All the talk this offseason was about how dominant the Washington Nationals would be in the National League. After a 98-win season and an impressive returning starting pitching staff, all that hype was certainly warranted.
But with all the attention on Washington, the Cincinnati Reds have flown under the radar. They have the capability to give the Nationals a serious competitor in the NL.
It’s easy to forget that the Reds won 97 games last season, just one behind the Nats for tops in the league. The Reds battled the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants to five games but ultimately wound up losing the series.
Looking up and down the Reds roster, there really are no weak spots. The team can hit, pitch and field as well as any in the league.
Cincinnati was pretty much a middling team throughout the 2000s. They’d finish anywhere from third to fifth and really would never be considered a legitimate World Series threat. In years they had a good offense, their pitching would struggle and vice versa.
The team won the NL Central in 2010 but were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS. Before then, the Reds had not reached the playoffs since 1995.
The emergence of Joey Votto has led to a change in culture in Cincinnati. The perennial MVP candidate now has weapons around him, which has made the Reds a more complete team.
Johnny Cueto evolved into the ace the Reds have lacked the past few years. The other four starters -- Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake -- can be counted on to provide quality innings in virtually every start.
All-Stars Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce provide some offensive thump in the middle of the lineup, and 2012 Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier is already off to fast start in his sophomore campaign.
So the team has all the pieces to win, but over the past three seasons, it has lacked a sort of X-factor to get the team over the hump. Enter Shin-Soo Choo.
Though he will be playing out of normal position this year in center field, Choo can do a number of things well offensively. The Reds have him leading off due to the strength of the batting order, but he could easily be a No. 3 hitter on many teams.
Choo already has three home runs and seems to be adjusting well to his new surroundings. The trade with Indians was one of the more underrated deals of the offseason, and it could wind up having the most significant impact.
With Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman closing out games, the Reds really only have to worry about getting through the first seven innings. These guys, especially Chapman, have shown they can shut the door at the end of games.
There’s no doubt that the Nationals have a complete roster in all facets of the game. But to automatically anoint them as the NL representative in the World Series would be foolish since they’d have to get through the Reds -- a very complete team in their own right.