The Cincinnati Reds are going through some difficult times as they move into the 2013 season. With great challenges comes the opportunity to rise or fall, and no one can say how well they are going to do because their decisions are not yet made. Here are four challenges that the Reds may need to face if they are going to make a playoff run for this season.
1. Replacing Ryan Ludwick on Cleanup
For a time, the clean-up hitting position with the Reds was a settled affair that needed little debate. Ludwick was doing well going into the 2013 season, but then he made the unusual decision to slide head first into third base and unsettled the entire team's roster, casting doubt on who might be the new clean-up hitter.
The contest of who will be next on cleanup would seem to come down to third baseman Todd Frazier, who has more pop than anyone else on the roster, or former cleanup man and second baseman Brandon Phillips. However, the potential number of replacements is the same as the entire roster.
2. Deciding Whether Donald Lutz Has What it TakesSince this is the minor leagues, it will be a major judgment call on whether Lutz should be bumped up and possibly take Ludwick's spot as an outfielder. While he has not yet made the major league roster, he has impressed Reds manager Dusty Baker at training camp.
This is a significant achievement when it comes to moving up in the world, and Lutz has even been described as having a future as the Reds' left fielder. Adding a player into the mix changes the entire formula, and this could have a powerful impact on the roster in ways no one can predict as of yet.
3. Arranging The Hitting Lineup to Move EffectivelyWhile the entire team can shift around in a lot of different ways, having Shin-Soo Choo as lead batter with Phillips following him may not prove the most efficient way to capture bases. One of the best things about having Cincinnati Reds Tickets is seeing where everyone goes.
With Phillips' recent bunting attempts largely being unsuccessful, advancing Choo may not be the best goal the team could have for him at bat. Putting Zack Cozart into second place instead of seventh may actually be a significant boost to the overall order, considering that in 2012 he hit 27 starts.
4. Overcoming the Postseason Home CurseIt has been seventeen years since the Reds have won a postseason game on their home field. With more wins under their belt during the 2010 to 2012 seasons than in any previous three-year stretch in 30 years, the team has had its share of successes. But becoming the first team to win the first two of a five game best-of-five series but not advance proved disheartening.
The psychological impact of 2012's disappointments will undoubtedly weigh heavily on the team's morale, which could hurt them. If they could jump this hurdle, they could hit the ground running in the new season.
This is a challenging year for the reds, but that is the joy of the sport. The most difficult times are also the most exciting to watch.