Normally, individual match-ups between Spring Training teams are less important to a team than their actual players performances, but the Indians have grown a slight rivalry with the Reds since they started playing at the same stadium during Spring Training. Not only do the two teams share the facilities in Goodyear, but they play against each other more than they play any other teams during February and March. While most Spring Training match-ups are individual games, the Indians and Reds will play an opening series again this year with the Indians playing the home team on February 26th and 28th with the Reds playing at home on the 27th. The two teams will also compete on the 17th and 24th to find the 2014 champion of Goodyear Ballpark.
In addition, the two teams battle for the Ohio Cup during the regular season, a fight which ended in a tie in 2013. Since it's beginning in 1997 (the contest was originally called the Battle for Ohio), the Reds have won four series and the Indians have won six with six ties. After losing or tying each series from 2006 through 2010, the Indians have won or tied the last three.
The Reds will be returning a very similar roster to last season. In fact, all the changes to their depth chart to this point have been internal promotions. Despite trade talks surrounding Brandon Phillips, the star second baseman is still with the team, making their only major departure that of Shin-Soo Choo, who left through free agency for Texas. Choo has been replaced (at least for the moment) by the speedster Billy Hamilton while the incredible, 2013 rookie Tony Cingrani is expected to join the starting rotation on a permanent basis.
If consistency is important, the Reds have the complete advantage over the Tribe here. While the Reds will be returning their closer, Aroldis Chapman, and top relievers, Jonathan Broxton, J.J. Hoover and Sean Marshall, the Indians will be losing three of their most used relievers from 2013 of varying importance. While it's possible that Cody Allen can be an equivalent replacement for Joe Smith and John Axford can fill in for Chris Perez, the chances are not very good. Even with those two (now much wealthier) relievers, the Indians had a significantly worse bullpen than the Reds in 2013. It is hard to see that changing this year with the changes the Indians have made.
As with the bullpen, the Reds rotation should be very familiar. They are returning Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake with the new addition of Cingrani, who was incredible last season (2.92 ERA, 120K's in 104.2 IP). The Indians aren't without their own 24 year old flame thrower and will be getting their first full season from Danny Salazar (65K's in 52 IP). The problem is, he will likely be the third starter for the Indians while Cingrani is the Reds fifth. After losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Salazar have all been bumped up in the rotation, weakening the rotation as a whole. This is another case where the Reds were better in 2013 and maintained their quality while the Indians are slightly worse.
This may be a similar theme, but again, the Reds were a fantastic defensive squad last season (they were third best in the Majors), and made few changes. In fact, the one change they made, replacing Choo with Hamilton, gives them even more outfield speed where they need it, in center field. Phillips is likely the flashiest second baseman in the league while both Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier are solid at their position (and significantly better than the Indians options at short and third). In the end, the only two positions the Indians are obviously superior defensively are where their two best defensive players play, catcher and left field.
This is the closest the Indians and Reds are in any category and the only place the Indians were actually better in 2013 (by about 50 runs). The two teams are of a similar age and can expect significant improvements from the players they are maintaining, especially young players like Jason Kipnis and Frazier. Here is where the disappearance of Choo from the line-up will really hurt the Reds. Hamilton will likely fill in as a more prototypical lead-off hitter, but now the Reds will only have Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick as power hitters that are better than everybody on the entire Indians squad. While the accuracy of that statement will bear much on how Carlos Santana plays this season, so will the the overall Indians offense. If Santana, Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera all have career years and Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn don't deflate too quickly, the Indians could possibly outproduce the Reds assuming Cincinnati has another average season.
Luckily for the Indians, evaluating teams on paper (or a computer screen) doesn't always equate to on the field performance. There is absolutely a way that the Indians could have a better bullpen, defense and offense than the Reds this season, just by having the players they already have play at their absolute best, but right now, things don't look great. It is exciting, however, that both the Reds and Indians are hitting their peaks at the same time as Ohio baseball fans can continue to hope for that elusive "Battle for Ohio" World Series.
This is what it's all about…kinda.