starting rotation
Although ace Johnny Cueto currently resides on the disabled list, the Reds still own one of the better starting rotations in the National League. Mat Latos continues to blossom into an elite starter the Reds hoped he would be when acquiring him in exchange for four players in December 2011. Meanwhile, Homer Bailey has finally come around as a reliable starter, and Bronson Arroyo continues to amaze despite his increasing age. This is not to mention rookie southpaw Tony Cingrani, whose meteoric rise through the farm system gave the team no choice but to call him up once Cueto hit the disabled list in mid-April.
4) Shin-Soo Choo
It may seem weird to devote an entire reason to just one player, but in order to understand, you have to realize how important Choo will be to the Reds moving forward this season. The Korean native has completely changed the outlook on Cincinnati's lineup since coming over in a trade this winter from the Cleveland Indians. In 2012, Reds leadoff hitters ranked dead last in average (.208) and on-base percentage (.254). Now, thanks to Choo, the Reds have done a complete a turn around and currently lead the league in both categories. This has allowed the Reds to score more runs because Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and others now have more chances to knock in base runners.
As long as Choo stays healthy, this positive trend for Cincinnati will continue.
There is no substitute for experience and the Reds have plenty of players who have it. Sure, only one player on its active roster has ever been part of a World Series champion team (Arroyo with the Boston Red in 2004), but virtually every player outside of Cingrani has been through at least one postseason before. Yes, a lot of these players have failed to advance beyond the first round. But the experience they gained by going through Cincinnati's early exits in 2010 and 2012 will prove very valuable in 2013. The team's excellent blend of youth and age should bode well come October.