Which is the real talent level of the Cincinnati Reds?
Is it the squad that won 91 games in 2010 and outscored its opponents by 105 runs?
Or is it the squad that won 79 games in 2011 and outscored its opponents by 15 runs?
The reasons to expect improvement are clear: The Reds have added starter Mat Latos (check out Jerry Crasnick's story on Latos) and closer Ryan Madson. Rookie Zack Cozart should provide an upgrade at shortstop over Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria (Reds shortstops hit .238 with a .281 OBP in 2011). Scott Rolen may be healthy. Drew Stubbs could play like he did in 2010. Jay Bruce may getter better. Bronson Arroyo can't be as bad again -- or, at least, won't receive 32 starts again.
But the reasons not to expect improvement are also clear: The rotation still has question marks and Johnny Cueto is unlikely to pitch as well. Madson is good but Francisco Cordero was pretty good in 2011 as well. The team is relying on two rookies in its lineup in Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco. Rolen may not stay healthy. Stubbs may play like 2011. Bruce may not get better. Dusty Baker may stick with Arroyo.
Other than Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips there aren't a lot of certainties on this team and that has to be a concern. But a lot people are predicting a division title for the Reds. What do you think? I'll set the over/under at 87.5 wins, which probably puts them right on the cusp of contending for the NL Central title.