Reds Ready for Opening Day

Baker Can Hit Phillips 2nd in Upgraded Lineup

Opening day has always been a big deal in Cincinnati and there's additional reason for excitement this year as the Reds are coming off a 97-win campaign and have legitimate championship aspirations. They return a strong pitching staff and an upgraded lineup as they set out for deep postseason run in 2013.

Countdown to opening day: 1 day. For many years Cincinnati hosted the first baseball game of the regular season in respect for them being the oldest professional team. That tradition is no longer kept as the two Texas teams open the season tonight, but the Reds always have their first game at home. They also still have opening day festivities and even keep the second day of the season open in the event they need to be rescheduled for inclement weather. This year will be a first for the franchise as they open up their schedule with an interleague game.

Their first game will be against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who are the only team to have a spring training record worse than the Reds' 13-20. Not a lot of stock should be put into that because both teams figure to be in the hunt for postseason all year long. For the second season in a row the Angels have added a high-profile free agent to their lineup, former Red Josh Hamilton. Of course Cincinnati is familiar with last-year's signing, Albert Pujols, from his previous career with division foe St. Louis. Expected starting pitchers will be aces Johnny Cueto and Jered Weaver.

The Reds also will be fielding a high-profile addition when Shin-soo Choo debuts with them. He doesn't have any MVP awards in his trophy case like the Angels' free agents but he does address a chronic need the Reds have had for a while of trying to find a high on-base man to lead off. Aside from that there doesn't expect to be any other turnover on their roster save utility infielders.

Right now the Reds active roster is close to its final form. Jason Donald has the final infield spot unless there is a move made to the 40-man. He'll join former Cleveland teammate Jack Hannahan on the bench. Chris Heisey and Xavier Paul ended 2012 backing up the outfield and that's where they'll likely be tomorrow. Devin Mesoraco is coming off an impressive spring that will enable him to regain the second catcher position. The most likely candidate to crash into any of those five spots is veteran infielder Cesar Izturis.

With leadoff clear the lineup looks very predictable for a change:

1. Shin Soo-Choo (cf)

2. Brandon Phillips (2b)

3. Joey Votto (1b)

4. Ryan Ludwick (lf)

5. Jay Bruce (rf)

6. Todd Frazier (3b)

7. Zach Cozart (ss)

8. Ryan Hanigan (c )

9. Pitchers

In the past manager Dusty Baker has seemed prone to prefer alternating left and right handed hitters and if that be the case he should really get excited about those eight because they'll approach the plate L/R/L/R/L/R/L/R.

All the arms return to the pitching staff and the rotation returns intact: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake. There are still fifteen pitchers for twelve spots which leaves some uncertainty in the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall, Sam LeCure, Jose Arredondo, and Alfredo Simon figure to be locks for returning to their roles. Nick Masset hasn't made a spring training appearance and is expected to begin the season on the DL. That leaves Logan Ondrusek, J.J. Hoover, and Manny Parra competing for the final spot.

The Reds used the fewest number of pitchers last season and were only .01 runs higher than the lowest ERA in the NL. Anything close to that in 2013 should be sufficient to get them back into the postseason. Their lineup struggled close to the bottom of the league in runs early and then rallied to finish around the middle of the pack. They figure to get a boost from upgrading their leadoff hitter and a full season from a healthy Joey Votto. The Reds enter 2013 with the strongest championship aspirations of any year in recent history. On paper all the ingredients seem to be there and Cincinnati fans have good reason to be eager to see how that translates on the field starting this week.

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