The Opening Day narrative didn’t look pretty: the Reds were headed into the regular season with a starting rotation with bullpen arm Scott Feldman, a still developing Brandon Finnegan, their #2 prospect Amir Garrett, a low-ranking prospect Rookie Davis, and a 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo, who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the bigs since June 15th, 2014.

Meanwhile, the Reds are off to a 3-1 start and haven’t looked atrocious doing the job. If you asked Reds fans, this club just feels better than the 2016 unit that started 3-1 did, it just sings better than the 2015 club that started 4-0.

Granted, these four games make up just 2.5% of the 162 total outings the team will play over the course of the regular season, but you’ve got to like what you see thus far.

One of the team’s biggest tasks over the offseason was to solidify the bullpen, which it kinda-sorta did when it signed RHP Drew Storen and Scott Feldman to a one-year deals, but then confusingly stuck Feldman in the rotation.

What they were left with were remnants of last season’s starting rotation and earth-shatteringly bad bullpen, which ranked 29th in ERA and gave up the most homers (103), a stat which was trailed by Colorado, who gave up 31 less then the team above.

The unit includes last season’s Opening Day Starter turned lights-out closer Raisel Iglesias, who’s four innings over three games have been brilliant, allowing 0 hits, 2 BBs, and 0 ERs, while earring 2 saves and 6 Ks.

Well, so far so good. The blind squirrels might have found one good nut. 

It’s a unit that includes 25-year-old Michael Lorenzen, who’s been dominant over the last two seasons since making the move to the bullpen, as he’s punched-out 4 in three games this season, which comes in addition to his use as a pinch hitter, where he’s already hit a game-winning home run (against Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon, it was a shot).

Wait, wasn’t that guy supposed to throw as a starter?

Two of last season’s top prospects who struggled in the rotation join the unit, including LHP Cody Reed, who went 0-7 last season as a starter, then picked up his first win three games into the season as a relief pitcher. The Reds also utilize #4 prospect Robert Stephenson in the pen, but hope to move him into a starting spot as his arm develops, after all, last season over 8 starts, he went 2-3 with a 6.08 ERA over a number of unimpressive outings.

Then, there’s RHP Blake Wood, who was 6-5 with a 3.99 ERA last season out the Reds bullpen, but grew stronger as the season went on. Similar to Wood, there’s LHP Tony Cingrani, who was pitiful to start 2016, as indicated by his 2-5 record, but grew more consistent over the months, ending the season with 17 saves an a 4.14 ERA.

You’re losing me. 

Rounding out that bunch will be LHP Wandy Peralta, who was pitiful last season, earning an 8.59 ERA over 7.1 innings pitched in 10 games. The case is still out on Peralta, but looked fine in his lone 2017 appearance, when he pitched one inning, striking out two.

He’s followed by a 25-year-old RHP Barrett Astin, who was a sneaky acquisition from the Milwaukee Brewers in the September of 2014 Jonathan Broxton trade. He was solid in the minors at AA-Pensacola last season, where he pitched 37 times on 11 starts, earning a 2.36 ERA and 96 strikeouts. It was his 14 strikeouts and 3.86 (a lot of it came in one rough outing against the Chicago Cubs, giving up 4 ER in 0.2 IP) in 11.2 IP.

Just like that, you lost me.

That is the foundation of a very good bullpen; even if Reed and Stephenson eventually move to the rotation or to the minors, that would likely signal Scott Feldman and/or Bronson Arroyo joining the bunch, which still seems pretty tough.

In 2016, the Reds bullpen was responsible for 32 of the team’s 94 losses, or approximately 34% of the total. Let’s say that drops ten and the rotation is marginally better, then what does the line up do for you?

Could a team that started off 2015 with Todd Frazier at third and started 2016 with Jay Bruce in right and Brandon Phillips playing second possibly produce more offense in 2017?

Atop the lineup is a steadily rising Billy Hamilton, who despite the emergence of Washington’s Trea Turner, is the fastest man in the game of baseball. Hamilton’s 5 hits, .313 BA, and 2 SBs are a good omen for the young outfielder, who the Reds need to get on base, as his base path presence puts opposing catchers and pitchers in fits.

Another incredibly fast guy bats second, playing second, and was ranked as the second-best prospect in the Reds organization in 2016, Jose Peraza is taking over for DatDudeBP. Peraza is better offensively than the aging Phillips, as his .324 BA, .352 OBP, and 21 SB were all better than his predecessor (Phillips had a .291 BA, .320 OBP, and 14 SB in 2016).

Joey Votto is just going to continue doing Joey Votto things. No stats required.

Outfielders Adam Duvall, who was a DuvALL-Star last season, and Scott Schebler continue to look the part thus far. Duvall has started off hot, hitting .333 with 2 doubles and a home run. Schebler launched a solo home run in the 7th inning against St. Louis last night to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.

Zack Cozart, who was the mention of trade talk for much of the 2016-2017 offseason, is starting off the 2017 season like a guy who either REALLY wants to get traded or REALLY DOESN’T want to get traded (I’d bet the latter). Cozart has ripped 7 hits in his first 13 ABs, leading the regular starters with a .538 batting average.

You’re going to get good innings from third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who is a fine offensive weapon, as he launched 21 HRs in 2016, but will need to get on base more in 2017.

Behind the plate, there’s Tucker Barnhart, who’s continued to provide solid innings as the ideal back-up catcher to Devin Mesoraco, who’s missed much of the last two seasons due to injury, but is currently making rehab appearances in AA-Pensacola. However, Barnhart has played like a starter and is is batting .300 to start 2017.

Then, a much improved bench that includes Scooter Gennett (who hit a 2-run home run on Opening Day after being claimed by Cincinnati, following an inexplicable waive by the Brewers) and Arismendy Alcantara, both of whom can play outfield, second, shortstop, and third. Additional bats come from backup catcher (who will likely be off the 25-man roster upon the return of Devin Mesoraco) in Rule 5 pick Stuart Turner and 1B/3B/RF Patrick Kivlehan, both of whom were wonderful in Spring Training.

Credit your starting pitchers with a lot, as well.

It’s been Scott Feldman, who wasn’t awful in his 4.2 IP with 3 ER on Opening Day, but will need to eat more innings. Brandon Finnegan was absurd in game two, who gave up a hit an a walk in the first inning of his start, but then recorded 19 outs in a row over 7 IP, striking out 9. Rookie Davis looked like, well a rookie, in his 3 IP against the Phillies, when he gave up 4 ERs, but his 4 Ks and mound presence left the Reds with a lot of good stuff in an otherwise ugly start.

Key variables in the rotation will come from two guys on the opposite ends of a career spectrum; Amir Garrett and Bronson Arroyo.

Eventually, the Reds were going to need to see something from one of their young arms, or they were going to have to start wondering if the whole rebuild was worth while. Those questions were put to rest last night, when #2 prospect Amir Garrett went 6 innings in a stadium that gives the Reds fits, striking out 4 and giving up 0 ERs, 2 hits, and 2 BBs on just 78 pitches against the rival St. Louis Cardinals. If this is a sign of things to come, then the Reds rebuild may be a year ahead of schedule.

On the other end of the spectrum, where we’re going to learn a lot over the next 24 hours, will come when Bronson Arroyo makes his return to the hill in St. Louis. Arroyo’s veteran mindset comes with a quirky delivery, made famous by his leg kick and various arm angles. If he can provide innings for the Reds, it could go a long distance in tandem with teaching the pool of young arms some lessons about throwing in the bigs.

So, what is this team? I feel like i just laid out the blueprint for a not-so-terrible club, who many ranked around 29th (one ahead of the San Diego Padres, who are horrendous) to start the season.

What could happen?

Well, this season will go one of three ways.

The bottom end is what was expected: the Reds young pitching and lack of any non-Votto star on offense struggle to win 65 games, finishing with 90+ losses for the third consecutive season. 

This option is the one I wrote about to start the season, your Cincinnati Enquirer beat writers were on the same page. Basically, every baseball pundit had this mindset to start the campaign.

The middle tier: With young arms getting better and Peraza, Hamilton, and Mesoraco turning the corner, the Reds young team look capable of making a run in 2018, but finish 2017 close to .500.

I’m starting to think this is the most likely option. There’s a lot of things to like about this Reds roster, actually just the organization in general.

The top tier: Quick development and consistency push the Reds to 87+ wins, sneaking into the Wild Card game, the Reds have made a marvelous run in 2017 and have put baseball on notice for a big 2018 showcase. 

I’ll leave that there.

I think this is a Reds team that has some promise. There are two big league managers on staff, with the standing actor Bryan Price and the bench coach Jim Riggleman, who’s spent 13 years as a manager between stints with the Padres, Cubs, Nationals, and Mariners.

Pitching coaches, including Bryan Price, are prevalent, as bullpen coach Ted Power was seen as a big reason behind the development of Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and Aroldis Chapman during his stint as pitching coach of the Dayton Dragons and Louisville Bats.

THEN, we’re still waiting on the return of two valuable arms in Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani, in addition to Devin Mesoraco, all of whom have proven they can compete with the best on any given day.

For the life of me, I can’t find the ESPN.com article where this notion comes from, but the quote was, “good pitching can come from nowhere.” So far, that sentiment has proven true; Reds’ pitching has the 2nd best ERA at 2.00 to start 2017.

Simply put, we may have overlooked the Reds. To quote Michael Jordan, “the ceiling is the roof.”

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