Is 2020 the Reds' return to contention? They are due. Some might say overdue. 

Remember, the Reds were a playoff team three out of four years from 2010-13, though they never advanced to the NLCS. After a 76-win season in 2014, they embarked on a rebuild. It looked like 2018 might be the year they would start to turn things around. Instead, they won just 67 games. It was 2019, then, that things would turn. They won 75 games. It was an improvement, but they weren't contenders. 

So is 2020 the year?

The Reds continued to add to their core this past offseason, signing power hitters Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos in addition to table-setter Shogo Akiyama. They also added pitching depth with starter Wade Miley and veteran reliever Pedro Strop

Will it be enough to contend in a competitive NL Central?

Win total projection, odds

  • 2020 Sportsline projection: 32-28
  • World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): 22/1
  • 2019 record: 75-87

Projected lineup

  1. Shogo Akiyama, CF
  2. Joey Votto, 1B
  3. Eugenio Suarez, 3B
  4. Mike Moustakas, 2B
  5. Nick Castellanos, DH
  6. Jesse Winker, LF
  7. Freddy Galvis, SS
  8. Nick Senzel, RF
  9. Tucker Barnhart, C

Bench: C Curt Casali, C/IF Kyle Farmer, UT Josh VanMeter, OF Phil Ervin, OF Aristides Aquino

No, Aquino isn't in the big-league camp, but I just can't believe he's going to be left on the taxi squad after the breakout performance he had last season with 19 homers in 56 games. I expect the DH to bounce around between Votto, Moustakas and Castellanos. Aquino could factor at some point, too. 

Projected rotation

  1. Sonny Gray, RHP
  2. Luis Castillo, RHP
  3. Trevor Bauer, RHP
  4. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP
  5. Wade Miley, LHP

There are some questions here with big upside. We'll get to that discussion in a moment. 

Projected bullpen

The three at the back-end here give the Reds a strong foundation of the bullpen. Is Strop washed up? If not, this is a real strength. 

The new power 

The Reds were seventh in the NL in home runs and 10th in slugging percentage last season. Suarez clubbed 49 homers, but otherwise no one who remained with the club reached 20. Enter Moustakas (35 homers, .516 SLG last year) and Castellanos (27 HR, .525 SLG). Castellanos led the majors with 58 doubles and in Great American Ball Park you can bet a decent portion of those fly into the seats. Behind two table-setters (yes, Votto is one of those at this point in his career), Suarez, Moustakas and Castellanos have a shot to be RBI machines. 

Votto hitting a wall? 

Though we never really should have called Votto a "slugger" ("batsmith" would have been far more appropriate), he was a power hitter. He hit 35+ homers in a season twice and 29 three separate times. With 15 homers in 608 plate appearances in the most prolific home run season of all-time last year, though, it's time we realize Father Time has come for the 36-year-old Votto's bat. The .411 slugging percentage was 116th among 135 qualified hitters in 2019.

That's the bad news. The good? Votto is still quality at getting on base. His .261 average was above average and his .357 on-base percentage was well above the league average OBP of .323. He'll score some runs this year. He just won't hit for a lot of power anymore. That's OK. That's what they have Suarez, Moustakas and Castellanos. 

Rotation question marks

We can all reasonably agree Gray and Castillo are going to be good this season. Some might even predict Castillo to jump into the Cy Young mix and I wouldn't argue. The back three, though? There are questions. 

Prior to 2018, Bauer had been mostly mediocre with some slightly good mixed in. In 2018, he was outstanding and finished sixth in Cy Young voting despite missing the final month of the season with an injury. Last year, though, he fell out of favor in Cleveland and was traded to the Reds. And he was awful. In 10 starts after the trade, he posted a 6.39 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. He allowed 12 homers in 56 1/3 innings and a .509 slugging percentage. What Bauer will the Reds get? 

DeSclafani last year had his first fully healthy season since 2015 and he was generally good. There was inconsistency and the 3.89 ERA vs. the 4.43 FIP gap suggests maybe he was more league average than good. Can he stay healthy and gain some consistency? If so, that's a damn good fourth starter. If not, the Reds don't really have a fallback option. 

Miley was having a good season for the Astros last year. Then September happened. Holy cow. On Sept. 5, he coughed up five runs without recording an out and a horrendous month was underway. In five starts, he put up a 16.68 ERA. Opposing hitters slashed an obscene .467/.522/.683 in 69 plate appearances. The spring wasn't exactly encouraging, either. Miley allowed seven runs -- including three home runs -- in just 1 1/3 innings. Yes, Miley is the fifth starter, in all likelihood, but this isn't palatable even by your last reliever. He has to be much better. 

The potentially excellent bullpen

Iglesias wasn't great last season, but he was in the previous three years. At age 30, there's little reason to believe he's cooked, so there's potential upside. 

Lorenzen was excellent in 83 1/3 innings and there's no reason to believe things change there. Garrett was terrific last season, striking out 78 hitters in 56 innings. Stephenson also flashed big upside with 81 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings. 

Is Strop done? It's possible. He's now 35 and had a bad season in 2019. He was also excellent through nearly all of the previous five seasons (2.61 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 10.1 K/9). It's possible this break helped him heal up and he's got enough left in the tank to be his former self. 

We're now five deep in potential lock-down options. There's upside elsewhere, too. In a short season where the bullpen takes on increased importance, give the Reds a bump for the possibly great bullpen.