The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 30, 2013

Reds expected to repeat in NL Central

PITTSBURGH — Capsules of National League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:

Cincinnati Reds

2012: 97-65, first place (lost to Giants in division series).

Manager: Dusty Baker (sixth season).

He’s here: OF Shin-Soo Choo, INF Jack Hannahan, LHP Manny Parra.

He’s outta here: OF Drew Stubbs, 3B Scott Rolen, INF Wilson Valdez, LHP Bill Bray, RHP Ryan Madson, C Dioner Navarro, INF Miguel Cairo.

Projected lineup: CF Shin-Soo Choo (.283, 16 HRs, 67 RBI, 21 SBs with Cleveland), 2B Brandon Phillips (.281, 18, 77), 1B Joey Votto (.337, 14, 56 in 111 games), LF Ryan Ludwick (.275, 26, 80), RF Jay Bruce (.252, 34, 99), 3B Todd Frazier (.273, 19, 67 in 128 games), SS Zack Cozart (.246, 15, 35), C Ryan Hanigan (.274, 2, 24).

Rotation: RH Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 33 starts, 2 CG), RH Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74, 32 starts), RH Mat Latos (14-4, 3.46, 33 starts, 2 CG), RH Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68, 33 starts, 2 CG, 1 no-hitter), RH Mike Leake (8-9, 4.58, 30 starts).

Hot spots: The Reds settled their biggest issue of spring training when they decided to keep Chapman as the closer instead of moving him into the rotation. With Broxton on board, they’ll have one of the top late-inning combinations in the club’s history. Baker will have to decide how many days in a row to use Chapman – the hard-throwing Cuban developed a tired shoulder last September. But the manager now has two proven choices to finish off games, which is two more than he had to start last season after the back end of the bullpen was wiped out by injuries.

Outlook: The Reds return their roster virtually intact from a 97-win season that was good enough to win a second NL Central title in three years. The goal is to get past the first round of the playoffs, something Cincinnati has failed to do. The rotation is one of the NL’s best, and none of the starters missed a turn because of injury during the regular season. That ended when Cueto pulled muscles in his side during the first inning of his playoff start against the Giants. If the rotation can stay healthy again and Votto regains his power stroke, the Reds should be favored to reach the playoffs and advance this time. The lineup is solid with Choo – acquired from Cleveland in a deal that included Stubbs – giving them a sound leadoff hitter for the first time in years. Frazier, who got Rookie of the Year votes, takes over at third base for Rolen, who chose not to come to spring training. The most encouraging sign this spring was Votto’s return. The 2010 NL MVP missed 48 games because of torn knee cartilage last season and wasn’t fully recovered when he returned. Cincinnati’s best hitter was back in form during spring training, hitting his first home runs since June 24.

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